An American in Rome - 5 Things I Miss About America

Before you get the wrong idea, I'd like to caveat this by saying I love living in Italy. Hands down, this has been the easiest move, and I'm already dreading the day, two years and eleven months from now, when we'll be forced to leave.

What do you think? We painted the faux marble finish two weekends ago.

What do you think? We painted the faux marble finish two weekends ago.

When my husband started his job, I attended a spouse's orientation, where a number of presenters gave advice on medical evacuation, financial planning, and even the logistics of divorce. Of the many topics covered, one had been the 4 stages of culture shock.

At week six, I'm well past my honeymoon stage, the end of which was marked by my choice to paint pillars at home instead of exploring the city. I should be experiencing the plunge to frustration and hostility right about now. But since this stint in Rome came after a year in Karachi and two in Abu Dhabi, I'd characterize my current mood as a slight slump, marked by mild lethargy and occasional crankiness. Before I start on the upward slope toward assimilation, it seemed appropriate to list the things an Americana (female American) might miss in Rome:

1. Seedless Grapes: The grapes here taste better than the ones in the States by several orders of magnitude (I am not exaggerating, I swear). Nonetheless, cracking open a bitter seed mid-chew has become an occasional source of irritation.  

2. Insinkerator/Disposal: To be fair, few places outside the US have in-sink disposal units. Old cities have it worse since the plumbing and sewage systems aren't equipped to handle chopped up organic refuse. I've gotten the hang of straining out tea leaves and dumping them in the trash, but I do miss being able to rinse out my pot and getting rid of the waste with the push of a button.

3. Weekend Store Hours: Last Saturday, my husband and I traipsed over to the ferramenta (hardware store) at around 4 in hopes of buying an extension cord. As we half-expected, it was closed. An Italian lady in a very chic skirt-suit (they dress nice around here) had gotten there before us. She stared at the locked door, threw up her hands, and stomped her 4-inch stiletto. "È Sabato, tutto è morto! "(It's Saturday, everyone/thing is dead!)–her words, not mine. Believe it or not, outside the touristy areas, weekends in Rome, especially during August, remind me of scenes from the The Walking Dead

4. Demineralized Water: Every tourist who's read about Rome knows how lovely the water is. We've been advised to carry around bottles, which we can refill at the various nasoni scattered all over the city. There's even an iPhone app to help you find these watering holes. Here's the thing–the water here might be delicious, but the calcium content is so high all the supermarkets sell additives to "decalcify" your lavastoviglie (dishwasher) and lavatrice (laundry machine). Unless all stainless steel surfaces are wiped dry, white streaks form, which requires yet another type of cleaner. You even need special water to spritz over your clothes while ironing!

5. 4G/LTE Networks: Theoretically, phone carriers here offer 4G, but I've yet to set foot in the mythical locations where such speeds exist. For the most part, I get 3G, which at times dwindles to Edge (even downtown). Internet speeds are also affected by the number of people using it. My data works fine at 7AM, but not so much at 7PM. 

Thus ends my list of little gripes, which I'm sure I'll get over within the next few weeks. If any other expat is reading this, drop me comment and let me know what you miss about home. 

An American in Rome - First Steps (or 100k steps, to be more precise)

I'm officially done moving into our new apartment in Rome. For those acquainted with the area, we're located to the northeast of all the touristy locations, between Villa Borghese and Villa Ada. I love this neighborhood (which, I believe, is called Parioli). It's out of the way enough to be quiet and relatively safe, but only a twenty minute walk to the city center (and my husband's workplace, which cuts both commuting cost and time).

The view from my apartment building's rooftop, which sums up what I've seen of Rome thus far. 

The view from my apartment building's rooftop, which sums up what I've seen of Rome thus far. 

To my complete surprise, both our Household Effects (HHE) and Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB) were already waiting for us in Europe, so I got to spend my first week here putting our new home to rights, (By the way, I'm described by the US government as an EFM or Eligible Family Member. Weird as the acronym may sound, it's definitely a step up from "trailing spouse".)

So while my husband got to snap awesome photos on his morning commute to work, I literally walked over 100,000 steps, all more or less inside the apartment itself or within the vicinity of our building.

My husband's 1st week in Rome. (This is his office's hallway ceiling.)

My husband's 1st week in Rome. (This is his office's hallway ceiling.)

My 1st week in Rome.

My 1st week in Rome.

Suffice it to say I've discovered very little of the city this week, but here are a few things I've observed about daily life in Rome. I probably would have found this out beforehand if I bothered to buy a travel guide, but oh well...

1. Fruits & veggies are cheap, delicious, and addictive. I've been here 9 days, and I've only gone out to eat once, mainly because I tend to go a bit nuts in the grocery store. And then I went to an open air market, which was a whole new level of awesome. Yes, the shelf-life is pretty short, the produce doesn't look nice and shiny like they do in the US, and the grapes have seeds, but everything is yummy!

2. I learned this in class and then promptly forgot, so it bears repeating. An etto = 100 grams, which is a tad shy of 1/4 pounds. This is the unit of measurement used when buying cheese, cold cuts, and olives, which I've been doing quite a bit of. A good phrase to know is "Vorrei un etto (or due etti) di  questo ("this," which gives you the opportunity to point), per favore."

3. Google & Google Maps can be an excellent resource, given that one's search is in Italian and that one is very specific. For example, searching both supermarket and supermercato (nm.) yielded niente (i.e. zip, zilch, nada). But searching "Carrefour," "Punto Simply," or "Tuodì" got me where I needed to go. Likewise, searching for "ferramenta" does me much more good than "hardware store." [Side Note: We discovered a huge gaping hole in our language training. While we can give our opinion on global warming if we absolutely must, neither of us knew how to say "light bulb" (nf .lampadina), "lighter" (nm. accendino), or "plug/plug adaptor" (nf. spina).]

4. Tabaccherie (lit. tobacco shops–but all the signs say Tabacchi), is the place where one (a) adds money to a pre-paid cell service, (b) buys bus tickets, (c) pays fines, and that's just what I've figured out thus far. This is perhaps why such establishments can be found everywhere (although Romans do seem to smoke a lot).

5. It pays to have a spare bus/tram ticket in one's wallet because most tabaccherie (along with other small shops) are closed on Sundays, between 1-3:30PM, whenever the person working there feels like taking a break, and the first two weeks of August (or so I've been told).

And that's all the blogging enthusiasm I can muster this week. Hopefully, resting at home tomorrow will get me energized enough to go exploring this weekend. I'll report back if I find anything cool!

The Art of Snacking

My snack bag for the DC-Rome trip. 

My snack bag for the DC-Rome trip. 

So our flight out of Reagan is delayed, which really didn't come as a huge surprise. Since I'm crossing my fingers this won't be the epic kind of wait (comparable to the one that resulted in me starting a novella), I've decided to channel my energy into a short blog post. 

I'm not a picky eater by any stretch of the imagination. After all, I have sampled brain curry off a roadside stall in Mumbai (not one of my better decisions). But the combination of flying and airplane food has the potential to turn sitting next to me into a live viewing of The Exorcist. For the sake of fellow travelers, I endeavor to knock myself out with a well-timed dose of Dramamine long before the smell of food assails my nostrils. 

Since our journey to Rome will likely total 14 hours (perhaps more if this delay continues), and sustenance is a necessity. Which brings me to a few travel tips for frequent fliers. 

  1. Pack dry snacks--the kind that do not require napkins for clean up and do not create an overly loud crunching sound (this might be my over-politeness coming into play, but still..). I'm a huge fan of toasted unsalted almonds, raisins, and apricots. Because my husband is a bit on the cheap side, we buy them in bulk and create our own "trail mix" bags. That said, I'll make a messy-exception for dark caramel-filled chocolate. 
  2. Pack an empty plastic water bottle (note: this doesn't work in all countries). While security will not let you bring liquids in, you can fill up your canteen once you're waiting at the gate. If you made the mistake of bringing a beverage, you can drink/dump its contents before getting to the X-ray machines and refill once you're inside. Remember, hydration is very important on flights since you sweat quite a bit without being conscious of it.
  3. Pack tissues, napkins and/or a small wash cloth, just incase you spill something. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer might also come in handy. Klutz that I am, I once coated the carpet beneath several seats with coffee. 
  4. If your flight is longer than 6 hours, consider bringing a toothbrush and toothpaste, or, at the very least, some mouth wash.  

The Art of Packing

Short time lapse video using a Go Pro Hero 3 Black Edition of movers packing up (and yes, they gave us permission to film). 

Welcome to the inaugural post for No Flip Flops, where I'll be taking a break from my usual romance author duties and writing about traveling. If you want to stay apprised of adventures in Italy and beyond, this is the place to visit. For updates about my books and those of my fellow writer friends, please continue to visit my regular author blog.

The Road So Far...

My husband joined the Foreign Service in February 2010. Since then we've lived in the Middle East, South Asia, and of course Washington, D.C. We'll be in Rome, Italy for the next three years. 

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My Top Packing Tip

Compartments make all the difference! Rather than throw things in your suitcase, try and place your clothes, chargers, toiletries etc. into smaller containers. While a bit on the pricey side, the Eagle Creek packing system is a nice perk for frequent travelers (and a must have for my obsessive compulsive husband). In the off chance someone ends up going through your stuff, there's a possibility this packing method will leave your suitcase organized. A more economic option, of course, are cloth shoe and bag covers that occasionally come with your purchase, toiletry pouches from airlines and hotels, and extra large Ziplock bags. 

Remember, unpacking is the hard part! Imagine arriving at your destination and being able to simply lift containers out of your suitcase for placement in drawers and closet.  

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Tara Quan

Globetrotter, lover of languages, and romance author, Tara Quan has an addiction for crafting tales with a pinch of spice and a smidgen of kink. Inspired by her travels, she enjoys tossing her kick-ass heroines and alpha males into exotic contemporary locales, fantasy worlds, and post-apocalyptic futures. Visit Tara at www.taraquan.com

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