Jessica comes from Florida. Following her studies, her Italian boyfriend proposed to her, and they got married in Italy. She has been living in Puglia for over five years, and is the happy mum of a little boy. She shares with Expat.com her exciting life as a navy wife and entrepreneur in one of Italy's best locations for a life close to the sea.
I'm from Pensacola, Florida and am currently living in southern Italy! I hop all around the country due to my husband's job so I feel like I've explored Italy to its core. I blog about business, design, and my experience living here!
Hi, Jessica, where are you from and what brought you to Italy?
I’m from Florida. Before moving to Italy, I was finishing up my bachelor's degree and working as a waitress in the evenings. Nowadays I’m living in Southern Italy but am often hopping around to different areas and am starting up my online boutique of modern, crocheted home décor.
Well, I guess it’s no surprise to say that I came to Italy for love. Italians have a way with romancing women! My boyfriend at the time was in pilot training in Florida for two years, and we fell in love. After I finished college, he proposed marriage, and that’s how I ended up in the boonies of Italy. I celebrated my 5-year Italian anniversary in December.
What is the process for an American expat to move to Italy?
The first thing I had to do was get an apostille for my birth certificate and an official translation. I also updated all my documents to keep things current. There were not a lot of steps. The first three months of my move was under a travel visa, and then I got married in Italy. Most of the bureaucracy took place in Italy. I would say it took patience and was confusing, but it wasn't difficult.
What is your favourite thing about Puglia?
Puglia has the best beaches in all of Italy. In fact where I live, in Salento, it is one of the top destinations in the world for beach quality. Apart from that the food in the South is special, the clubs in Gallipoli are famous and unique. Overall, I feel like Puglia is the real Italy – it’s not touristy, almost no one speaks my language or knows my culture, so it forced me to adapt and learn the language.
What has surprised you the most about Italy?
Probably the fact that everything closes down from 1 pm to 5 pm every day. Also, everything is closed on Sundays, and one afternoon a week in each town. I feel like every other day there is a new schedule. On Mondays, the hairstylists are closed. Then there is Ferragosto where businesses close down for one to two weeks anywhere from August 1st to September, so I never really know when anything is open. I’ll go to some random ink shop, for example, and it just won’t be open, no sign on the door, nothing. So I just have to deal with it and come back another time.
What are the local labour market's features?
The labour market in Italy may be the toughest in Europe. Most people give jobs to family members, friends, friends of the family, and so on because they can trust them. They don’t value the young and moldable but the old and experienced. So, it's impossible to earn the experience from starting nowhere!
Then there are two main types of contracts: a temporary and permanent. Many people have permanent life-time contracts which make for a lot of demotivated workers. The employees with temporary contracts are scrambling from year to year to get their contracts renewed or find a new job. It’s chaos.
Is it easy for an expat to find a job?
As an English teacher, most definitely. If you speak English, you can find something, especially in the north — in the south not as easily.
How do you like the lifestyle in Italy?
Well, the lifestyle is very different from the American. Italians understand balance. They take their time and smell the flowers. They take their time for relationships and pull out all the stops, go to every event they’re invited to, drop by your house to give you a wedding invitation by hand, and attend funerals of people that are not even in their lives. They understand that life is about living it and not working. When you sit at a table with your friends, you’ll talk about life and people and food, not work like we do in America! That was my last reverse culture shock when I went back home to the States. All that my friends could talk about was their careers.
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the Italian society?
I would probably be lying if I said yes. It’s a work in progress, it’s very hard, but I’ve come a long way. I’m thankful that I have an understanding husband who understands how hard it is since he also lived in a foreign country. Linguistically, yes! In the culinary world, yes!
You are also a mommy. How did you live your pregnancy abroad, especially regarding the health care?
You know, I feel like there were great things and really bad things – a real love-hate experience. My medical care was very cheap. Overall, said and done, I only paid around 1,000 euros. I had a caring doctor, my midwives were very strong women who believed in my ability and pushed for all things natural. It was scary with the language but taking a prenatal course offered by the state was encouraging and helped a lot.
How is everyday life in Puglia?
It starts with an espresso every morning. After that, I do all my errands before things close down for the afternoon break. We eat pasta for lunch followed by coffee again, which is something Italians do. Then I take care of things at home and start my day up again after 5 pm. I’ve learned the best way to be happy and not frustrated with the schedule here is to be autonomous. For example, I workout from home instead of dealing with gym hours, I work from home, go to church online, skype my family, buy stuff online... you name it.
Could you share your most memorable experience in Italy?
I suppose mainly to not let the local mentality bog you down or change you. Italians can be very pessimistic, superficial or narcissistic but I’ve learned it’s better to stop looking for the good in people and instead be the example to encourage others to be happier.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Puglia?
It is fairly cheap. It’s much cheaper to live in the south of Italy than in a place like Milan. Utility costs are high in Italy all over, but in the south, you can get a place from USD 300-600 a month. Food is very cheap, especially fresh produce.
How do you spend your free time?
I shop or work on my business playing around with new things I could add to my line. I enjoy working out, meeting with friends and doing DIY projects.
What do you think of the local cuisine?
For pasta I love spaghetti alle vongole (pasta with clams), it’s the best in Gallipoli! I’m actually not crazy about some of the typical things from Puglia like orecchiette or rape, but I do love pasticciotto pastries for breakfast, an espressino (espresso with gelato and nuts on top), and the pucce (Italian subway style sandwiches that you build yourself). All of these are typical from Puglia.
What is your favourite thing about Italy?
Italy is romantic. In the evenings when all the families get out and take a passeggiata (a walk) downtown, and the colours of the old buildings with the street lamps light up, it’s special. People dress well, aren’t in a rush, it’s almost like living in the 1940s if I could imagine.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
I miss the mentality of “anything is possible” and “why not”. Mentality shapes culture, and it can change how you live your life and make daily decisions. I feel like in America we are truly free mentally because we’re not prisoners of what our families might think or what someone in town would say if we were caught wearing flip-flops in public or at a wedding, or decide to have more than two children. I think we’re not afraid to be real, to tell our friends what we think, to just be honest with each other.
What has motivated you to write your blog “Hott Italian Life”?
I initially was pushed by a friend who said she would love to read about my experiences. I also needed a way to tell all of my family and friends the stories without repeating myself a thousand times. I’ve written an array of subjects from language to Italian weddings, and business. Today I focus on business in Italy, gathering up design inspiration here from the things I see and do, and I express my experiences. It will help someone who lives here or is planning to move and is looking for a pick-me-up.
Could you give us some tips that soon-to-be-expatriates in Italy will benefit from?
Don’t close your US bank account or choose to not update your US license. Keep all things open in that aspect to make your life easier. Apart from that, moving to another country will set you back significantly and test you to the limits. So my advice is to be prepared for what's coming and to keep in mind that great things take some time to happen.
What are your plans for the future?
My husband is in the Italian navy so we are destined to follow his career path here whatever that may bring. Coming up next, we are moving to Sicily for a year. After that, we could be bouncing around Rome or overseas. We’d like to have more children down the road, we’re building a house, and I’ve started my business, so lot’s of exciting things.