eing a columnist is a peculiar job. You write extremely personal, focused anecdotes you assume people might find interesting. That’s not always the case.
A few months ago, I posted one of my columns to social media with the terrible caption “the sacrifices of expat life.” Someone wasted no time making a sarcastic comment, mocking my use of the word “sacrifice.”
It moved me. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll look back to what I wrote in this space and consider myself a terrible whine. Everything seems worse when you’re in your 20s. But the realization hasn’t made me turn the proverbial leaf and start writing positive pap. For that, I apologize.
All this week, I’ve been masticating the idea of going home. It’s August and I always head back to Australia in August. It’s winter there and no one’s on holiday. That means I’ll spend the bulk of it alone in my childhood bedroom or playing bingo with the unnecessarily aggressive senior citizens at my grandmother’s Napoli club. It is, by the way, a Napoli club only in name. Beryl and Gladys have colonized the bingo table, forcing the deaf and slightly senile Italianates present — my nonna and Comare Pina — to read all the numbers in English and repeat the stupid rhyming bingo lingo. 3! Cup of tea! 60! Grandma’s getting frisky! There is a reign of terror at that table and my nonna isn’t so much getting frisky as whispering the numbers to Comare Pina in Italian before she’s told to quiet down. Comare Pina hasn’t crossed anything out in 35 minutes and is $2.60 in the red, which is a lot when you consider the “in” is 20 cents.
Going home should be one of the best times of the year for an expat. I’m fortunate to be able to go. But I won’t sugar coat it. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t really fit in. I honor my mother with half an hour of my time once a week. At best, she gets 500 or so minutes-worth of information about what I’ve done in the past six months and most of the time I can’t be bothered going into detail. I’ve already lived it once. I have no desire to recount it. It’s why I don’t keep a diary.
Add the 10-minute weekly weather conversation I have with my grandmother and suffice to say I don’t really speak to my family unless they want a favor. My uncle emailed a few weeks ago asking me to buy and bring him a replacement toilet seat after the plumber fell on and broke his handcrafted Italian-made one with automatic lid. I had to search half the country to find the €120 replacement. The entire saga was absurd.
Obviously, I could phone more often, but that’s not really the point. Reinserting yourself into the family dynamic every time you go home is a bit like remembering not to drive like an Italian. I get itchy figures when I drive in Australia. I want to pass everyone, do at least double the speed limit and never use my turn indicators. I’ve already been stopped for the latter, and while the officer didn’t believe my “I think they’re broken” lie, he did let me off without a fine. What I’m trying to say is it requires a conscious effort to behave the way people expect you to and be the person you were before you moved overseas.
That person, in my case, was a vain and spoilt brat who before she moved to Italy was always on the verge of throwing a fit. I was obsessed with shopping and celebrities and getting my way — the average teen. I actually became a journalist because I was convinced it was my only way to meet and seduce Orlando Bloom. Talk about career aspirations.
Now I buy clothes twice a year and get stressed whenever I’m in shopping centers or big cities. I can’t handle all the people. I’m a country bumpkin. But it’s not a travesty, dear relatives. I didn’t bag Legolas and I garden more than I get glammed up and maybe, just maybe, I’m forgetting the odd English word, but there’s no need to get teary-eyed. I’m not the person I was when I left home. I’m better.
Of course, it’s unlikely any of them will believe that. I am the poor relative who left the bright lights of Melbourne for the saddest country town in Tuscany. It’s the role I have been cast and the one I’ll play along with, because that’s what expected when you go home.