Expatriates: Still sort of American

You might say George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are among the greatest heroes of American history because they had the courage to stay loyal to the U.S. through the worst, but I’d have to argue that Margo, Sharla and Giancarlo are just as heroic for mustering up the courage to leave the freest country in the world.

Though the notion of moving abroad permanently excites me, the concept remains just as foreign to me as Italy itself. We CIMBA students have been in Italy for nearly three months and are well-versed in tabacchi products and prosecco wines, but we’re still awed at the idea that an American could drop everything to live in Italy indefinitely. So, naturally, the panel of four expatriates that sat before us one night last week intrigued us all.

Waiting at the Bassano del Grappa train station

Sharla, an expat who has lived in Italy longer than her 15-year-old daughter has been alive, said she literally hasn’t seen “this many Americans in decades.” Though she was there to answer our questions, she wanted to know about us, about our lives as Americans, something with which she has been out of tune.

I was surprised, in fact, by how very American they all still seemed, considering how far removed they are from American culture. They, like us, sometimes missed things like bagels and chipotle–though the longer they live there, “the smaller the list gets,” according to Margo, and “now when I go back to the U.S., sometimes I want a spritz”–and there are certain ancient Italian practices they still haven’t gotten over, like working around inconvenient store hours and siestas.

“In America you can be like, ‘Oh, it’s 2 a.m. and we need milk, let’s go get it!’ Here, you have to plan ahead for everything,” Margo said. Added Giancarlo, “planning business things like meetings is really frustrating.”

Though they live lives I thought I couldn’t imagine, the expats echoed my thoughts every few minutes with one of their comments about living here in Italy. Sharla said, “When I go to the States to visit my family, I feel more Italian. Here I feel more American.” I, too, feel more American than ever here, but compared to many of my schoolmates who’ve never ventured outside of Oregon, I’m practically a native European.

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Heroes, though their status seems loftier, are just as human as the rest of us. No exception here. These expats did something unthinkable to most of us at CIMBA, yet somehow they were just like us.

When Margo mentioned peanut butter longingly and the whole room sighed with her in moans of gastronomic pain, I realized that, while we students haven’t left our home country for good, we’re expats in many respects too. I envied these panelists their ability to just up and leave for something completely foreign, but in a way, I did the same thing.

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