There are countless differences between my first home, Rhode Island, and my second, chosen home, Rome. For one, the role of flip-flops varies drastically. In the U.S., flip-flops have a place in just about every fashion setting, barring a construction site. America’s favorite sandal is donned on the beach, in the city, out to dinner, and with the addition of some well-placed Swarovski crystals, even the Oscars.
In Italy, the flip-flop is confined to the home. It is Cinderella’s shoe before the ball, to be worn while schlepping from kitchen to bathroom and back.
Italy heartily embraces public transport while in the U.S. a car is essential. There’s even contrast in the physical placement of the meatball in relation to pasta. In Italy, meatballs are served after pasta, never nestled atop it, much to the dismay of many visitors.
Another addition to this list would be the significance of being 26, which happens to be my current age. In the U.S., 26 is almost 27, next door to 28, an age when women seem to start getting engaged and married, a phenomenon that started flooding my social media accounts roughly a year ago.
At 30, boxes must be checked, if they haven’t been already: the soft weight of an infant on your hip, a law degree, and a home with a two-car garage. One of my childhood friends from ballet days has zoomed through her 20s as if she won a game piece in a Monopoly round. At 26, she’s married, has a reputable job as a pharmacist, a brown Labrador, and a large colonial home overlooking the water. Sometimes, when I picture her, she’s still 11 in a Danskin leotard and tights, her hair in braids — except she’s also carefully filling out prescriptions and weighing the interactive effects of pain medications.
In Italy, 26 has a different weight, or more precisely, no weight at all. Sharing my age elicits comments of how young I am (giovanissima!), a bambina. If 26 were a drink, it would be prosecco: light, golden, and bubbly. Simply put, American and Italian cultural expectations don’t align: in the bel paese, I’m a ragazza. In America, I’m a woman. When I fly back to Rome from Boston, it’s as if I’m crossing into another galaxy, or am experiencing something similar to Benjamin Button, a stopwatch clicking backwards. In Rome, I have time.
“Sei molto in gamba,” my colleague tells me, something that translates roughly as “you’re pretty hip.” In Italy, I’m congratulated on my graduation four years ago, and my subsequent degree. I’ve lived away from home since age 18 and I’ve worked four separate jobs since leaving the U.S. That’s rare for someone my age in Italy, which often garners further complimenti. I am never asked if I have a Master’s degree or when I’ll get one, or if I’ve been bitten by the baby bug, or where I see myself in 10 years.
For an admittedly late bloomer, Italy is a refreshing and nourishing environment. After all, I didn’t get asked out by a boy until I was 21 and only now have I begun figuring out what I do and don’t like in a job. Hell, I just figured out how to efficiently use a can opener last week.
But every so often, unexpectedly, jabs of worry travel nimbly up my spine. Will I someday go back to America and feel behind and disoriented, as if I’ve traversed two separate yet parallel places, like those kids from the Narnia books? Will I have regrets, the most impossible emotion to dispose of?
I ponder this as I write my monthly column, curled up at my borrowed desk, hovering over my notebook, a pizza on its way, and a full week of a job I love ahead of me. Regrets? Somehow, I don’t think so.