When I first moved to Rome in October of 2009 I was scared to death to get on the bus. But in Rome you NEED the bus to navigate the city. It’s too far to walk everywhere; taking a taxi is way too expensive; and the metro doesn’t get you to enough places. But I didn’t understand how the bus system worked and I was intimidated to even buy a ticket even though I had memorized how to ask for one in Italian. There were just a lot of unknowns in this area, so the whole bus thing was very intimidating to me.
I remember the first time I got on the bus on the correct side of the street and exited the bus at the proper stop. I was filled with self satisfaction. “Yeah, that’s right,” I thought to myself, “I just took the bus by myself… in Rome… without any help!”
When I managed the Roman subway system, AND a bus transfer, AND a walk to the Ikea located in the suburbs of Rome, I really thought I had accomplished something noteworthy. And on the rare occasion when I actually manage to put together a sentence in Italian without any help, I feel like a complete rock star! “I just used the past tense of “to have” in a sentence in Italian! Who wants to touch me?!”
Yes, these are quite the accomplishments for a woman of 39 years! I mean, could you imagine the reaction of your friends in your home country if you announced at a dinner party that you were proud of yourself because that day you rode a bus to the supermarket and you managed, all by yourself, to buy some cheese and vegetables! I dunno, I think my friends in Washington, DC would look at me like I was on crack!
But not here; not when you’re a foreigner living in Italy. Here your fellow ex-pats understand these small victories. They know firsthand the challenges of finding your way in a foreign country. They understand that these little things matter. This, I have to say, is one of the things I absolutely love about my friends here in Florence. There is nothing like having a table full of people shout, “BRAVA, BRAVA” while giving you a round of applause because you’ve managed to piece together the most basic of Italian sentences.
And so, this has been a large part of my life here over the last 5 months; managing the things that seemed so small when I lived in a world I knew; riding a bus, buying a pineapple, learning a new language, making new friends. But these things, these little things are in no way small. They have taught me immeasurable lessons in humility, in survival, in patience, and in appreciation. And these lessons, no matter how hard to take sometimes are a large part of why I came here in the first place.