The “Real” Dolce Vita: What it’s actually like living in Italy
The idea of living the “sweet life” is intrinsically Italian. It’s what everyone envisions moving to Italy is like, with inspiration taken from films and Instagram pictures of “influencers”. It’s the idea that life in Italy is made up of the following and little else: vino, pizza and gelato.
There are so many misconceptions when it comes to living in Italy and the stereotypical dolce vita is both an exaggeration and underestimation of what living in this country is like. Obviously there are positives and negatives to living in every country, but in this post I wanted to address the stereotypes that leave people wanting to move to Italy so badly, without a real idea of what it’s like living here. So here is my list of the 7 myths of living in Italy and what actually makes up the “real” dolce vita, at least for this American ex-pat.
Myth 1: People in Italy eat pizza and pasta all the time.
Whenever people come to visit (and this is true for every single friend, family member, or stranger I’ve talked to about this) they say that they could never last here because they would gain so much weight eating pizza and pasta all day.
The fact is, you don’t eat heavy pastas and pizza all day. While traditional Italian families will eat pasta for lunch most days, the rest of their diet is structured around that and to help aide in digestion. Eating a heavier lunch and lighter dinner, a larger variety of produce, less fat and more organic food all helps keep you healthier on an Italian diet. And while I took eating to the extreme when I studied abroad here, since living here my diet has evened out much more and I can still eat pizza and pasta on a consistent (but not daily) basis without gaining any weight.
Myth 2: Italians are constantly drinking wine
I find less people here drink than in the US, at least in terms of quantity. It’s totally normal to go out to a bar or for aperitivo and get one, maybe two drinks. It’s not normal to go out and get 4+ drinks a night, and that’s where the American drinking culture really differs from the one here. Italians care about the quality of what they drink, not the quantity.
Actually, I haven’t been drinking alcohol for 4 months and am still managing to have a social life and go out without it.
Myth 3: Italians don’t work
Honestly, this is one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about Italians I find. The idea that if you move here, you’ll barely have to work and have the whole summer off and fit right in with the lack of work ethic in the culture. Most Italians I know are incredibly hard working (almost to a fault) and the biggest issue is with the youngest generation under 35 that had an unemployment rate of 37% as of 2017. It’s so difficult for young Italians to find jobs right now and almost impossible without years of studying, getting a masters’ degree (almost everyone I know my age has one or is studying for one) and getting short term contracts without the benefits of a permanent contract. There’s a reason that so many Italians are leaving the country to go find work and it’s because the economy is still struggling from the recession here, which hit even harder than it did in the U.S.
So yes, Italy takes 2-3 weeks off in August for holidays like many other European countries. But this is one pro on a whole list of cons of working in this country, which is absolutely full of hard-working people.
Myth 4: It will be easy for me to find work as an expat in Italy
Suffice it to say, this couldn't be further from the truth. Just as it’s not easy for Italians to find work here, getting a job in Italy with a work visa if you come from outside the E.U. is extremely difficult. With the current economic status of the country, there aren’t many companies willing to pay for the steps involved in the visa process. The only way I managed to work this out was to start small with a lot of side jobs (i.e. working a pubcrawl, teaching English, private lessons) until I found something more stable. Definitely don’t underestimate the time and dedication that finding employment here takes.
Myth 5: Everyone already speaks English, so I don't need to learn Italian
While it’s true that in the center of Rome and most Italian cities, you can find people who speak English, if you rely on this as your only form of communication, it won’t go well for you. At least a few basic phrases are essential to living here and if you haven’t studied Italian before, now is the time to sign up for some classes and start studying on your own. You’ll find your dolce vita experience is much more enjoyable when you can actually understand and be understood by everyone living here.
Myth 6: Living in the "Old World" is so romantic
Maybe, but you'll have to accept waiting at least 30 minutes for your bus to arrive, leaving yourself 1 hour to get anywhere in the city, planning your life around public transportation strikes, waiting in life for hours for official documents or the mail or any other type of government activity and just about waiting around for everything. It won't always be pleasant, sometimes you'll want to rip your hair out. And that has to be worth it for you.
p.s. I bring along a book or podcast to keep me occupied in all of those situations and manage to ignore them for the most part.
Myth 7: I will live among the monuments in the city center
Most Italians, specifically Romans, tend to live outside the center unless they have a great job or a lot of family money. I live outside the center! While I do have friends who live in the beautiful if poorly connected areas of Trastevere and the Centro Storico, all of my Italian friends on tighter budgets live on the periphery. You're much more likely to find young people in areas like Montesacro, Bologna, Ostiense and San Paolo than Via Veneto or Piazza di Spagna.
So I guess the point of this post, which seems rather depressing but is meant to be helpful, is that you should have an idea of what kind of "dolce vita" you’re getting yourself into. Living in Italy, and Rome specifically, is not easy and not for those who don't want to put in the effort to make it an enjoyable experience. If you want to dive deeper than a couple months study abroad or a one week trip, you’ll need to start understanding that these stereotypes just aren’t true.
And if you don’t live here or aren’t contemplating living here, I wish you the best because it truly is the ~sweetest life~ when you’re here on vacation.
If you think I've been too harsh or have another perspective on this topic, please leave a comment below! As I've said, this is only my personal opinion on what living here is like and of course, it leaves out many of the perks that make it 100% worth it in my opinion.