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Interview with Anna S – an expat learning to love Italy

Updated 28 Mar 2011

Anna Savino was born in San Francisco, raised in the California wine country, jumped up to Seattle for college, transferred to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, worked and played in LA – and ended up in a tiny town in Piedmont, Italy called Saluzzo. She settled here 1) for love 2) and for stubbornness, and has not found life here without its challenges. She says, "part of the fun is the journey!" an attitude captured in her fascinating and colourful blog

Read more about the country in the Expat Arrivals Italy country guide, or read more expat experiences in Italy.

About you

Q: Where are you originally from? 
A: I was born in San Francisco, California, grew up in both Sonoma and Napa Valleys. These beautiful surroundings made me appreciate good wine, food and the “slow” life from a young age. In fact, we always called Sonoma “SLOWNOMA”.

Q: Where are you living now? 
A:  Currently I am living in a small town called Saluzzo in Piedmont, Italy. The region borders France in the Northwestern part of the boot.

Q: How long have you lived in Piedmont? 
A:  I have lived here for an unbelievable six years!

Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children? 
A:  No, I came over by myself at 22 years old just knowing the words bongiorno and ciao!

Q: Why did you move to Italy; what do you do? 
A:  My parents studied in Rome during University and encouraged me to do the same because it was such an incredible experience! Since I transferred schools in my Junior year, I was faced with a big decision and decided not to go to Rome. But I was determined to find a way after school. After searching strenuously on the Internet with no luck, I finally used connections and found an urgent teaching job in a tiny town I had never heard of!  These eight months of teaching in a private language school have turned into much more of a permanent situation! Now I do a little bit of everything: teach English, translate and collaborate on food, wine and tourism projects.

About Saluzzo, Italy

Q: What do you enjoy most about Saluzzo, how’s the quality of life? 
A:  The quality of life here is excellent. It could be considered expensive for what it is, but I have survived on a very low income and walk everywhere. I have no car!

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home? 
A:  Of course there are negatives. I miss my family and friends and their mentality. Piemonte are known for their defensiveness. It is very hard to break the barrier, but once you do, they will welcome you with open arms. I missed having the Internet and take-away coffees that could warm my hands as I walked in the cold. Certainly I miss ethnic food and other California favourites like avocados!

Q: Is Saluzzo safe? 
A:  Absolutely! Compared to other cities that I have lived in, like Seattle and Los Angeles, there is no comparison. When I first started living here alone at 22 years old, I remember everyone being worried in my town. It just wasn't a normal thing to do for a girl at that age. I would laugh it off!

Q: Describe an ideal way to spend a weekend in Piedmont? 
A:  Well again, Saluzzo is not a city. But if you would have to spend a weekend, I would suggest the lovely outdoor market on Saturday where you can buy all the fresh produce and smell the fresh flowers. This area is very agricultural, so the fruit is always delicious!

Since all the shops are open on Saturday, I would visit the tiny boutique shops in the pedestrian centre and have an aperitivo accompanied by an all-you-can-eat buffet! Of course you could go to a nice restaurant afterwards and attend outdoor festivities and events in the summertime.

Sunday is a quiet day to relax, so I would eat a typical Piemontese lunch and burn it off by walking up the steep historical hillside. Nestled in the tiny cobblestone streets, you can find historical monuments dating back to the 1400s. If it is a nice day, you can even go up to the Torre Civica and get a good view of the panorama and Monviso peak.

Around Saluzzo there are plenty of sites to see. If you are outdoorsy, you could hike or ski in the nearby Alps. While if you are a city lover, you could visit Turin, an underrated magnificent city which is only about 45 minutes away. In the other direction we have the wine country, home to Barolo and Barbaresco where you can spend a culinary day or weekend. In summer, we have the Riviera one hour south. We have it all!

About living in Italy

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Italy as an expat? 
A:  I like the small towns because you are forced to learn the language. You can really get to know the people and customs.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation? 
A:  The accommodations are top-notch, although sometimes they are still a little behind with wireless and there aren't very many low-cost options like hostels.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Italy compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular? 
A:  It depends. In America, if you want quality, you have to pay for it! High quality is just the standard here in Italy. This means that a good glass of wine at an enoteca with a vast array of finger foods could cost you just 5 EUR. At home, I was used to paying at least 10 USD with nothing to munch on! Italians believe that wine must be paired with food ALWAYS! Thirty EUR a head for dinner may seem pricey but considering how much food you eat for that, it makes it seem like a great deal!

However, regarding fashion and shopping, everything is much more expensive!

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats? 
A:  I love meeting up with expats when I get the chance, but I have a lot of Italian friends too. Being in a small town doesn't give me the opportunity to have many expat friends although I do seek them out if I hear about them. Mixing with locals gives you insight on the culture… and isn't that why we travel?

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Italy? 
A:  NO! I lived alone, I had no TV or radio or internet and taught English to older people in the school. I would go out with anyone who would even slightly offer. That meant going to polka discos too! Finally, I started meeting friends of friends and being bold by asking people upfront if they wanted to go out, even if I hardly spoke Italian! I remember I would take my pocket dictionary and look up every word just to hold a conversation.

About working in Italy

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit? 
A:  Yes. Permits have been my nightmare. I used up all my student visas because you can only renew them 3 times. When you study, you cannot work, or at least that is what they told me. In Italy, the rules change depending on who you have in front of you. That was the most frustrating part. I tried to get a work permit through Italy's very irrational and difficult system and was surprisingly denied for some unknown reason. It was luckily that time in my life to get married to my Italian boyfriend of five years, so we tied the knot and everything became easier. But it never ends, trust me.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Saluzzo, is there plenty of work? 
A:  My town is very wealthy but does not offer many International job opportunities. Its main sources of income are from the agricultural or machinery industries. Otherwise, teaching is the best bet. However in proximity, we have Langhe Valley, a world-famous wine region which could offer many opportunities in import/export and marketing of food and wine. I am trying to get my driving licence, so I can make it over there more easily and hopefully become a guide.

Q: How does the work culture in Italy differ from home? 
A:  Well, as I said, the Piemontese work very hard and long hours, and many of them even work on Saturdays. Even teachers work on Saturday because the schools are all open. It is starting to change. When I first got here, everything would be closed for three hours at lunchtime and everyone definitely had time to eat out for lunch or go home and eat with the family. Perhaps they even had time for an hour of laying out by the public pool, or taking a nap. Now places like supermarkets are open even during the lunch hour, which means that people have less time here too.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?  
A:  Absolutely not! I had no help whatsoever. I had to live in people's houses from week to week until I found a very modest apartment.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? 
A:  I was solo at the time! My Italian husband has trouble adjusting to my “messiness” sometimes. He doesn't get the same treatment as he did while living with his mom ;) Freshly ironed shirts every day, packed lunches, and all meals made!

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Italy? 
A:  Healthcare is a very complicated situation. In my experience, it has been great. You have all the services you need free at the hospitals, but you just have to be patient and wait in lines. I got an eye infection once and went to the ER, had a check-up, was given medicine all for free! You must have an Italian permit or Codice Fiscale which is like a Social Security Card. You get this within the first eight days you are in the country.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals? 
A:  You have to be outgoing and courageous. Nothing comes easily. Give everything time. Don't be afraid to make mistakes when you are talking. Sometimes I had to draw stuff to communicate, but it will show the locals that you are trying! Explore everything and stay positive!

~ Interviewed April 2011

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