Thursday, July 16, 2009

A great thing about living here? Being broke.

Let me rephrase that. Being broke is not fun. However, I've been broke in L.A. and it's much better to be broke here.

Yesterday I wrote about how annoying it is for people to assume I'm on vacation because I live in Rome. I lived in L.A. for 10 years I wasn't on vacation then, and I'm not now.

What's so hard to understand? I LIVE here. I'm a resident. I have a rental contract, pay taxes, a condo fee, utilities etc. Call me crazy but I didn't have to do those things "on vacation".

Anyway KimB. wrote this comment yesterday.

Sorry for the insensitivity of the person who sarcastically asked if you needed a vacation from your vacation.

I guess for me, it kind of has two aspects. People think my life *must* be glamorous since I live in Paris. No matter how many times I say I live in a 400-sq-ft apartment or that I can't find a 'real' job or that there's not enough hot water in our heater for my husband and I to take showers successively.

On the other hand, I think I use it as a protective cloak sometimes. I may not be doing anything exciting professionally, I may not be the success I was "meant" to be according to my high school and college "achievements" but at least if you're broke and 39 in Paris, you're broke and 39 in Paris. It's not as embarrassing as being broke and 39 and back home.

Kim is right. If I were going through my current situation back in L.A. I would need to be on some serious Prozac. How we define success (overall) in the States is bananas.

There is no way I would have the same quality of life I have here back in the States on my non-existent salary. Yes my apartment is tiny but these numbers jump out at me from an old NYT article:

Average rent in Manhattan Feb. 09

1 bedroom doorman building $3,395 a month
1 bedroom non-doorman building $2,632 a month.

Even with the horrible exchange rate I don't pay anything near that living in a similar area. I get paid the same regardless of where I live which is one reason why moving back to New York from Los Angeles was not an option.

When I lived in NYC 11 years ago, I had a great deal on a 1 bedroom in a doorman building. Studios were renting for $1,900 in my building. I can't imagine what they are charging now.

Excellent food is cheaper here.

My health insurance (private) is MUCH cheaper. I have a similar plan to what I had in the States. I pay doctor bills out of pocket but will be covered for emergency/hospital care. In America I paid $140 a month. Here $20.

It doesn't cost a lot to socialize. Seeing friends over an cheap aperitivo is easier on one's budget than $18 cocktails at the Beverly Hills Fours Season. As an exec I could expense it, now no longer an longer have an expense account.

Less pressure to keep up with the Jones. First of all you don't even know what the Jones have because it's considered rude and tacky to brag about it here. The culture is so different. You're not defined by your job. People have other interests and don't want to talk about work all the time.

I see friends more. I notice I rarely talk on the phone here. Just quick conversations to confirm plans. In L.A. seeing my friends was like scheduling a damn G8 summit.

I was on the phone all the time talking to my friends while sitting in traffic or once I got home. Why talk for an hour on the phone, why not just see each other? Because everyone is so "busy". I can't remember which comic was talking about this whole L.A. thing when you ask someone how they are, they always say, "busy".

Is this because of the uptight Pilgrims? Why is it considered a good idea to sacrifice everything for career/money? Will the economic turmoil make people rethink this?

A greater sense of community. I don't feel alone or lonely here. I feel at home.

Next week (if I remember) I'll write about why being single here is better for my mental health. ha


Michellanea said...

Was going to comment on your post yesterday about people thinking you are constantly on vacation, but I didn't have time. I think that Milan sounds very glam when you don't live here but when you have some knowledge of Italy, you understand it is not one of the most desirable places to live in Italy. What makes me laugh is when people imagine that because I live in Milan, I must be dressed head to toe in Prada and Versace. I have cousins in small farming towns in the middle of nowhere with more Prada than I have. On an Italian salary, I couldn't afford it. Though, honestly, I'd rather spend my money elsewhere...

As for the competitive, commercial, money-driven U.S. society - don't you think something has to give at some point? Especially after this huge economic crisis where so many people were living way beyond their means - basically living the appearance of an affluent life that was not their reality. My hope would be that with the push to be more "eco-friendly" and reform our health-care system, don't you think something will change for the better? Or have I been living away too long?

max said...

My wife's Italian heritage got us to Italy. The ease of acceptance turned me into "A born again Roman". Neither of us have ever felt so completely attuned to a place and it's people as in Rome. A guide explained that the focus of life starts with the family. So the normal Italian feels responsible first to family, second to local community and last to country. Amongst our friends in the Campo de Fiori that was easily evident. Shops/kiosks are held on to through the generations. They may change what they sell, but the spot remains the same. Tradition binds everyone. I do not see the normal/usual American having the same values. MORE is better best discribes the value system. Feeling at home in Rome was our every day experience and one we still cherish. To be where you want to be and have that comfort level is impossible to beat. Live it, love it never try to explain it because only you will understand it.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

michellanea - I'm not going to lie...I do have my eye on a Prada bag. If hollywood would only cooperate! ha. You bring up a great question. I don't know if things will change. I agree something has to give as study after study, survey after survey, says too many Americans are stressed, unhappy, disconnected etc. Americans are working harder for less. Yet many want things fast and cheap so good bye to local stores/restaurants hello Walmart, fast food, etc. Service industry jobs don't pay anything close to the manufacturing jobs we've lost. I feel our country (I'm generalizing. I know there must be communities where things are different) is very fragmented. The civic society is dying. People are constantly moving, the divorce rate is over 50%, the rich are getting richer, the middle class is getting squeezed and the underclass is becoming more entrenched. I worry this crisis is not going be resolved anytime soon and we won't learn from it. Great wealth was gained in the late 80s and 90s but at what price and for whom?

max - Where my parents are from it's the same way. Family, community, country. I was born and raised in America and had a big issue with this growing up. I wanted to be seen as an individual! Now as a single woman with no children I appreciate more that I'm part of a family. I have value even though I have no husband or kids. I was talking to another West Indian expat (moved here from Toronto) and she said one reason she felt at ease here was because the values reminded her of her Jamaican upbringing.

erin :: the olive notes said...

I like what Kim wrote...because it's true. I already see you as accomplished because you MADE it over there. It's an accomplishment to have a rental contract, pay taxes, condo fee, utilities, etc. It was a dream and you made it happen. Plus, no one would call picking up, moving to a foreign country, learning the language, getting a drivers license, dealing with bureaucracy NOT working :)

gibber said...

You used to laugh when I said that I was very impressed with your move, but it's true. It takes great courage to pick up and move to a strange place because your heart is telling you to. I feel like here in the US, everyone (ok, not everyone, but you know what i mean) just keeps their head down and moves forward without taking the time to look up every now and then.

I absolutely love my job. But my job is not the be all end all of who I am. Every now and then i have to remember to take that time to enjoy my surroundings (cuz it ain't gonna last forever!) and make time for friends, even if it means meeting them at 9pm. Waking up at 5:30 so I can dedicate sometime to taking care of my body at the gym because I sit all damned day. Basically, I'm trying to discover that much cliched work/life balance.

If I lived where mom and dad live, it would be quite an adjustment. They've lived there 5 years now and they STILL don't have their dryer installed. I think I might hurt someone. 5 years! However, there is a reason why when I come back from there, I am as relaxed as a bowl of pudding. I let go of my need to constantly be moving,constantly checking the blackberry, constantly watching the news...and I just AM. it's a great feeling.

Annie said...

Amen Sister!!! I need to send your blog entry to all the people in my life that ask me what are you doing still in Rome....mostly my parents. You wrote everything I have been feeling for years. Thank you my friend;-) xoxo. Scooter Maven.

carrieitly said...

Sorry to be leaving a question in your comment box, but I wasn't able to find an email addy on your blog... I would really appreciate if you could tell me who your private insurance is through and any other basics you can share. I haven't had a seperate policy since I moved here, and my visits to the doc/unplanned trips to hospital have all been manageable cost-wise, but my lucky streak's been nagging me, and I'd feel much better with additional coverage... just don't know where to begin! Thanks in advance bella!

P.S. Love yesterday and today's posts. You've hit the nail on the head. I've been an expat for nearly five years, with the first 2.5 in Dublin. When I lived there I never got the ooohs and awwws from everyone about how lucky I am and how great my life is that I get in Italy. Even when in Ireland I had a great salary, galavanted around with a sophisticated multi-national friends and spent to my heart's content, while in Italy I'm unemployed, nearly friendless and quite, quite poor. But at least it's sunny, hey.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

erin - grazie mille cara!

gibber - okay we have to talk later about the dryer. I assumed mom didn't use it because she preferred to hang dry the clothes! I agree with you. I don't think I could live on the island full time. "Island time" would drive me crazy. Also I can see a certain Aunt all up in our business. I'd be scared to do anything, ha.

annie - you're one of the hardest working expats in Rome. :) To build a business like you're doing takes some strong stuff.

carrieitly - I signed up for health insurance at the Post Office. They have different plans. Another expat told me about it. I had to have health insurance before getting my residency as I have not paid into the French system (I have dual citizenship American/French).

re: the reaction to your stay in Dublin vs. Italy I think it's because like Kataroma said yesterday, many people come here on vacation and think it's like that all the time. Speaking of the sun...there is too much of it lately, man it's hot.

Skywalker said...

That's it! I'm popping out this kind and taking a sabatical in Italy while you work.

The whole work around schedules isn't just LA - its DC too. I have a friend who is Italian and it just seems that everything over there is more "relaxed" rather the the US urban scene. I haven't spoken to friends who live here in months. Months!

I understand the broke aspect. I was broke as joke in Memphis and MORE broke when I first moved up here to DC. When coming home after a 3 hour commute (total) plus 9 hours of work and all you can look forward to is a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, you may need to pray for divine intervention.

It will get better. Don't worry.

Skywalker said...

Sorry I meant "kid".

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

skywalker - Oh yes the days of scheduling weeks in advance to see friends...what is that about?! If I try to schedule a few days out with my Italian friends they think it's weird. It helps that we live close to each other but then again one of my L.A. friends lived within walking distance and I never saw him.

A three hour commute is tough. How do you do it?

glamah16 said...

Great post. Evrything here is so mony generated and competive. We just dont know how to be still and enjoy the simple things, which dont cost much.I think I make a decent/not great salary, but it takes all I have to survive.

Petulia said...

Arlene, this is brilliant. And as an Italian it makes me feel better about my country. As usual, thanks for spelling it out and thanks for the lovely card!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

glamah - I agree. Here I don't feel the same pressure to spend money I don't have.

Petulia - You're welcome!

Kim B. said...

I'm so honored to be quoted and blogged upon! You can't know how much that means to me that you thought I said something worth reflecting on.

I like what Michelle said in yesterday's comments -- about kind of keeping more negative comments mostly to herself in an attempt (if I recall correctly) to keep the good karma flowing. That makes sense, and is something I need to do more of.

It's true, my husband and I could never find a livable place in DC for the 500 euros a month we spend here. It's tiny, but it's clean and safe. Life is just weird, and I feel sorry for myself sometimes that I'm in that "starting over again" phase at 39. But those were my own choices I made! I could have stayed in the DC job that was eating me alive -- and I would be in a prettier apartment (although nothing fancy) and have my beloved MINI to drive around, but I would be . . .eaten alive. I need to look on the positive side of things.

Thanks for starting this excellent discussion.

Skywalker said...

To answer your commute question - I got married and moved to an apartment within the beltway which cut my commute in half (I may have married for the commute). It takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes max to get home now.

Much better!

La Bella Città said...

"Less pressure to keep up with the Jones."
I was Literally having this conversation last night at dinner and used the same example. As my boyfriend keeps claiming that Italians have a better quality of life, i agree and disagree. I agree cause they have more vacation, the food is good, the weather is good and they genuinely love their life. BUT the milanes work long and hard and the salary doent show for it. If Italians didnt live at home for so long, they wouldnt survive, cause the salaries in this country you cant live on (in most cases). so what quality of life is that??
I think coming from NYC, a big problem of Americans is the very notion of Keeping up with the jones, and Italians are able to live a more simple and enjoyable life because they dont have that pressure.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the article.
It helped a lot because I was stressing over moving to rome in a month for today !!!!!!
I was think " man I don't have enough money saved" :-( , I mean I have some , but I was thinking I needed All my friends in rome keep saying," don't worry about it just dome over"
I'm lucky and blessed I have a place to live already and school starts on the 28th of august !
I'm looking forward to seeing you in a month, I can't wait to move on with my life and get out of the states for the next year!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

kim b - You're welcome. It was a really great point. My life wasn't so great back in L.A. I wasn't making the kind of money my peers were so even though it was a good salary I was struggling due to the higher costs of living (rent, car, etc).

skywalker - ha! I lived in DC so I understand.

la bella citta - I agree having free rent (either by living at home or your family owns your apartment) does make life a LOT easier. Most of my Italians friends are older so they are finally making good money, or they are actors, writers, directors, film execs (which has its own kind of salary structure) or attorneys. I don't know why I keep meeting so many lawyers.

david - I think you can work up to 20 hours a week on a student visa. If so you can find something (teach spinning classes?) that will help you with some of your expenses. You only live once. Coming here for a nice big chunk of time will help you decide if you want/can move here for good.

Tina said...

"In L.A. seeing my friends was like scheduling a damn G8 summit."

And in Seattle too.

I just tried to make plans with some friends I haven't seen in a while, and they were asking me to make plans THREE MONTHS out! I said no I cannot do that. I flat out refused, really, and said that if anyone is available this coming week, to drop me a line. Nobody responded.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

tina - three months out! Okay that is pretty crazy unless someone has a newborn or is studying for the Bar Exam or something.

Lisa said...

I love this post. You affirmed the reasons why I am in Italy at the moment, and why I will eventually be moving here full time. There are alot of hardships about living in Italy..but to me it's worth it. At the end of the day, the relationship you have with people, and the quality of your life is most important. :) Thank you.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

lisa - prego. Good luck with your move.

oilandgarlic said...

I will re-read this post every time I get cold feet about moving out of L.A. You are absolutely right about the L.A. lifestyle and mentality. No one is interested in you if you're not in the business (show biz) and everyone defines themselves by their work. Have you seen Vicki Christina Barcelona? It's set in Spain but the principle is the same. The main characters have dinner with two Americans and they talk about work and Tivo (or some other gadget like Tivo). There's more to life than work and how you spend money!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

oilandgarlic - yes I saw that movie and laughed during that scene.

Many of my friends here work in film but it's completely different. When we get together we talk about everything, not just work. It's a lot healthier.

Good luck with your move.

Deika Elmi said...

I agree that being broke or earning less is much more doable here, and I think you are right when you say that in Italy people aren't as career obsessed.
For me its more about who I choose to surround myself with. How I feel about me is directly connected to the experiences I have here and what I attract. I am so glad to hear that you are having a good experience in Rome. I get such a sense of companionship from reading blogposts from other American women in Italy. Makes me feel less isolated. Deika :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Deika - My Italian friends work hard but their careers don't define them. It's just one part of their lives not the whole reason for being. So yes they may work long hours but somehow they still find the time to see family and friends. I think it's good to have some balance in your life.