Posts Tagged ‘culture’

The Ease of Doing Things

Tina Ferrari
  • By Tina Ferrari
  • October 13th, 2010

Though I’ve been in Italy a year, once in a while little things creep up that remind me that I’m not in the U.S.  Things we take for granted in our home country will often be much more noticeable in our new country and no matter how long we live in a place, for better or for worse, there’s always some adapting to do.

Take running errands.

Nary a soul to be seen at lunchtime

In Italy, if I go out to run three errands and get just one done, I feel lucky.  Here we are limited by several things, particularly lunch.  Stores, banks, post offices, close at lunchtime – in some towns here in the south that can mean from 1pm to about 5 or 5:30pm.  I’m not kidding.   It’s a ghost town for three to four hours.  If I want to get anything done, I either rush in the morning to get it done (and early or I risk waiting in line to be sent away at lunch time), or I wait until 5:30 and get caught in the after work crowd.  This means, one errand at a time, per day.  Unless it’s Sunday when not even the birds come out to sing.

It’s a little different than in a major city in the U.S. – If I need to get something done, and I don’t manage to leave the house until 1, no big deal. Everybody’s open.  It’s Sunday?  Not a problem, you’ll always find someone open, with the exception of the post office.  Midnight and you’re out of toilet paper?  Sure, okay – the grocery store a few blocks down is open all night.  Alas, for me, those days are over.

How do I cope with it?  Well, I don’t have much choice so I just deal with it. If I have three errands, I plan for just one.  When I accomplish it, I celebrate.  A big plus to this cultural difference is that when I have lunch plans with a friend, I can take as long as I’d like.

I could be romantic and say “I’ve slowed down, thanks to this pace of life” as I dreamily look off into the distance, thinking about the wild chicory I bought from the old man on the corner with a gleam in his eye.  As true as that may be on one hand, let’s be honest: there are times when instead I’m wringing my hands and pulling my hair, even weeping, wondering why I can’t get the simplest thing done in a normal way. Even if the chicory is good.

What’s cultural difference have you noticed the most in your new home?

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Doing Without

Tina Ferrari
  • By Tina Ferrari
  • July 29th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

I get into discussions with people in the US, once in a while, that surround the quality of life here in Italy.  It’s a topic I love delving into, as everyone always has a different opinion.  One recent discussion got me thinking about the things that I have learned to live without on my expat adventures.

A car. Being the nomad I am, a car would be pretty useless to me.  I stopped driving 10 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.  All the money I would have spent on insurance and car repairs, I instead spent on plane ticket and life experiences in new cultures.  While sometimes it is a pain to go without a car in Italy, I still live well – I live where I can walk almost everywhere, there is public transportation and I have recently discovered two local services, SalentoinBus and the Ferrovie del Sud Est, which are a bus and train service, respectively, and they go all over my dear little Salento.  In Buenos Aires it would have been crazy to have a car. With their amazing and reliable bus system, plus the subway (Subte) system, I got everywhere I needed to go with no problems.

A dryer. I know very few people in Italy who have a clothes dryer.  We all hang our clothes up to dry on a clothes line or a laundry rack, and when it’s sunny, things dry pretty quickly.  (In the winter this is no fun and it takes forever).  I think it has something to do with the voltage here, though I’m not sure.  But no dryers.  This was easy for me to get used to since I’m so picky about how my clothes are handled and never use a dryer anyway, but towels and sheets can be a bit of a nightmare.  Nonetheless, it’s really not that big of a deal.  I know people who say ‘I would never live where I can’t have a dryer’, and I say, is it really THAT important?  I ask myself, has my psychological or physical health worsened without a clothes dryer?  No.  Okay, then.

A giant salary. Ok, it would be great to make a  large salary and if one comes along I will definitely consider it, but all in all, I’m happy with how I live.  After having been through a crisis of sorts, my priorities have changed a lot in terms of money and now that I am making enough to live on again without freaking out, I feel pretty relaxed.  The average Italian salary is pretty low, regardless of what you do, and it’s important to consider that if you are looking to live here.  I personally do fine.  I am grateful that I can pay the rent, feed myself, and take tiny little trips around southern Italy.  I like to think that I live extremely well.  I don’t need extra gadgets or new clothes all the time.  Living with this kind of salary teaches you to look at things in a different way, and to save creatively.

What are the things you have learned to live without in your new home?

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy.  She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

More Things to Love About Living in Italy

Tina Ferrari
  • By Tina Ferrari
  • July 20th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

Will I ever run out of things to love about Italy?  I doubt it.  Here are my latest three favorite things…

Going out to buy wine. Everywhere else I have lived, purchasing wine has naturally involved buying a bottle at a time.  In Italy, you will certainly be able to do that, and good wine does not cost very much.  It’s an essential food here, and therefore accessible.  Something I have noticed a lot, particularly here in the Salento, is the act of going to a wine producer’s outlet and having them fill a jug several liters full of the elixir.  Prices are around 1 or 2 Euros a liter and if you know where to go, the quality is good.  I have found my place, where I am able to get three liters of wine for around 4 Euros or less.  If you consider that a bottle of wine is less than a liter, then you have an idea of what a good deal that is.  Once you get home, you simply transfer the wine from the large jug to more manageable bottles, and you’ve got enough wine for the week.

Gelato, even for the slim and trim. I love that gelato is not frowned upon as a diet-killer.  Here, particularly in the summer, it’s perfectly acceptable and normal to consume it on a very regular basis.  I have it almost every day (and no weight gain!).  I remember once commenting that gelato must be fattening, and a rather svelte Italian friend said, “Ha! You silly. Gelato doesn’t count!”   Of course not.   And it can make you so happy!  When I need a pick-me-up, I simply hop over to Natale, the nearby gelateria, and get a cone with two wonderful flavors such as pistachio and pine nut, and then I walk over to the Roman amphitheater in Piazza Sant’Oronzo and stare at it as I indulge in my nice cold treat.

The produce. Things look like they’ve just been picked here.  The zucchini still has the flowers attached.  Tomatoes are all kinds of different shapes and they actually taste like tomatoes.  Greens need to be washed really well because they still have dirt on the roots. Things are available in season and it doesn’t cost a lot to buy vegetables.  It’s amazing how high your quality of life feels when you don’t have to worry about being able to afford to eat healthy.  And with so much flavor, who can complain?

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

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Green Furniture – Interview With a Local Artist

Tina Ferrari
  • By Tina Ferrari
  • June 30th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

One wonderful thing about exploring your adopted city (or any city, really) is discovering its artistic life.  Lecce in particular is booming with creativity around every corner.  Since I set foot in this city, I’ve been surrounded by dancers like myself, singers, musicians, painters, sculptors… though Lecce has a population of less than a hundred thousand, it feels as big as Buenos Aires (14 million people) with all its cultural activity.  There is always something to see, something to do.

Avanzi exhibition

Avanzi exhibition

Walk down Via Palmieri in the historical center of Lecce and you will find a deconsecrated church that now hosts art exhibitions, such as the recent exhibition of Avanzi, a truly original furniture/home décor line designed by Lecce local Alessandra Bray.  Her eco-friendly pieces, made of the surprising elements of cardboard and leather, were on display for a week at the church of San Giovanni di Dio, and tourists and locals alike were able to stop in and chat with Ms. Bray about her creations – and even touch their soft leather.  Since the best way to get to know a city is by conversing with its people, I used the opportunity to chat with her and learn more about Avanzi and what inspired the birth of such a line.

Why cardboard and leather?

“I’ve always loved leather and appreciate the delicate beauty of cardboard,” says Bray, “particularly how something as durable as leather protects the fragile cardboard.”  She hadn’t originally considered giving her pieces an eco-friendly aim, but in essence, that’s what it is.  She continues to say that she was inspired by the thought of “creating – building – with the materials that are available nearby.”  To me, this is truly eco-friendly.  Nothing specially ordered and shipped by plane from across the world; Bray uses material that she gets locally.

Salento, the creative land

Ra lamp

"Ra" lamp

As I’ve said before, I find this city to be absolutely rich with creativity.  I asked Ms. Bray why this area in particular is so full of artists.  “We are children of the taranta,” is her answer.  What is the taranta?  It is a spider from this region with a particularly venomous bite.  When bitten, its venom practically possesses you to the point of causing you to hallucinate and shake.  The local folk dance, the pizzica, was born of this legend. Bray goes on to explain that the people here basically tremble with creativity – they’ve been “bitten”, and the act of constantly expressing and creating is the antidote for the venom.  Don’t worry though, you probably won’t meet such a spider here in the city of Lecce –  historically its victims have been those who work in the fields.

Open shelf

"Open" shelf

Are there traces of this incredible land in Bray’s work?  “Absolutely.  The land can be found within the lines of each piece I create.”  She explains that this region is flat and if you look at the architecture, particularly the famous Leccese Baroque buildings, it’s an example of  a need to fill in the lines. “It’s horror vacui, which is Latin for the fear of empty spaces,” she explains.  While I find this land far from empty, I think it’s true what she says – there is constant creation – art, architecture, music, dance – and perhaps part of the inspiration is in the flat land which serves as a blank slate.  There is no empty space in Bray’s work;  it is rich and full.

Lecce, the creative city for foreigners

I’m not from here, yet I too feel constantly inspired to create.  I asked Bray if people from the outside find that it’s easy to live a creative life here.  “Yes,” she says, “this is a city that envelops you, and once you truly discover it, it doesn’t let you go.”

She is right.  This city has taken a hold of me and is not letting me go.

If you would like to learn more about Alessandra Bray and Avanzi, you can visit her website at  If you can read Italian, her recent exhibition has also been featured in a local online magazine, Lecce Prima.

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Italy and the Importance of Eating

Tina Ferrari
  • By Tina Ferrari
  • June 16th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

Almost lunchtime in southern Italy

Almost lunchtime in southern Italy

I have had several American visitors over the past couple of months and have had a chance to hear firsthand what impressions people have when they visit – particularly when it comes to food.  I was lucky enough to grow up with a more Mediterranean eating style, but having others visit who are not used to it has opened my eyes to three things that are very important here in the culture, but perhaps strange for other people:

The importance of eating. If one thing is true about Italians, eating is very important for them.  Any time I go anywhere with a group to any sort of occasion, it either surrounds food, or by lunchtime (1 pm) or dinnertime (about 9 or 10 pm here in Puglia) we look at our watches, drop what we’re doing and dedicate ourselves to the meal – and if we’re at home this includes using a table cloth and setting the table properly.  This shocks (and pleases) my American visitors every time – in the American culture, sometimes you either grab something quick to eat at the computer while you’re working, or you are so busy you forget your mealtimes.  I can’t imagine most people I know here forgetting a mealtime, ever.  And considering how good the food is, I can’t blame them!

The importance of courses. The main observation my friends make when they visit is, “Gosh, they really eat a lot here!  It’s too much food!”  I had to think about this, because it sounded rather strange.  Here in southern Italy I find the portions are perfectly reasonable compared to those in the U.S.  But I think people who visit may feel so full after a meal because they are not used to taking their time and eating one course at a time.  It’s really not *that* much food, it’s just separated into courses and one thing is eaten at a time. That does tend to fill you up faster.  I also tend to believe that the ingredients are so whole and unadulterated down here that food seems a lot more filling, so even though you’re eating less, you’re filling yourself up with all kinds of great nutrients, instead of eating a lot of empty calories.  Just a thought.  Have no fear though – if lunch is big, dinner is small, and vice versa.

The importance of generosity. Of course, if you are a guest in a Mediterranean home, the whole “moderation” thing goes out the window. The people here love to host and love to be generous with what they have.  It’s a favorite thing of mine about living here – people have no problem being generous, be it food or a ride or the washing machine (yes, I borrow friends’ washing machines at the moment).  My secret, in case you plan to visit and are a guest in someone’s home, is eat slowly and understand that nobody is trying to wreck your diet, they just want to embrace you and make you feel welcome.  And no, we don’t eat like that every day, only when we have special guests.  It’s all about you.  It’s overwhelming if you’re not accustomed to such meals that can last quite a while, but that’s what grappa and espresso are for at the end of the meal. ;-)   Buon appetito!

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

On Deciding Where to Live

Tina Ferrari
  • By Tina Ferrari
  • April 28th, 2010

by Tina Ferrari

Many of us, when bitten by the living abroad bug, find ourselves charmed by the idea of living in a small town, while others get excited by the big city.

Oftentimes we dream of specific places because they are so different from what our current lifestyles have to offer.  If you live in a large city and are constantly rushing to meet deadlines, stuck in traffic, exhausted, you are probably thinking of a small town where the pace is just right.  If you have always lived in a small town, you might be antsy and wishing for some rush and excitement – and chaos.  Each of the two choices has its pros and cons:

Small towns.  Who, after seeing Under the Tuscan Sun, doesn’t love the idea of living in a small town where everybody knows each other?  You have your butcher, your green grocer, your florist.  You take walks and run into people you know all the time.  There is always somebody to stop and say hello to.  On the other hand… everybody knows each other.  If you’re used to life in the big city where you can do whatever you want and nobody notices, you’re in for a surprise if you switch to a small town.  People do notice. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – just keep in mind that a little bit of discretion goes a long way.

Big cities.  The rush, the excitement, the constant movement. There is always something going on in the big city.  A diverse population, a sense of individuality, and the neighborhoods are all different from each other.  People are straight-forward and to the point.  They are so busy carrying on with their own lives that what you do is your business – they don’t have time to worry about you.  On the other hand, if you’re used to the tranquility and slow pace of a small town or the country, you might get overwhelmed.  I know someone who had panic attacks almost every day their first week in Buenos Aires.  It can be a lot to handle if you’re not used to constantly busy streets and sidewalks.  My advice in this case is to find your favorite park and make a regular visit to it.  Just a few minutes of silence surrounded by green can do a lot for one’s well-being.

What’s your advice or experience on small towns vs. big cities?

Tina Ferrari is a tango dancer, translator and writer currently based in Lecce, Italy. She writes at as well as on her own blog, Tina Tangos. Comments are always welcome!

Creepy Japan: Ghosts And Things That Go Bump In The Night.

  • By admin
  • January 6th, 2010

For a modern, high-tech country with one of the biggest economies in the world, the Japanese are a very superstitious people. Belief in ghosts and other spirits is very high. In the states, we prefer U.F.O.s I’ve personally met many people in Japan (including my wife) who have had encounters with the paranormal.

One friend of mine was very open and non shalont about the whole thing. He used to see ghosts more when he was younger. You mostly see them near train tracks, beaches, hospitals and bridges. Places people died or committed suicide. I asked him if they were scary. He just shrugged and said not really. But ironically, he said he was deathly afraid of U.F.O.s. He recounted a story when he was about thirteen and he saw a U.F.O.

At the time he had heard stories of abductions and cattle mutilations. He said the U.F.O. followed him and he was afraid for his life and rode his bike home as hard as he could.
In the states people think of ghosts as spooky and interesting, but in Japan they are considered dangerous.

They can cause illness and even death in those they afflict.

When attending a funeral in Japan, attendants will often receive a small packet of salt. This is not to put on your French fries. When you arrive home, you are supposed to sprinkle the salt over you before entering as not to bring something in that may have followed you home. Salt is considered purifying and is what sumo wrestlers throw every time they enter the ring. It’s not uncommon to see small dishes of salt outside homes and businesses to ward of evil spirits.

It’s important to note however, that they say that ghosts prey upon weak or negative people. If you’re strong-willed and positive, you have nothing to worry about.

Ghosts are also a very popular topic on TV. There are many ghost specials, usually with a guest shaman or psychic, especially around the Obon festival in August. The Japanese definitely have the corner on the market for ghost pictures. When one thinks of ghost photographs, you think of vague, wispy shapes floating across a staircase. Not so in Japan. Ghost pictures here are very clear and distinct. The ghosts are half hidden or distorted, but well defined. A strange head peering from behind a tourist, disembodied hands reaching up from the water, or a hand with too many fingers are common pictures here. I once saw a photo with an enormous eye peering from the T.V.

Even more disturbing are photos and sometimes video of people with a whole limb or even their head missing. This is not a ghost picture exactly, but a kind of warning. The person featured in the picture usually suffers some kind of serious accident. I once saw a short video of some high school boys horsing around, but one boy was missing a head! The story said the same boy later died in a car accident.

Other kinds of photographs show orbs (ghosts) floating in the air or streaks of light. The streaks of light are supposed to be people’s psychic energy. For example, they showed a wedding photo of the bride and groom with a white streak going between them. The psychic explained this was the energy of the groom’s former lover who wished the union to fail. Similar streaks in vacation photos are the unconscious energy of friends or relatives who wanted to go on the trip too, but couldn’t. These kinds of photos would probably go unnoticed in the states. In the west, with our overly rational minds, we would assume this was just dust floating in the air or glitch with the camera.

The often have shows where they go on location to haunted places, but the take on it is completely different. In the states, ghost hunters are armed with a whole array of equipment; thermometers, electromagnetic sensors, and special infra-red cameras trying to catch “proof” of the ghosts.

In Japan, you see none of that. They just bring along a psychic to explain everything, sometimes in the company of some pretty girls for eye candy. It’s not about proving anything, but finding out the human story behind it. The psychic communicates with the spirits to find out what happened. They also show the effects on families being haunted and sometimes perform on the spot exorcisms. Whether it’s true or not is left up to the audience to decide for themselves…

Another phenomenon is called “kanashibari” or sleep paralysis. This is when someone wakes up at night, but their body is frozen and cannot move. I’d never even heard of this in the states, but it’s very common in Japan, especially among young girls. Many people have shared accounts of this with me. Such episodes can be very frightening and people often report hearing or seeing things and also feel a heavy weight on their chest. Doctors assert that this is quite common and is similar to the normal paralysis during REM sleep when we dream, but the brain is awake. They say that seeing ghosts or even experiences of alien abductions are simply hallucinations. I guess we perceive phenomena through a cultural lens. Americans tend to see U.F.O.s or talk of alien abductions, in Japan, it’s more often ghosts.

It’s not really that surprising that belief in ghosts and other spirits is high in Japan. The two main religions are Shinto, native to Japan, in which belief in natural spirits and Kami is strong, and Buddhism. Ancestor worship is an integral part of the culture, especially at the Obon time when the spirits of the departed family members are said to return to the home for a visit.

So spirits are already a part of everyday life in Japan. This is the culture that brought us horror classics like the original “Ring” and “The Grudge” movies.

Japanese horror movies are refreshing to watch. They are something which so many American horror movies are not; creepy. They don’t feature mindless killers stabbing everyone in sight with buckets of blood and something jumping out of the bushes every twenty minutes.

Instead, they show little and suggest more and this creepy feeling slowly builds throughout the film. “The Ring” is probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen and yet there are virtually no special effects until the last ten minutes. The Japanese really understand what scary means, perhaps because they’ve been so culturally and historically prepared for it. Maybe that’s why Hollywood has been copying them so much recently.

I know I’ve become more superstitious after living here, in large part due to my wife.

One winter, I was in the house alone trying to go to sleep when I suddenly heard what sounded like footsteps walking on the side of the house. I had watched a horror movie that night and a chill ran down my spine and I broke out in a cold sweat. The sound persisted for a while and I had images in my mind of some spectral thing outside. I finally forced myself to get up and opened the window. I discovered it was melting snow falling off the roof and landing with a plop on the ground. I never did see the ghosts that were pushing the snow off my roof.

The Maid

Julia Evans
  • By Julia Evans
  • October 21st, 2009

Maid-ServicesI know this sounds uppity, but I LOVE having a maid. It’s one of the perks of moving from a rich country to a poor one. Antonia, our “household angel,” as I refer to her, does more than clean the house. She cooks, sews, does laundry, even runs errands. But it hasn’t been easy for me, because I did not grow up with household help, and I am not used to it. (I know, I know, this is a problem you would LIKE to have… but it is an issue with many expats nonetheless.)

First, there is the guilt. To me, having someone do the chores that I don’t want to do seems naturally exploitive. I have a hard tome telling Antonia what to do. It makes me feel bad. But taking care of a house is a job she is good at, qualified for, and we pay her at the top of the market rate for her services. (She actually owns her own house, so I guess she has not done to poorly in her vocation.) As long as there is equal exchange of value for value, it is fair. She genuinely appreciates the work, and I don’t ask her to do anything i wouldn’t do were I to have the same job.

The next issue is not one that I was prepared for. I’m in charge of Antonia. I give her a list of things to do when she comes, pay her, call her when there is a problem with scheduling, etc.  Rob and I both work, but Antonia comes to me for direction, because I am the woman of the house. When Rob has a problem with her work (rarely), he tells me, and I tell her. At first, I was very resentful of this. But then I realized that to change it would be to fly in the face of a cultural norm, one that Antonia is probably comfortable with. She likes Rob, but she would probably be uncomfortable having him as a “boss.”

The other realization was one of a North American norm that I think goes unsaid: whoever makes the least amount of money takes care of the house. Although Rob and I both work, he makes at least three times my salary. We could survive without my job, but we could not survive without his. Therefore, I need to support him. If the situation were reversed, he would support me (how it would work with Antonia, I don’t know, but he would be willing). That’s a reality. I didn’t chase the high-paying career, he did. I take care of the food/shelter/clothing stuff, he makes sure our future is financially secure.

Antonia’s life is the way it is partly as a result of her living in a country with less opportunity; I have no excuse. There is no room for resentment in a life that I chose for myself.

When I write that best-selling book, or land a job with someone willing to pay oodles for my talent, Rob can manage the household. For now, I will. But at least I have help.

Julia Evans wrote this article where she blogs about her life as an expat.  She also writes a personal blog Evans’ Gateabout living as an American expat in Buenos Aires, where she lives with her husband.  Comments on both blogs welcome!

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