One of the most wonderful—and one of the most challenging—things about spending an extended period of time in a different country is recognizing rituals, places, and ways of life that you miss about your home country while simultaneously realizing the same types of things that you will miss about the place when you leave it.
Being sick in a foreign country is disconcerting, even if it’s just a small cold. It’s more difficult to find your comfort foods from home, the remedies available might be very different, and reading instructions on medicine packages can be daunting. In Italy, it’s difficult to find a basic chicken noodle soup or a cup of lemon tea with honey, but my friend Serena suggested I have some pasta with butter. While a can of Campbell’s soup may seem strange to an Italian, it’s all I really want when I’m all sniffly.
Additionally, attitudes about illness vary greatly. For example, in America it’s widely known that the common cold is not caused by actual cold weather, but rather by a virus. In Italy, every Italian I’ve told I have a cold has told me that it’s because of the wind or the rain or the cold weather or the humidity or the fact that I don’t have a big puffy jacket. My friend told me he had the flu because he rode his motorcycle in the rain. I could not get him to believe me that you cannot catch the flu from the rain, because that’s the attitude that they have here. Sure, it’s probably not great to stand out in the pouring rain while you’re already sick, but they seem to believe that bad weather causes illness. As my friend Serena said: “Italians believe that weather can influence anything in the world. The weather is our excuse.” It’s almost like talking to individuals from the past before modern medicine was invented and they attributed illness to the gods being angry, or some wrong-doing you’ve committed.
However, despite my cold, it’s been so warm that we’ve all been walking around in shorts and t-shirts. This is, of course, prompting odd stares from the Italian women here in Sorrento. It’s difficult to separate the I’m-judging-you-for-your-revealing-outfit-stares from the you-look-cold-and-should-put-on-a-jacket stares.
Despite these differences, in many ways we’re starting to really become a part of the community here in Sorrento. The first week, all of us were frantically taking pictures at every turn. Now, we casually walk down the street, giggling at the tourists with their giant backpacks and cameras at the ready. We know which gelato shops are the best and which shops are complete tourist traps. We can navigate the town, and we know how to pay for our coffee. When I walk into the candy shop, the old lady who owns it exclaims “Carolina! Come stai?” and instructs her husband to give me a chocolate.
It’s wonderful to walk around Sorrento knowing that I belong. At this point, the town is so small that most of the locals are familiar with us, and no longer stare at us as if we are tourists. It finally feels like we belong.