This past year was the first full year I spent in Italy, because for one thing, I got married and finally had a visa that lasted for longer than 90 days at a time. And for another, COVID-19 made it impossible to travel.
I hadn’t been back home to my old Kentucky home for a year and a half when I made the trip back mid-August 2021 for my nephew’s first birthday, and needless to say, a lot of things had changed in my absence! Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I had changed.
Here are five things I noticed when I got back, that maybe you’ll notice too if you’ve been living in Italy for a while and head back to the States.
1. American Food Hits Different After Being Away
Obviously any time you go from one country to another, you’re going to have trouble adjusting to the different food. But this time, after being in Italy for 18 months, eating only Italian food, I found myself with a stomachache that lasted for weeks on the American diet! I’m not saying that American food is “worse” than Italian food (you know I love my sweets and a big ol’ plate of American-style macaroni and cheese, which all tastes WAY better when you've been missing it for over a year), but I will say that the use of more preservatives and more sugar in most things you eat every day really makes American food harder to digest.
It takes a little while to adapt, so go slowly. Maybe try to work in some simple pasta and more fresh fruits and veggies, even if you’ll surely want to dive right into the delicious desserts and a genuine American cheeseburger!
2. The Time Difference Is a Pain in the You-Know-What
This will happen every time you have to travel between the countries regardless of how long you’ve been away: Italy and the U.S. are in different time zones, and you have to cross a bunch of other time zones to get from one to the other. For the first week (or more) after you arrive in the States, you’ll be falling asleep at six in the evening because your body thinks it’s midnight and waking up at five because your internal clock thinks it missed its morning alarm.
The best way I’ve found for dealing with this (aside from just giving in to the beautiful, deep, dreamless jet lag nap) is to just try to stay up a little later each night and wake up a little later each morning. Little by little you’ll adjust, but I noticed this time that the sun helps a lot! If you get stuck in a string of cloudy days, the adjustment will take longer, but if it’s sunny, spend a bit of time outside each day to get those circadian rhythms back on track.
I would also like to note that it is usually a lot easier to transition back to Italian time after being in the U.S. than it is to do the opposite. So after your trip to see your loved ones in America, you don’t have to worry as much about readjusting when you get back to Italy!
3. There Is Really a Lot of Crime in the U.S. These Days
This one isn’t a fun one. Everyone jokes about America being a hotbed for crime and just general unrest among the population, and I was hoping this something that was being blown out of proportion. What I learned shortly after my arrival in Kentucky, though, is that, not only has my hometown had a ridiculously high number of homicides already this year, but that the crime rate is up all over the place. The amount of violent crimes committed in my city alone is almost THREE TIMES as high as it is in all of Italy put together. People are not happy here these days and it is manifesting itself in dangerous ways. There’s no shame in being a bit on edge when you go out and about now, as sad as that is.
4. The COVID-19 “Rules” Appear to Be Different
Remember all the lockdowns we had in Italy? And how even now you’re expected to wear a mask when you go into stores, malls, theaters, restaurants, etc.? And how you are basically expected to get a vaccine and the Green Pass to be able to do anything? Yeah, they don’t do that in the U.S.
My observation of this discrepancy started when I landed in Georgia on one of my layovers on my trip home. In Italy, everyone had been social distancing, certain chairs had been blocked off in the waiting areas to encourage people to stay apart, and if someone wasn’t wearing a mask or wearing it correctly, they got fussed at by someone in authority. In the U.S., everyone was basically sitting on top of each other in the waiting areas, and only fifty percent of people were wearing a mask (and half of the ones who were weren’t wearing it over their nose). It was like everyone had forgotten all about COVID, or that they were just tired of thinking about it and deciding to ignore it.
I later learned that the governor for my state (and others) has been trying to pass more laws to help slow the spread of the pandemic, but with all the unrest and protests, they can’t seem to get anyone to listen. The regulations in place are more like suggestions because those in authority don’t want to offend anyone or cause some sort of uprising, so it doesn’t surprise me one bit that the illness is still running rampant in the States. (No offense, but it really is upsetting to see my home country this way!)
IMPORTANT NOTE: A bit ironically, you will need a negative COVID test to get into the U.S. when you’re traveling, even if you have had both doses of the vaccine (DO NOT FORGET THIS! I saw a lot of people get kicked off my flight for not doing this), but at the time of this writing, you only need to show your Green Pass to get back into Italy.
5. You’ll Probably Try to Talk to People in Italian
Okay, enough of the serious stuff! One funny thing I noticed was that, after being in Italy for so long and having to always talk to people at grocery stores, banks, post offices, etc. in Italian, I kept trying to talk to the people I met here in Italian instead of English! This occurred most with people I didn’t know, maybe because I’m used to most of the strangers I meet being Italian these days. Luckily I was able to stop myself most of the time, but I’m pretty sure I did say “Grazie!” to a woman at the book store who helped me find a book I was looking for!
What are some of the things you find tough to adjust to when you go back to the U.S. after being in Italy? Share your experience in the comments!