Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our Community

Before we arrived in Arezzo we were determined not to spend all our time hanging out speaking English with other ex-pats.  We wanted to come to Italy to be with the Italians.  Life, however, has a funny way of giving you the unexpected.  As it turns out we have developed a wonderfully supportive community with our fellow students at Cultura Italiana where we take our language classes twice a week.  The school offers so much more than “just” language classes.  With field trips, movie screenings, cooking classes, and various social gatherings, the school has become our home away from home.    

We learn from our teachers how to construct intelligent Italian phrases, as well as answers to cultural enigmas.  For example, we were perplexed by the fact that all the signs for the tobacco shops say Sali e Tabacchi (Salt and Tobacco).  Why the salt?  Thanks to our teacher, Monica, we learned that this is because until about the 1960’s salt was government-controlled merchandise (who knew?!?).  Even though salt is now readily available in grocery stores, Monica’s grandmother still goes the Tabacchi to buy her salt, because that’s what she’s always done. 

The students at the school come from all over the world to study here.  We have been surprised to find that Americans are rare among them.  We’ve met people from South Africa, France, Slovakia, Ireland, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Holland, and Germany.   Some students come to study for a full year, taking intensive classes 5 days a week.  Others come for a shorter period of time, anywhere from a week to a couple of months.  Each person leaves a strong impression and becomes part of the family for the time we’re together.  The one thing that binds us all together is our passion for the language and culture of Italy, and an eagerness to try something new.  Recently we’ve begun getting together on our own outside of the school just to hang out and practice our Italian.  Usually at a restaurant – this IS Italy, after all.

Naturally we get closer to the students who have been here longer.  When Eriko left in December after her stay of several months, we were all sad to see her go, and still pine for her return.  This week another student, Felipe, left and even though he was only here for one month he made a strong impression on each of us with his curious, open and charismatic personality.  We arranged a good-bye lunch for him, and he invited the two women (mother and daughter) who were his hosts during his stay. 
photo courtesy of Masae
After lunch we all accompanied him to the train station.  Because it was a day that the train employees were on strike we didn’t know when a train would actually arrive.  To pass the time we told stories and jokes (in Italian), and played the “tell-a story-in-a-round” game in which each person contributes a part of the tale.  When a train finally arrived we were amazed to see we had been at the station for over 2 hours.

Our dearest friends are Eva and Simone.

He’s an Aretino (someone from Arezzo), she’s Slovakian.  They met in Spain and they arrived here about a month before us.  Eva was taking classes at our school when we first met her.  We bonded immediately.  Since then she and Simone have become close friends.

We feel so incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by this community of supportive, like-minded people – learning the language and culture together.  It turns out that we’re hanging out largely with other ex-pats after all, but we’re not speaking English!


  1. Is that a vintage Sierra Designs 60/40 parka Henry is wearing??? Muy suave!

  2. Refreshed and so pleased by reading of your adventures in Paradiso together periodically. Delighting in your rise to making a prominent appearance in your attempts to slip into the Culture Italiano... you now have perchance a small glimmering of my own journey coming from another planet and taking on the outergarments of an earthling! In this age of transition to become a world citizen is a most highly prized possession. Sending most loving greetings and supportive prayers via ALmighty and Peerless Creator of all galaxies, Jonathan