Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Expat Interview: Karen Henderson in Venice

For our second expat interview, I talked to Karen Henderson who moved to Venice from Baltimore, Maryland with her husband in 2008. Can you imagine living in Venice?! I've always wondered if people who live in Venice ever get lost (she said they don't anymore and they know almost every street very well from walking so much!). Here's what else she said:

"My husband and I moved to Italy in 2008 to escape our very hectic corporate American lives. We wanted to live a more simple life, centered on food, family and enjoying life with a more positive attitude. We loved the Italian lifestyle, so we decided to move there."

What was the most difficult thing to get used to?
Having to deal with all the bureaucratic issues of a foreign country, especially with no friends or family here at the time. And having very little knowledge of the Italian language.

How did you learn to speak Italian?
We're still learning. When we first moved, we didn't have any friends or family to help us learn, but we've taken private lessons with some great teachers over the years. Because my husband and I are both American, we aren't immersed in Italian at home so learning the language has been slower for us than we anticipated.
What do you love most about living in Italy?
I love the food. And I love the focus on family.

What do you miss the most from home?
Not much! Occasionally, I miss things like Hersey's Kisses or Tootsie Rolls. My friends and family send them to me every now and then though, to handle my craving.

What do you think is the hardest part of living in a different country?
Learning to adapt to totally different ways and a different culture that can be very foreign. The trick to surviving, I think, is not expecting Italy to be anything like the U.S. It's not and it never will be.

Was it easy to make friends in Venice?
Not making local friends easily has been one of our biggest disappointments. We do have expat friends who were easy to meet. There are local expat groups where we met people and we see them often. Venetians, though, aren't so easy to meet, especially if you're like we are: married to another expat. We didn't come to Venice to marry an Italian so we don't have an Italian family to be immersed in. Getting past those invisible walls to make good friends is tough here. I think in other Italian cities, it would have been easier. But Venice is such a tourist city with a fairly low resident population (56,000 and shrinking), and the Venetians stick to themselves. At least, this has been our experience. Only this past year, when I was adopted by the local rowing club, Pink Lionesses in Venice, did I begin to make local Venetian friends.

Have you adopted any Italian mannerisms or habits?
We do the afternoon passeggiata (walk) almost every afternoon. It's one of the best parts of the day now.

What's your favorite Italian meal?
Coming from an Italian family, I've always loved Italian food. Lasagna is and always will be my favorite.

Can you share a favorite spot or two in Venice?! We're always looking for new ideas...
Our favorite cafe is Imagina Cafe on Rio Tera Canal in Campo Santa Margherita. It's the best cafe/bar in town! Our favorite restaurant is Al Giardinetto in Castello, just off Ruga Giufa.

If friends or family back home ask you questions about what you're doing or when you're coming home, is there one that really bugs you?
Many people ask when we're moving back home rather than just coming for a visit. I just keep saying "not going to happen!"

Where is your favorite place to travel to in Italy?
We love exploring Venice, where we live, of course. But a second favorite would be Cinque Terre.

Favorite thing to do?
You know that Italian saying "la dolce per fare niente" (the sweetness of doing nothing)? My favorite thing is having a drink in an outside cafe, enjoying the weather and doing some people watching. That's a perfect example of la dolce per fare niente.

Thank you, Karen! You can check out Karen's blog here....and stay tuned for our third interview next month. (The first one is here.)