Hayley Richardson is a Canadian expat who has lived in Tuscany for over five years with her husband and their daughter. While she misses having space and being able to plug in the washing machine and hairdryer at the same time, she thoroughly enjoys the Italian lifestyle, its superior healthcare and, of course, Italian food.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Kelowna, British Columbia in Canada
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Lido di Camaiore in Lu, Italy
Q: How long have you lived in Italy?
A: Five and a half years
Q: Did you move to Italy with a spouse/children?
A: Yes, I moved with my then 4-month-old to be with my (now) husband.
Q: Why did you move to Tuscany; what do you do?
A: My husband and I had been doing the long-distance thing for two and a half years when I found out that I was pregnant (after a fun filled trip to Carnevale!) We decided to give things a try here ‘for two years’ which has now become almost six. I work full time as a Certified SCRUM Product Owner in software development and entertain myself (and hopefully others!) with my blog, SpoiledExpat.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Tuscany, how’s the quality of life?
A: We are 1640 feet (500m) from the Mediterranean and can walk down to the shops, cafés, and bars in five minutes. In the summer we have the beach, in the winter we have Carnevale, and at all times of the year we have amazing food and drink.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Aside from personal space (actually, just space in general) I miss my friends and family the most. I find that the longer I spend here, the less I miss the things that I really, really missed when I first moved, such as the diversity of food, Lulu lemon, and snow.
Q: Is Tuscany safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: The only place I would try to avoid would be the pineta (the pinewood) at night. I haven’t heard of anything happening there, but walking alone through a badly lit park isn’t the best idea, no matter where you are.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Tuscany? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: I have a car here and while you don’t necessarily need one, it’s nice to not have to rely on trains or buses. That being said, I’ve used trains quite frequently and have found them to be cheap, reliable, and clean. In five and a half years, I have never had to wait more than a half hour for a train (and that was only once) due to delay, and the strikes are normally announced well in advance. They also keep major lines running, so people don’t get stuck far away from home.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Italy?
A: Healthcare in Italy is awesome. Better than Canada. How many times has your family doctor paid you or your sick child a house visit? We’ve had to take our daughter to the hospital on a few occasions (nothing serious, thank God!) but they have a paediatric section available in Emergency just for this. All the kids are treated there. Most of the doctors have both public and private practice, so if you can’t, or don’t want to, wait for an appointment, you can go private. The costs aren’t even that bad. I have no complaints!
About living in Tuscany
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Tuscany as an expat?
A: Anywhere in Versilia is fine.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Tuscany?
A: Depends on what you’re looking for. I have definitely had to adapt. Ironing? No dryer? Apartments considered ‘big’ at 700 square feet (ca. 65 m²)? Small, cramped kitchens? I wouldn’t want to taint anything for you. The standard of housing is fine, but it will be different from home.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Tuscany like? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Hmm… eating out definitely costs less here. Especially for the quality of food. I can’t imagine paying $30 in Canada and getting eight appetizers, two pastas, a steak, grilled veggies, wine, coffee, water, and dessert – anywhere. Energy costs are much higher here. In BC, we don’t even think about how much energy we actually consume – at least I didn’t. Lights on, TV’s going, vacuuming at the same time – no problem! Here, if I have the washer and vacuum on at the same time, I blow the circuit. This definitely takes getting used to.
Q: What are the locals in Tuscany like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I mix mainly with the locals. I do have expat friends, but I would say my time is spent more with Italians than expats. That being said, I spend more time with Italians because I work full time, but my free time is spent more with expats. This is mainly because one of my good friends here married one of my husband’s friends (it’s how we met!) so we naturally do a lot of things together.
Q: Was it easy meeting people in Tuscany and making friends?
A: No. I’m a bit introverted to begin with, and then I was (still am) extremely self-conscious about my Italian. I would say that it’s very easy to chit-chat with the Italians, but as far as making good friends goes, it is a bit difficult. But then, making friends is like that everywhere. It’s not enough that you share a language (or not), it’s the other factors-sense of humour, things in common. I’ve been working on being less ‘cold’ (my husband said I can come across that way) with good results.
About working in Tuscany
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Italy?
A: No. My daughter is a dual Canadian/Italian citizen, so when we moved here, I was granted my Permesso di Soggiorno for motivi familiari very quickly. In fact, the day we handed in my paperwork, they told me not to worry because they couldn’t kick me out even if they wanted to!
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Tuscany, is there plenty of work?
A: No. It is more difficult here to find work than it is in Canada. We have been extremely fortunate in that we both have full-time work, my husband is even indeterminato (a permanent contract and NOT easy to come by here) while I am on my second determinato contract with the same company. It is easier to find a job in the bigger cities like Milan or Rome, but we want to stay where we are for family reasons.
Q: How does the work culture in Italy differ from home?
A: Hmm, I could probably write an entire book on this! Where to start? Companies not wanting to hire people permanently and finding every loophole in the legislation to not do so? The low wages? The behaviour in meetings? The mildly overt sexism and ageism? The list goes on. It is always amusing though. Best to keep your sense of humour about you otherwise you’ll never survive.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home in Tuscany?
A: No. My husband is from here, and my daughter was only 4 months when we moved. It’s me who has had the adjustments!
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
Q: What are the schools in Tuscany like, any particular suggestions?
A: My daughter is just about to start her first year of ‘real’ school after having gone to asilo (preschool) for the last 3 years. My suggestion would be to research the schools, go to all the meetings before you have to choose one, ask friends, relatives, other moms, anyone really, about how the particular schools are. It’s not as easy as it is for us to just pick up and switch schools, there is a lot of work involved if you decide to change the school for any reason. On the BIG plus side, the schools have fabulous lunch programs! Cheap, nutritionally balanced and delicious. We’ve often asked if we can come eat too…they thought we were kidding.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: It’s very hard to fit in, especially when you are so far away from home and everything that you know. Learn the language, take a course, start reading, watch TV. The sooner you can speak, the better things will get. Don’t close yourself off and just hang out with other expats. But also, don’t ever feel bad about the things that you miss from home. I’m YEARS behind in film and TV shows, but I miss that much less the more time goes by. I download TV shows that I want to watch and sneak them in when I can. Above all, don’t lose yourself. I have had to be more extroverted since being here and have had to confront some of my own ‘fears’ (being made fun of for my Italian) but having to do that daily has made me a better person. Be open and adaptable. After all, resistance is futile. ;)
~Interviewed August 2013