It’s time to chat with an expat!
Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Bethany, a lovely lady from Mississippi who has fallen in love with a guy from Naples and left everything behind to live with him in Italy.
I have found Bethany on Instagram and her profile caught my attention because she talks about daily life in Naples and I loved it because most of the expats I follow are based in Rome and Tuscany, so it is a nice change!
Bethany also has a YouTube channel where she uploads fun videos with her husband about Neapolitan language and gestures – you should do more of them, Bethany, they are really funny!
The interview with her is super interesting and, as it always happens when I feature expats here, gives me the opportunity of reflecting on some peculiar sides of Italian culture. This time, in particular, it is the lack of independence and the fact that Italian moms treat their sons and daughters as if they are kids even when they are 30 – or way older! It’s a little bit too much, you are so right Bethany!
But let’s now see what Bethany tells us about her experience here.
Hello Bethany! 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?
Thank you for having me! Yes, so I’m from Mississippi and have lived in Napoli for over 4 years. (My husband is Neapolitan.) I’m a Christian. I love eating all the food here, making desserts, and running. I teach English. It’s not my passion honestly, but I feel like it’s the only option I have in (Southern) Italy for a job.
When did you visit Italy for the first time? What was your first impression of the country?
I came on a school trip the summer before my senior year of high school in 2007. I just remember eating lots of gelato and thinking everything was so beautiful 🙂
You have been living in Italy for a while now. Has that first impression of Italy changed over time?
Looking at a view of Napoli and the Vesuvius never gets old to me. Going for a walk by the sea and passing two castles is normal in Europe but not at all in America. I have gotten to know the good and bad of Italy but there’s a reason why they call it the Bel Paese.
Was it easy to get used to living here? What were the biggest challenges you had to face? In particular, you live in Naples. Was it difficult to get used to living in such an amazing yet complex city?
The most difficult thing was I didn’t know a word of Italian before moving here. I went straight to school for 2 months. (5 days a week) Thankfully I made friends with people at school but besides that, it was pretty lonely. I would sit in my apartment and think “God, what the heck am I doing here?” Obviously when you can’t communicate with anyone that makes everything difficult. Many people speak Neapolitan here also which makes it even more difficult for foreigners.
The more I live in Napoli the more I realize how unique [difficult] it can be living here. Besides the fact that I moved to a foreign country, I moved to a big city (grew up in a small town) and live in a city that is beautiful but has a lot of problems. Some things I will never get used to like people throwing trash in the street, lack of manners, bureaucracy-nothing is efficient. But for the most part Napoli is my second home. I love it and hate it at the same time 🙂
Regarding Italian culture in general, what is the biggest culture shock you experienced? Is there something you still cannot get used to and probably never will?
Probably the biggest thing for me is the lack of independence. Americans are very independent. Maybe too much in that we focus more on ourselves than our extended family. I came here after college (an adult) and in Italy I was considered super young. (I liked that.)
When we’re 17/18 we move out of the house to go to college. I have friends here who are over 30 that still live with their parents. I now understand why because of economic problems but sometimes it’s a little too much. I think some people my age overly depend on their parents and take for granted all they do for them. Like my mother-in-law washing our clothes and ironing our pajamas while we lived with her was a little extreme for me 🙂
When you live in a place for a long time, that place somehow changes the way you are. Do you feel that living in Italy has changed you? If so, in what ways?
Yes, for sure. Sometimes I think for the worst ha. But maybe not. I’m pretty quiet, nice, maybe too nice. In Naples, you have to stick up for yourself or people will run all over you. Once someone didn’t give me change back and I had to argue with her until I got it back. The old me would have let it go. The Neapolitan in me fought 🙂
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 feeling normal. I don’t like sticking out and always being pointed out as a foreigner. I also miss all the opportunities. Opportunities for different jobs mostly. When I’m in America I miss the feeling that Italy gives. Walking in the street, smelling what people are cooking at home, seeing the sea, seeing all the chaos…things that are hard to explain but anyone that lives in Italy would probably understand.
Let’s speak of tourism now. You live in Naples, a truly enchanting town. What would you suggest to people who want to discover the true soul of the city?
Go to the city center, eat a Margherita pizza and all the sweets (sfogliatella, babà, pastiera) Also take a look at the Christmas Alley (San Gregorio Armeno) to see the handmade nativity scenes. Go for a walk along the lungomare and get a picture with the Vesuvio in the background.
Speaking of Italy in general, what are three things people visiting the country should do to experience Italy at its best?
Eat all the food. If you have friends or a third cousin that lives there, eat at their mom or grandma’s house if possible. If not try any trattoria. Skip anything that looks touristy/has things written in English. During the summer, go to the beach. I love the Amalfi Coast. See all the touristy places you’ve learned about/dreamed about. If you have a short time choose a few cities so you can really enjoy it. If you have a long time explore everything from Milan to Sicily.
Do you speak Italian? If you do, what is your relationship with the language? Was it hard to learn it?
Un po’. I still don’t consider myself fluent. I make simple mistakes and there are so many words I don’t know as well as some tenses. I feel I am fluent enough because I can do whatever I need to on my own like go to the comune to get a document. I definitely want to improve though. I also need to fully understand Neapolitan:)
Learning Italian grammar was difficult for me. I was fully immersed which really helped. I knew very few people that spoke English which forced me to learn. I love being able to speak another language. It’s so fascinating. I find myself translating English into Italian in my head when I call my friends/family. It’s so weird.
Thank you so much, Bethany, 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 a in 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 and a Slovak girl who now calls Bologna home.