Behind the Scenes of an Expat Blog

Ciao Readers!

Today is one of those “words only” posts where instead of photos of food and fun you get an unsolicited peek into my psyche.  As always, I’m giving you fair warning in case you’d like to stop reading now…

I’ve been an “expat” going on 5 months now, though I’ve been writing this blog for about 9.  In that time I’ve gotten a pretty good look into the world of expats and their blogs (and have succumb to some of the associated pitfalls).  When you’re an expat with a blog you are simultaneously trying to digest a huge life-altering experience while providing information and/or entertainment to your readers.  The trend I have seen (and am guilty of) is that you want to be upbeat and portray your new home in a positive light.  The reasons are many – you want to appear well-adjusted, you want to be gracious to your new home, you don’t want to scare your readers away with orneriness, or, maybe you really do find your new home to be a utopian paradise.  However, from my experiences meeting the expats behind the blogs, their reality never quite matches what I’ve read on their blogs.  Here’s my own personal example – I feel like every time I try and vent/gripe, I get comments reminding me I get to live in Italy, that the food/art/[insert cool thing] here are fabulous, and so on.  What I have learned from this is that people don’t want to hear me gripe.  As a result, I only write blog posts when I am in an upbeat mood and have had a positive experience.  The product is a blog that, while true in its content, is a bit misleading in its silence.  Even when I do speak about unpleasant things, I tend to underplay them (like when I said I was “under the weather” over the break, that was to spare you all from reading about how Exorcist-like sick I really was).  Today I read a woman’s blog that made me want to break the silence…

The blog is written by an expat who has been here 11 years, so her ruminations are not a result of initial culture shock.  I recommend the entire post, but she explains the difficulties of living in Italy in a nutshell when she says:

“[L]iving in Italy is like wearing impossibly high heels–it’s lovely at times, even sexy, but completely impractical. And I don’t mean it’s impossible to live here–just impractical. It takes the mettle of a Joan of Arc to slash your way into the fabric of life in the Bel Paese.  What Italy offers–lavishly, deliciously–is culture, of course. Art litters the landscape like weeds. History oozes from every brick. The cult of the table has been well-noted by the gobbling hordes, and though mediocrity is fast becoming the norm in tourist meccas like Florence, in most of the country you can still get a stupendous meal wherever you happen to flop. And meals have a lovely way of unfolding here that feels very civilized, indeed. But for me, one of the hallmarks of a civilized society is the dignity allowed humans in the performing of life’s most basic functions (i.e. paying bills, peeing, grocery shopping, strolling about town–granted, an eclectic litmus, but nevertheless indicative)–and here, my friends, is where Italy fails miserably.”  (Letters from Florence, 2011).

I found not only this post, but much of her blog equally honest and intelligent and it made me want to persist in interspersing some deeper thoughts in with my food-filled-photos.  I don’t know this blogger, but from people’s blogs you sometimes get a sense that they’re a person you’d like to meet.  For example, the folks from goal42 have their entire travel budget right on their blog for everyone to see.  I found the openness surprising/refreshing and “liked” the post, which led to an e-mail, a meeting, and a friendship (unfortunately, they are now in Turkey en route to Africa!).   So, I am pretty sure there is more of a purpose to this blog than purely entertainment.   Or, maybe this is just the kind of post you get when I write after spending 1.5 hours waiting at the health office followed by an hour at the laundromat as opposed to following a lovely lunch with a 1/2 litre of vino…

Funny thing is, the next scheduled post IS about food…until next time…

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20 Comments

  1. Lisa

     /  January 4, 2013

    Well said!

    Reply
  2. Life, no matter where you live, is not all roses all the time. I find the roller coaster makes for a more interesting ride. Hope you feel better.
    By the way, my biggest success today was finding ingredients to make chili!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your insights. Congrats on the chili – I remember a very interesting “taco salad” I made in Japan once (including soy beans)!

      Reply
  3. Great post! I fell in love with “misleading in its silence”.

    Reply
  4. Effie Laman

     /  January 4, 2013

    As an expat of 2 1/2 years, what an honest and clear view of living in another man’s lands🙂 I loved the analogy of high heels and the more mundane paying bills, peeing, grocery shopping, strolling about town. At the time I had a child with kidney problems and peeing was at the top of our list of amenities. Selfishly, I want you to keep up blogging, really enjoy living vicariously through your high heel adventures from the flu from hell to the good times. Thanks for sharing!!!

    Reply
  5. peter

     /  January 4, 2013

    This posting might be my favorite so far! (I say “might” because there have been several that could contend for the top spot in my estimation!) I figured that it’s not all “merrymaking” all the time, and I for one, would not mind periodic doses of reality.

    p.s. I remember you e-mailing about that taco salad in Japan…and that you were looking to recover that e-mail. Were you successful?

    Reply
    • Thanks! Glad that you can take some “reality” (it’s all relative) with the merriment! Nope, never got that e-mail, which is part of the reason I have this blog – so no good travel story ever gets lost again!

      Reply
  6. Ako

     /  January 4, 2013

    Great, candid post! While I can understand why bloggers would want to write positive, uplifting & funny posts, I do often wonder if they are struggling in their new enviroment. Thanks Hope for showing us that not all days in Florence is a “dream”. Love you!!!

    Reply
  7. Selma rockett

     /  January 4, 2013

    wonderful post. go for it girl; some reality into your mystical experience will serve us all well. love you Selm

    Reply
  8. The basic problem living in another country is forgetting that to the NATIVE people life is NOT what the “expat” experiences. IMO, it is the reference to a different set of rules of living that creates the discomfort.
    I have lived in the United States as an expatriate since 1960, I came here by choice, I am well acquainted with the culture, the habits, the quirks, AND YET they still bother me. Some of them bother me very much. I think that there always remains a background of different points of reference, call them habits, mindset, whatever, that stays operative. A basic discomfort never has left me.
    That discomfort is stronger for the people that just pass thru a country with only eyes for looking at things, and search the “things” that they had at home – HEY IT IS ANOTHER CULTURE!! – they forget that people in any country have lived and survived quite okay there in their own way sometimes for millennia. Then the tourist-know-it-all moves on to go look at somebody else’s way of life with his/her prejudices again.
    Those who only want to hear rosy fairy-tale stuff on blogs do best to stay home, read tourism pamphlets, and take guided tours. My 2 bits for what it may be worth it.

    Reply
  9. I can definitely relate to this post. It’s a struggle sometimes to seem culturally sensitive when in reality you are up to your nose hairs in frustration. Just try to be as authentic as you can- authenticity is what (I believe) we are all really searching for.

    Reply
  10. Anna

     /  January 7, 2013

    As a fellow expat living in Italy for over four years now, thank you so much for this post and for linking to Letters from Florence. As some of the commenters have mentioned above, there is always the possibility of dealing with some friction when living in a different country, but when situations seem to be unforgiving or truly exasperating, it’s sometimes hard to find a sympathetic or understanding ear.

    Reply
  11. After over 30 years here, I agree with you. I find reading many ex-pat blogs depressing because they are transparently revealing of the shallowness of perception. Yes, I said it! You aren’t really absorbed into your new life until you can hate it (parts of it) with the same passion as the natives! Thanks for your “like.”

    Reply

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