Thursday, February 12, 2015

Expat Interview: Rick Zullo in Rome

For our third expat interview today, I was very excited to have the chance to chat with Rick Zullo, an award-winning travel writer living in Rome!

Wouldn't it be amazing to actually live in Rome where you could walk by the Colosseum every day? Rick says:

"I first came to Italy in the summer of 2010. I was participating in a literature program in Venice for about six or seven weeks and decided to extend my stay and travel around a bit. Also, I took the occasion to visit my great-grandparents' village in Molise. Then I wound up in Rome where I met an Italian woman who would eventually become my wife. So I went back to the States, sold my things, got a visa and moved back to Rome three months later. How's that for the quintessential 'American abroad' love story?"

What do you love most about living in Italy?
 Wow, hard to pick one thing. And in fact I think it's not just one thing, but the overall mix that creates such an interesting atmosphere in daily life. I love that my evening's entertainment is a passeggiata and an aperitivo. I love that some of the best museums in this incredible, historic city are churches in my own neighborhood.

What do you miss most from home?
Not much, really. I guess mainly the ease of getting simple tasks done, which in Italy often requires a monumental degree of stamina and patience. Something as mundane as picking up a package at the post office can consume an entire frustrating day.

Aside from post office troubles - which I've struggled with myself - what do you think is the hardest part of living in a different country?
It's hard to make deep, lasting friendships with local people who have such different cultural reference points. In Italy, it's very easy to make the acquaintance of someone, but there always seems to be an invisible barrier that prevents a closer bond. That's why expats typically hang out with other expats. The language can be a big part of that too, of course.

Have you adopted any Italian habits or mannerisms over the past few years?
That's a great question! There are several. I no longer put ice in my drinks, and I no longer tolerate air conditioning unless it's VERY hot. I wear more scarves than ever before. And for anything food related, I've been completely converted to the Italian ways. Also, I hate to admit it, but I've acquired some Roman driving habits. Enough said.

What have you found to be the biggest difference between Italy and the US?
Well, there are so many small differences that play a role in daily life, and those are the ones that I notice the most. But if I had to pick one big one, it would be related to how commerce and finances are handled. There are so many regulations and barriers in place in Italy, that one can be forgiven for not wanting to participate at all. This goes for anything from hiring employees, to opening a bank account, to signing a rental contract, to making simple purchases. Try to return an item at any retail store and you'll find out. I'm often reluctant to buy some things, because I know what a major issue it will be if I have to return it for any reason.

How did you learn to speak Italian?
Initially, I made huge strides with a software program. That got me to "functional" before I ever even moved to Rome. Then once I got to a basic conversational level, it was just a matter of using it in everyday life.

What's your favorite Italian meal?
Oh, so many! I love all the typical primi piatti in Rome, but I have a favorite Sicilian dish called bracciole di pesce spade - grilled swordfish fish rolls. There's a restaurant in Rome called Capricci Siciliani that does a good job with them.

Do you feel totally comfortable living in Italy now or are there some days that can be overwhelming? 
There are moments that are difficult, but overall I'm very comfortable in Italy. No matter where you live, you gain something, you lose something. But on balance, life in Italy suits me better than anyplace else that I've lived.

Where is your favorite place to travel to in Italy?
I always tell people that if you want to live in Italy, you should look for places from Rome to the North. On the other hand, for the pure pleasure of traveling, I like to go south to Sicily. Not sure I would live there, though.

Favorite thing to do?
What I appreciate about Italy is that the best things are the simple things. Go for a walk, poke your head inside a church or local museum, stop for an aperitivo and just enjoy the surroundings. Then once in a while, sit in a cozy trattoria with good friends and a few bottles of wine for about 3 hours of eating, drinking and conversation. Life can't offer much more than that, in my opinion.

Thank you so much, Rick! I loved what Rick said about some of the best museums in Rome being churches in his own neighborhood - I think that's one of the most fascinating (and different!) things about Italy. Rick writes a great blog which you can read here and check out his eBook, Live Like an Italian! You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, too.

And PS - our first two expat interviews are here and here.