I am very happy today because I get to chat with an expat again.
Today, I have the great pleasure of chatting with lovely Giovanna, a lady from New York who now lives on the beautiful island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples. I have virtually met Giovanna on Instagram and I have to admit that the fact that she lives in Ischia immediately caught my attention.
Giovanna has a very nice Instagram profile, where she shares her life in Ischia, but most importantly has a very interesting blog, called The Limonata Lounge, full of information about the island and full of engaging posts about moving to Italy, getting used to life here and lots of thoughts about Italian life and culture.
As I say all the time, I have been interviewing expats for ages but I still find something new to learn in every interview. This time, for example, Giovanna made me realize how we Italians have a conversation simply interrupting one another – which is something I might do even with my students! I have to admit that I had never realized that before but this is so true! 😀
So I really have to thank Giovanna – and all other expats before – for sharing bits of her life in Ischia and in Italy in general and her thoughts about the Italian culture and way of life. I find it a very enriching experience and I hope it is the same for you who read this blog.
But now it’s time to let her speak!
Hello Giovanna! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your life and work?
Hi, I’m Giovanna, an American with Italian roots, and I live on the island of Ischia in the bay of Naples. My mother is from the island and my father is from Monte di Procida, a town on the sea just outside of Naples, and I’ve been coming here since I was little. I’m a writer and an English teacher and I write about my life in Italy and Ischia on my blog The Limonata Lounge.
When you were a kid, you used to spend your summers in Italy. What are your memories of those times?
I spent my childhood summers in Monte di Procida and Ischia. These are my favorite memories of my childhood. My dad’s sisters were so affectionate and they kissed and hugged me a lot (and they still do). I loved the affection and the explosion of emotions. I loved how close all the houses were to one another, that you could hear people’s conversations, fights, cooking noises and laughter. I remember hardly wearing shoes and hanging out in the piazza in the evenings with my cousin asking boys to take us for rides around town on their scooters.
the top of the Castello Aragonese in Ischia Ponte
I have read on your blog that you have wanted to live in Italy ever since you could remember. Can you tell us why?
It feels like home, even with all the chaos and difficulties. When I was little, I would always ask my parents, beg them, if we could move to Italy. I wanted to be like my cousins and go to school there and speak Italian. Older family members back in New York would tell me I would grow out of it and I kind of waited for it to happen, especially once I turned a teenager, but it never happened. It’s not an easy place to live, it’s not a dolce vita or a paradise, it can be exasperating and tragic at times, but I’m happy here and I don’t want to be anywhere else.
You finally moved to Italy in 2017. How did you manage to make the big move?
This took a long time. I don’t have Italian citizenship, so as an American it was difficult. I left New York back in 2008 to do a master’s degree in London. For the first 5 years, in both the UK and Italy, I played the visa game between student visas, a post-grad working visa, and even an elective residency visa for when I lived in Rome to intern with an artist. I then met Davide in London, an Italian from Venice, and we got married in 2013. We both wanted to move back to Italy, but we weren’t sure how to do it, but when Brexit happened, we decided it was time to go.
One day in 2017, my bosses at my job in London asked me casually what was my dream in life. I didn’t feel like giving them a standard professional answer and answered honestly, ‘I want to move to Napoli and write a blog.’ And they laughed and said, ‘We want to help you.’ And so they gave me the opportunity to work remotely from Italy. This was the chance we were looking for, so a few months later we packed up our apartment and moved to Ischia, with a stop in Venice for a few weeks so we could get all of our paperwork in place. I was terrified in the beginning!
Giovanna in her garden during quarantine
The plan was that my job would help us through the first few months while we got settled and Davide could find a job as a massage therapist in one of the hotels. We moved to Ischia in December, in the middle of the winter season when the hotels are closed. We weren’t sure how long it was going to take and everything was so uncertain. But in the end, he found a job right before the tourist season began and we started to get more settled.
Was it easy to get used to living here? What were the biggest challenges you had to face?
It took a while. I think the biggest challenge was more psychological. Mostly, for the first 6 months, I felt guilty. My parents left Italy to create a better life in the US and here I was ignoring everything they had given me, giving up on my studies and career progression, and moving back to Italy. I expected the worst to happen here as some form of punishment: Davide wouldn’t find a job, I’d lose my job, we wouldn’t be able to find a place to live or I’d be stuck in some vortex of bureaucracy that I wouldn’t be able to come out of.
But it turned out okay. I mean, things weren’t perfect and some things were difficult and took a long time, but nothing bad happened that told us we couldn’t build a life in Italy. And I slowly came to terms with dealing with my guilt. I realised that the Italy my parents and their siblings left 70 years ago was a different Italy to the one I’m living in now. And also, I’m a different person than my relatives and I need to do what is right for me.
Giovanna celebrating her 40th birthday at her favorite restaurant
You are now living your dream. Any disappointments? Something you thought would be different? How does this dream turned into reality look like?
I’m not sure if I have any disappointments. I expected terrible things to happen to me when I moved to Italy. I expected to be punished for following my dream as if I weren’t allowed to be here. None of those terrible things happened. We both had jobs, we found a lovely place to live, we adopted a family of cats and a few more along the way (we now have 6), and we made friends.
I had a health scare at the end of the last year and had surgery which I’m still recovering from. And even with that and the upheaval and anxiety that COVID-19 has brought, I still am happy here and don’t feel any disappointment. If anything, I feel incredibly grateful to be safe and healthy, thanks to the doctors here and the Italian health care system.
You have been familiar with Italy all your life but is there culture shock you experienced when you moved here? Is there something you still cannot get used to and probably never will?
I think one of the culture shocks that I still feel is the Italian conversation style. People talk over one another and interrupt each other. In the beginning, I’d have conversations and sit and wait for the other person to finish talking or ask me a question. I was waiting for them to give me the space to talk. But the other person would never finish talking and I would just sit there and listen to their monologue.
And I’d get so angry until I realised that they won’t stop talking unless I interrupt them. It’s like they’re waiting to be interrupted. I see it happen on the tv talk shows all the time, not just the trashy ones, but the news ones too, people shout and interrupt each other and if someone doesn’t want to be interrupted they hold up their hand and say, ‘let me finish’ or ‘give me one more minute’ and then the other person lets them finish. I’ve learned to do it, too, or else I would never talk, but it still feels rude to me. I have to fight for my space to speak and that exhausts me sometimes.
a view of Forio, the town where Giovanna lives
Living far away from your home country must be hard. What do you miss the most about the USA (apart from friends and family, of course)? And what is the one thing about Italy you miss the most when you’re abroad?
I miss pastrami sandwiches, dill pickles, bagels with cream cheese and breakfast at the diner. I miss driving and listening to NPR. When I’m away from Italy, I miss spontaneous conversations with people on the street and drinking tiny cups of coffee at the bar. I miss the beach and seeing the sea everywhere I go. Actually, I miss all of those things right now as the whole country is under lockdown and I haven’t left my house in weeks.
Lots of people dream of moving to Italy and sometimes they have a stereotyped image of the country. What are your recommendations for people dreaming of living in Italy?
Even if you’re still far away from Italy, you can get close. You can study Italian, watch Italian films and listen to Italian music, and read as much as you can about Italy. There are so many books out there about contemporary Italian history and culture, from memoirs to the more academic texts. Maybe you can start with John Hooper’s Italians. Also, you can get familiar with the journalists in the major national newspapers and publications that cover Italy. There is so much out there that can help you overcome the stereotypes and understand Italy and what it’s like to live there.
Giovanna with one of her cats
You live on the beautiful island of Ischia. How is life there? I have the feeling that it must be a bit hard in winter. Can you tell us more about it?
The island has approximately 70,000 full-time residents and 6 municipalities. In the summer, during the tourist season, the population swells to 250,000. Each town on the island has a different character. The island has so many things from wineries up in the hills, hiking, agriturismi, hot springs, beaches, and fishing. The ambience and character of the people change from town to town, from sea to mountain.
In the warmer months, there are concerts and sagre almost every weekend. And in the winter, when restaurants and hotels are closed and people are taking a rest after the tourist season, there are lots of events for the locals from book presentations, conferences, and workshops. The winters are pretty mild here, although when the winter storms come in, they can cause damage to the coastline and suspend ferry services.
Luckily, it doesn’t happen very often and usually the ferries are back to running the next day. It’s not easy in the winter though if you commute to work and have to run errands in the city. I didn’t find out until I moved here that I get seasick very easily. But luckily there is medicine for it so if I need to go to Napoli and the sea is rough, I don’t have to get sick.
the adopted cats when they were little
Let’s speak of tourism now. Do you have some secret recommendations about Ischia, those things that only locals know?
I’m not sure if it’s exactly secret, but I would definitely go to the Museo di Pithecusae in Lacco Ameno to learn about the archeological history of Ischia (it was once a Greek colony) and go on guided hikes up in the mountains to walk on the trails and visit the wineries. Although you can hike on your own, going with a local guide is an amazing way to learn about the history of the island and understand its ecosystem.
If you’d like to experience the hot springs of the island, the Baia di Sorgeto is a natural hot spring that you can access either by boat or by climbing down 200 steps. The sea water is warm all year round and on a sunny winter day, many locals head down to the beach for a picnic and a swim.
We can’t speak of Italy without mentioning food. What is the food that best describes the area where you live?
The coniglio all’ischitana (Rabbit Ischia-style) is probably the most famous dish of the island. You’ll also find on many restaurant menus paccheri con cozze con pecorino (large and fat tubed pasta with mussels and pecorino cheese) which goes against the general rule of no cheese on fish. There is also an Ischia-style cornetto that uses a brioche type pastry instead of the usual flaky pastry filled with cream and cherries.
Giovanna at Ischia Ponte in the winter
A lot of the people reading my blog are busy learning Italian. Can you tell us about your experience? How did you learn Italian? Was it easy for you? Do you have tips?
I learned the Neapolitan dialect at home although I almost always answered back in English, so I don’t really speak it today. I took a summer-long intensive Italian course in Florence when I graduated from university and since then, aside from a course in London at the Italian Cultural Institute, I’ve studied it on my own. I had a boyfriend who lived in Italy when I was still living in New York and we wrote each other emails almost every day. That really helped my Italian, especially learning the conditional and subjunctive forms. Living in Italy obviously helps with my Italian learning, but I also study from books, watch lots of Youtube videos, and read.
Compared to learning Spanish and French, I’d say Italian has been easier for me to learn. But I think that’s because I really love Italy and the Italian language and that in itself gives me the motivation. I have a good grasp of the language, but there is still so much to learn. For example, for the longest time I thought there were only 5 vowel sounds in Italian. But recently, I read about the closed and open ‘e’ and looked up a Youtube video and found out about the vowel sounds ‘è’ and ‘é’. That blew my mind! I’ve been hearing it ever since and it’s opened up another door in understanding Italian.
My advice for learning Italian is to have fun and don’t get discouraged if you’ve hit a plateau and don’t feel like you’re improving as quickly as you want to. If studying grammar bores you, watch Italian films and listen to music for a while. Read some books about Italy in English. Or sign up to Cinzia’s Be Italian for a Month.
Thank you so much, Giovanna, for taking the time to answer my questions!
If you are interested in more thoughts about Italy, I have a whole section of interviews with expats. I have chatted with a Canadian living in Bergamo, a Polish girl in love with Rome, an American artist who lives in Umbria, another American who moved to beautiful Tuscany, a Mancunian who now resides in Molise, a Scottish lady who is now happily living in Veneto, a British couple who lives and work in Garfagnana, Tuscany, a US lady who runs a hostel in Rome, an American lady who now lives in a beautiful Tuscan villa, a lovely couple who lives in Tuscany part-time, a writer from Seattle who has been living in Rome for 15 years now, a couple who has just gotten Italian citizenship, a lovely Texan who moved to a tiny little Italian village, a super energetic travel expert from the US now living in Rome, two young YouTubers who live in Prato, Tuscany, a Texan lady who lives in Turin, Slovak girl who now calls Bologna home, a Mississippi lady who is now Neapolitan and a girl from Canada who has fulfilled her dream of living in Florence.