For this American woman, the fantasy of the Italian man doesn’t meet the fantasy of Italy
(Editor’s note: Annamaria Borelli is an American woman with Italian roots who left her New Jersey home for the dream of Italy 10 years ago. She recently moved to Bari, Puglia, where she works as an English teacher when she isn’t blogging or singing opera and jazz. She offers advice to anyone moving to Italy, particularly women who fall in love.)
BARI, Italy — One small country, one big move. All my life I wanted to pack up and move to Europe, and finally it happened. Italy has always intrigued me. I am an Italian-American girl from New Jersey who grew up speaking the language. I remember going to Italy when I was a little girl. I went to Puglia to be exact (the region representing the heel of Italy’s boot), and was swept away by the beauty, the people, the food, the customs and, of course, the lifestyle. However, under the exterior of delicious cuisine, quaint countryside and fabulous beaches lie disappointment and frustration, especially when it comes to what attracts so many women: the Italian man.
I thought, How could I get to this magical place and the answer, in my case, was attending university. I grew up in the small suburban town of Long Branch right on the ocean. It was a quiet life with occasional visits to New York City. When the opportunity came to attend John Cabot University in Rome I had to take it. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. However, real life and fantasy often don’t mix, and it’s difficult to make dreams a reality. It may seem obvious, but when dreams propel your very existence, when you want something so badly it is all you can think about, no obstacle can hinder the ultimate goal.
If you are reading this, I am sure you can relate. I eventually applied and got all of my documents together (which is content for another blog entirely). I was finally packed and on my way to Rome. While at university I always worked with children. I love children and teaching, so while at university I found jobs to make some extra money teaching children English. I loved it and continue to love it today. It is an extremely rewarding experience and it is so important for me to share my story, especially if it could inspire someone else to take that leap.
However, no one really tells you what to expect or that it won’t be like your little Puglia fantasy. I was going to Rome, and it was a whole other world. A big European city. The only times I had really been anywhere huge was going to the theater in New York City, but that was just a day trip and we drove. This was maneuvering not only a big city, but also a European one. With that comes a whole new set of rules, a new culture, in a country that I grew up admiring from afar. Now, I was in the trenches. After 10 years in Rome, I decided to change my life and move down to Bari, in the region of Puglia two weeks ago
University and new cities were just practical reasons in order to get to Italy and eventually live there. The real and deeper reason I came to Italy was the fantasy of the Italian man. Growing up in the United States I never had a boyfriend. My teenage years were very sad regarding this point and no one seemed interested in me. In high school I could have walked through the hallways naked and no one would have turned their heads. I then went to music conservatories and theater programs and those guys were taken, gay or awkward.
I remembered my vacations in Italy and finally being noticed by men and it was exhilarating. A woman likes to be admired for her beauty. It is nice to flirt and Italians have a way of flirting with women that really gets you, especially if you are foreign and come from a different culture. When talking to an Italian man he will comment on features he finds appealing.
I remember when I was at the bank arguing with the clerk about a discrepancy on my account, even in his frustration with me, he looked up at me and said, “Complimenti per gli occhi” meaning, “Beautiful eyes.” Ok, it does seem banal, but it was nice to hear. I have always had the fantasy of this Italian man. A man that would sweep me away with his Italian accent, fabulous style, charm and the general magic that I feel towards the Italian culture. It was this feeling that brought me here to find my southern Italian man.
The thing is, ladies, I did find him. We met through friends in Rome, and when he told me he was from the town of San Giovanni in Fiore (pop. 17,000), Calabria, the region that forms the toe of Italy’s boot, it became my new favorite region. I looked up every possible fact or food I could find to impress him so he knew how much I was interested in his life.
We were together for a little under four years living in Rome. We traveled all over Italy together and met each other’s families. He even came to America, tasted Dunkin Donuts coffee and confirmed that he would never live in the States. I already figured that out. It didn’t take much, but the thought of me living in Calabria for the rest of my life scared me. Calabria was his ultimatum, and I just couldn’t commit to that life. He was a good person, and I did love him. I wanted a life in Southern Italy on my terms and not on his terms.
Italian men are sexy, from the bus driver to the lawyer to the businessman to the doctor. Italian men seem cultured and educated, even more so in the eyes of a foreign woman. My advice: Take the fantasy out of it. What went wrong in my relationship was there was too much fantasy. I had too many expectations. Just because he is Italian there are different rules? Fall in love with the person first. If he happens to be Italian that is a plus.
Come to Italy, and be in Italy because you love the culture and find a job that can sustain you economically and if you are lucky, a job for which you are passionate. Go to the bars, drink the coffee. If you can, buy the clothes, go to the beaches, the beautiful cities, the monuments, the history, the music. Enjoy it all and take it all in. Don’t try to be Italian. Live your truth, in a beautiful place. Put yourself out there in a real way, and only in this way can you find a real man. The fantasy is only a fantasy and overrated.
I would not trade anything in the world for my 10 years here in Rome. It has shaped me into the person I am today. I am also looking forward to what my new experience in Puglia will bring. The word I would say for any endeavor, especially coming to Italy, is perseverance. Do not quit or give up because it is extremely worth the experience. The most important thing is to not get carried away by the fantasy. If you live with that in mind you are sure to be disappointed. Whether you are here one month, five years, or 10 enjoy every second of it, take it all in, and while you are sipping that cappuccino remember, la dolce vita is what you make it.
December 9, 2020 @ 4:25 am
Love, love, love this piece thank you so much. I lived in Rome for a year when I was 19 as an Au-pair. I came from a small town in California and had never been outside of the USA. I loved every second.
I am now 46 and often dream of moving back to Rome. I have always felt as if I left a piece of my heart in Rome. I look forward to your future pieces regarding Italy and in particular your new adventure(s) in Bari! Tell me do you think that an American Psychologist could make a living as an english speaking Psychologist in Italy? I might just pick up and move to Italy- age be damned!
December 10, 2020 @ 5:13 am
Victoria, don’t let age have anything to do with it. Two years ago, at 67 and never having been to Europe, I moved to Italy. Love it here. Zero regrets.
December 10, 2020 @ 11:23 am
Ginger: would you share a little more info? Where you moved to, do you speak Italian, did you apply for Elective Residency or do you have citizenship by ancestry and did you know anyone there before you moved?
December 12, 2020 @ 7:24 pm
I, too, would like to know more about Ginger’s move, having wanted to do that myself for ages. I did spend 5 weeks in Rome 3 years ago and was to do that again this past September, but you know what happened …. nothing. Covid, cancelled. Ginger, did you make the move solo or with a companion?
December 13, 2020 @ 6:45 am
A quick reply to Ginger, Barbara, and Keesha..you go girls! Age is just a number!
June 16, 2021 @ 6:41 am
Thank you Ginger for your comment sorry for the super late response. You have inspired me to continue with my dream despite my age! Are you still enjoying your adventure?
December 13, 2020 @ 6:44 am
So glad you enjoyed it…more to come with the fabulous John Henderson!
December 9, 2020 @ 7:50 am
I can relate to her experience with men in the US. I got very little attention from boys in my teens and even into my 20-30”s the only men who were interested and made advances were married. #SMFH
December 9, 2020 @ 8:48 am
I find it interesting that a woman who was ignored most of her young adult life finds a man in Italy whom she loves and spends 4 years with suddenly decides that the physical location of their relationship is enough to end it. You can drive to many parts of Italy easily to keep it interesting
Lastly I’ve also heard that you got to be careful of what you wish for in seeking that Italian man. Many are not only still attached to their families but still live with them late in their lives.
December 13, 2020 @ 6:46 am
Hello Daniel, this is precisely the point of the article! I was so surprised anyone would look at me or be interested in me, not because I thought I was ugly or unworthy because this was simply what happened. So when I met my ex, it was surprising. That is the whole point of my experience….
December 9, 2020 @ 8:43 pm
I have finally FINALLY completed all the requirements to gain my recognition of Italian citizenship by right of blood (juris sanguinis) because my family originated there in Puglia and Molise. In fact, my grandfather was born in Monopoli (just outside of Bari), and my grandmother was born in Bitetto (ditto for the location). My mother’s parents are from Ferrazzano, just outside of Campobasso, Molise. So, the urge was in my genes.
But Italians take forever to do anything. Therefore, it may be a year or two before my papers actually arrive from Italy. For Italians, five minutes means five hours. And if they have a deadline, they won’t get started until five minutes before the clock strikes “time’s up”.
My last visit was a year ago, just before Covid, so I had a glorious time visiting family in La Salento… specifically around Lecce. Beautiful! The best part is that there are hardly any American tourists, but the art and architecture are still gorgeous. And the food! Can you ever get a bad meal in Italy?? We dined at a masseria for Sunday dinner… three hours long. And we visited more churches and architectural wonders than I can remember. We also visited friends in Parma, family in Giulianova, and more friends in Rome. The best thing about having friends and family in Italy is that you get to see places that the tour buses miss completely. So you’re hanging out with the real people and enjoying the real restaurant gems.
Was I looking for an Italian man? Nah. Although the Italian males do appreciate feminine beauty, and they are a handsome bunch, I already have my “favorite guy” with me. He’s of German and English extraction, but you can’t have everything. LOL! Actually… you can. Not being Italian is his only shortcoming.
As soon as this Covid craziness is over, I’ll be on a plane again for the southern part of Italy. There’s still so much more to see and do! Maybe I’ll even run into you, Annamaria!
December 13, 2020 @ 6:48 am
Donna, fantastic comment! How lovely that you have found love! I am happy for you. If he is a good man and you have stuff in common the rest will fall into place I think. I am in Bari, Puglia at the moment, if you are around stop by! The beaches in Salento are gorgeous…that is for a future blog!
December 16, 2020 @ 9:22 am
greetings from another jersey gal (currently living in Ocean Grove) who has always longed to live in Italy. After spending Junior Year Abroad back a lifetime ago, I finally purchased a small apartment in Tuscany last year. Now just hoping to get back. With my kids being here, I will never be there full time but certainly hope to live at least half the year there.
January 22, 2021 @ 3:16 am
I enjoyed your article – thank you! I would love to know if you are singing in Bari? Are you able to enjoy your operatic training? I remember loving the Trullo homes when I was there they look like a theatre set! Pip