Italy and reverse retirement: Should I stay or go?

Annamaria Borelli, a native of New Jersey, has lived in Italy for 13 years.
Annamaria Borelli, a native of New Jersey, has lived in Italy for 13 years.

(Director’s note: Annamaria Borelli adores her life in Puglia but the economic realities of being an expat in Italy are starting to hit home. She faces a tough decision. The guest blogger explains her dilemma.)

BARI, Italy — As I sit in my favorite bar in Bari, Bar Imbriani, and sip my wine and eat what might have been the most divine parmigiana of my life, I was contemplating a concept: Retirement in reverse.

What is retirement in reverse? Well, fellow readers, my life.  The life of a woman who escaped to Italy at age 24 and at age 37 can’t seem to tear herself away even when the work prospects look bleak.  I have the financial responsibility to go back home and get myself some proper employment.  I have the obligation to my soul to continue on this roller coaster that is life in Italy. If I’m living under a bridge at 80, well that’s my own fault.

So, what is retirement in reverse?  It is being able to enjoy your life before you get old. Let’s face it. The jobs I’ve had in Italy, the salary they offer, you can make that in a week in the U.S.  I cannot tell my friends or family in the States what I make because they would laugh in my face.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy

Life in Puglia

Summer in Puglia is like paradise on Earth.  Well, it’s Hell if you consider the intense heat. Everything else around it is beautiful.  The beaches, the food, the scenery and all for a low cost. Even if the prices do get jacked up in the summer.

I have seen some beautiful beaches in Italy: Sardinia, Salento, Monte Argentario and Capalbio in Tuscany to name a few.  The possibility of being able to do this at 25 instead of 75 is huge.  You are more mobile, you can actually run and you can truly enjoy the landscape.  You can swim, go on hikes (if that’s your thing). You can walk without back pain.  So why aren’t more people doing this?  Why does it have to be in reverse?

The natural progression of life.

Life in Italy is different

I think in 2024 things are changing.  The classic lifestyle of having children and settling down is becoming less common.  I don’t think that is the case in Southern Italy, however. I think in a more open-minded society different lifestyle choices aren’t as frowned upon.  It’s true that in an Ango-Saxon context there is a more linear progression with a certain timeframe.

I have heard here “piano piano (slowly, slowly).” Go at your own pace.  I have seen grown men in their parents’ houses until they’re 40 and need to find someone else to iron their shirts.

At least there is the benefit of sex in this new arrangement.  However, I wanted to explore.  I have had boyfriends, opportunities to settle, but there was something always pushing me to explore: a new place, a new person, a new idea.

Some people say when you alter this natural progression of life you are running away from something.  Maybe.  However, when I’m 80 and can’t move I can remember, “Damn I was hot in that bikini swimming in Salento.”  “How amazing was that parmigiana that time in Bari?”

These experiences you can’t get back. They are priceless.  Of course, it can’t last forever.  At 37 you must look at reality in the face and settle down.  What are some of the pitfalls and downsides of reverse retirement?

Downside of reverse retirement

Well, how can you buy a house without money?  If you are lucky to have a hefty savings your parents left you then you are lucky.  If you don’t, you risk not having enough money to live. This lifestyle needs to be given some kind of sell-by date.  You can’t live like this forever. Or can you?

This is what I tell myself, but some people want to continue in this life of instability and uncertainty. Which is worse? Instability and uncertainty or being 80 and never seeing Paris, or taking that trip, or doing that thing?

Another downside is having to really buckle down when you decide to end a life of being a travel nomad and make up for the lost time in terms of finances.  If I think of all the money I blew renting in Rome, it makes me sick.  I did the math, and it could have been a down payment on a house.

However, at the time, my thoughts were elsewhere, and I had no idea how to manage the housing market.  A woman alone, in Italy, a foreigner, managing it with no experience?  I would have gotten taken for a ride, and not a fun one.

The sabbatical

So, who am I to say if this is the correct way to live? What I do think is great is to maybe take that sabbatical year. See if you can take a break and see what is out there.  If it’s not better than what you have you can go back, but I say always give yourself that possibility.  Even if you get rejected, even if it doesn’t work, you get more no’s than a yes, it’s experience. It’s living. It’s life.

Should I say or should I go? This is my daily anthem.  It’s very difficult to leave Italy.  In terms of finances, I should have left five years ago.  Why do we rough it out? You have to have a heart to heart with yourself and come to terms with what is really important for you.

I am still making this decision, so the only advice I can give is apply.  Apply to different jobs, apply to jobs in Europe and in the States if you are a dual citizen,and then base it on how much you want to pursue that new job opportunity.

I ask myself the question, “Will my 50-year-old self hate me?” It’s a process, but with time, patience and a nice plate of orecchiette, the right decision will come.  As they say in Italian “Dove c’è speranza c’è vita.” (Where there is life, there is hope.)