February 25, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Where the heart is

By |2018-03-21T19:03:24+01:00November 26th, 2014|"In the Sticks"|
I don't hate my life or I hate Italy. I'd just rather live in Australia.

an I be frank? I have a question that has been eating away at me for the better part of a month. Do all expats entertain vivid fantasies about returning to their homelands?

Full stop. Can I end my column here? Because I really do want to know and I don’t have enough expat friends to settle the argument.

It all started with the holiday season. My mother spent the first two decades of my life brow beating me into ignoring Halloween.

“We’re Australian,” she’d say. “We don’t do Halloween.”

So now to spite her, I always carve and almost always accidentally set alight my very own jack-o-lantern — a tradition that my 80-year-old neighbor annually brands “a waste of a perfectly delizioso pumpkin”.

Since moving to Italy, I’ve embraced Thanksgiving too. I spent the first few years of my life as a newly wed foreigner thinking tacchino (turkey) was Italian for a special cut of chicken, so it’s only fair that I now buy it deliberately. Plus I have a thing for stuffing.

I’m ridiculous for latching onto holidays that aren’t even mine, but that doesn’t explain why distance makes not just the heart, but also traditions, grow fonder.

I can assure you I don’t get this excited about Italian holidays. I don’t care about Carnevale. And I definitely couldn’t give two hoots about my town’s patron saint’s day, even if the parade lead by an extremely heavy statue in St Leonard’s likeness is always hilarious.

The wise among us will say it’s only natural that expats want to celebrate their heritage and the defining role it’s played in their character overseas.

That’s all well and good, but combine that with the teary-eyed affection most expats have for products sent from home and the wistful comments they make about eventually moving back, and you have a problem.

I have a jar of Vegemite, the salty, anchovy-colored breakfast spread that is Australia’s greatest contribution to the culinary world. I admire it reverently, but I refuse to open it. I’m waiting for a special occasion. Admitting that is sad.

But you know what? I’m tired of gushing false. I love country Tuscany. I’m just not in love with it.

I love the potential this beautifully untouched and completely underestimated destination has.

I love that everyone has dirt on everyone else. It’s despicable, but there is a certain amount of wicked enjoyment in knowing that your dentist has a second family and your mayor has a girlfriend he’s too embarrassed to introduce to anyone. She’s a perfectly nice girl. She just has a big nose. No, I’m not making this up.

I love the culinary traditions and simple pleasures of country life. But I hate its racism, hypocrisy and collective fixation on the way things were. You can never suggest anything innovative without getting a dirty look and muttered comment about messing with the natural order.

Plenty of expats will smile and tell you they’re in love with their adopted country, while doggedly planning their return home.

Whether they’re content to wait out the next decade or are browbeating their partner to give them a departure date within the next two years, the pipe dream is there.

Heck, I haven’t even been an expat that long and I’m clutching to the pipe dream. That doesn’t mean I hate my life or I hate Italy. I’d just rather live in Australia.

Whoever did the marketing campaign for expat life is a genius because they sure as hell glossed over the disadvantages of not being a native speaker, the reduced career opportunities and the pains of adjusting to a new world as an adult.

I don’t understand the Italian tax system. I can’t fathom why I pay so much for gas. I can’t bribe my builder to work faster. And I just want to buy shortcrust pastry that doesn’t have lemon in it – you can’t make grasshopper pie with a lemon-flavored pastry base.

I don’t think it has anything to do with Italy and Australia or whether your birthplace is supremely better or worse than your adopted country. I honestly believe we are conditioned to love the place we come from and will always want to go back.

Which begs the question. Why are there expats at all?

We all have our reasons for moving countries. Mine’s a 5-foot-10, thirty-something who thinks his new haircut makes him look like a sexy Argentinean footballer.

Whatever the motivation, I’d be curious to know if there are any expats who don’t truly, deeply and honestly want to move back, raise their kids, and retire in their native county?

I don’t want to call false advertising, but expat life is a bit like chinotto. It’s nowhere near as sweet as cola, but people keep buying it.

About the Author:

Australian writer Elisa Scarton wrote the column "In the Sticks" from 2014 through mid-2019.