Italian American Expat in Florence
Italian American Rachel Vermiglio Smit Mason
lives in Florence and is contributing to the Expat SeriesI met Rachel in Florence while doing interviews for a blog project last year. She generously shared her favorite pizza restaurant with me, Napoli pizzia.
Her Italian American Story:
“I first fell in love with Italy when I was a little girl. My grandfather, a winsome southern Italian man who called every woman a ‘broad’, shared stories and tidbits of a magical country, a faraway from his typical American home. As I grew up, sometime between dancing to the Tarantella and stealing my parents’ wine, Italy became my Disneyland.”
“To say I am (and was) obsessed with all things Italian is to put it mildly. Then one day when signing up for my first college classes, I took my infatuation from childish enthusiasm to serious stalker status and declared my major as Italian language, literature and art history.”
“Since 2005, I have lived on and off in this beautiful, mystifying, welcoming, harsh country. It is a land of contradictions, both maddeningly frustrating and achingly gorgeous. “
How long have you been an Expat in Italy?
I first came to Italy for an extended period of time when I studied abroad in 2005. I was here for 6 monthsand knew then that I would be returning to live here someday. I did return as panned and was here from 2009-2010 and again for a part of 2011.
What made you decide to no longer be a visitor, but to be a resident in Italy?
I have always loved Italy. I loved it when I had never even seen it, from hearing about it from my family. I loved it before I spoke the language or had friends here or a life here. Now, I voe it even more for all of those things. For me, at the state I am at now I really cant’ imagine living anywhere else.
Any reason you wish to share, for selecting the city/town you live in?
I studied abroad in Florence in basically a dice roll between here and Rome. I think the fates chose correctly, because it was love at first Cupola. I still remember seeing the Duomo for the first time and just being in awe of the sheer size of the place. I had never seen a church so big or beautiful.
I was a die hard adopted Fiorentina from that moment on. In the end , it has worked out great since I have a MA in art history with a focus on the Italian Renaissance but if I am honest, I fell in love with Renaissance as I fell in love with Florence.
Did you speak Italian before you moved to Italy?
I was an Italian major in college and my family spoke dialect, so not really. I studied a lot in school but studying and speaking are two different things.
What is or was the most difficult part(s) of expat life?
A lot of tourist say, “I could live here” when they visit Italy but they have no idea what living here is actually like. In many ways it is a hard life. People work all the time, for very little pay, for example I have 5 jobs and am constantly running all over the city.
Simple tasks, like going to the doctor, calling a plumber or going to the post office can turn into all day, confusing, frustrating affairs. Nothing is easy’ here, you have to work hard all the time- not just at your job, but at home.
I am lucky to live in a modern luxuries, but still everyday, I climb 84 steps just to return home. I carry groceries for blocks and blocks, navigating tourists and motorini.
I wait in long, disorganized lines. I hang my clothes out to dry, then do the wash again when a pigeon poops on them. I deal with bureaucracy that would make any sane person want to cry and then do it again and again when they lose, misfile or “misplace” my inform.
People come here and see the beauty, the art, the food, and these are of course part of life here, but when you’re in the trenches of the day to day, there is just so much more that goes into having a real life in Italy.
What is the most rewarding parts of expat life?
So despite my long list of difficulties, I actually enjoy working 5 jobs. Unless I am exhausted, being on the top floor of a 15th century palazzo has it’s perks, and while many of the other things I will never learn to love, I have learned to let go. My life here is more honest and authentic than it was in the US. Every day I do things that make me happy.
I feel like I live my life for me now, and no one else. It’s rewarding in a way I had never found in the US.
Do you have dual citizenship with Italy?
Yep. Thank goodness- it makes my life a lot easier.
To stay long term in Italy, what documentation is needed?
Americans can stay up to 90 days in Italy in any 180 day period, without a visa. This means, 90 day in 90 days out. There are a lot of misconceptions and terrible information out there saying if you leave for a few days outside of the Schengen region your clock resets but it DOESN’T.
I cant’t stress this enough, it is very clear, 90 days in, then 90 days out.
You can stay any combo of 90 days in any 180 day period, but that is it. If you want to stay longer, you need to get a visa.
Do you plan to remain in Italy long term?
Let’s just say, I have no plans to leave. My life here is just what i wanted it to be.
Sure I wish I only needed three job instead of five, or that electricity didn’t cost more than some mortgages (add that to the dislike list) but my life is really beautiful in Italy and I don’t plan on changing it anytime soon.
Most recently as of 014, I have been living permanently in my family’s homeland and making a serious go of turning Italy into a real ‘home’.
I have also started a new website, launching soon, italianista.com.
There are a ton of expat websites out there, but I find that they are often lacking in some of the harder, meatier aspects of life here.
It’s great to know places to eat and how to do simple things, but what about the tough stuff?
I didn’t find any resources in English when I moved here so I am hoping to create a space for that online plus share aspects of Italian culture and daily life as seen from a slightly different perspective of an Italian American Dual Citizen.
Contact Rachel at: