Flying Solo (or How to Bond with Your Italian In-Laws)

In a jet-laggy fog, I wish Alberto good luck — it’s his first day at a new job and my first Monday alone in a foreign city.

Downstairs, construction on another condo is taking place; we’re staying with my in-laws, who are also at their respective offices. I reluctantly get out of bed to the jarring alarm of drills and hammers. The water is turned off until 10:30 a.m. due to the construction.

My stomach aches (yesterday’s gelato, probably), and I need to use the bathroom, but I don’t trust that the bucket of water Rosa left for me to flush the toilet will be sufficient. I hold it — and groggily wobble into the kitchen for breakfast. Rosa* has left me a note:


I do as instructed (maybe?), and nothing is coming out of the espresso machine. I push more random buttons, in varying sequences, but niente.

Defeated, I sit back down to have some cereal and ponder my life:

Holy cow, did I just move to Italy, how am I going to do this, what should I do now, am I going to get fluent in Italian, what’s my life’s purpose, what if they Amanda Knox me, do I know how to lock the door, what’s the number for 911, am I going to be able to hold my shiz together until the water comes back on? You know, typical breakfast thoughts.

I get up and attempt to conquer the espresso machine again. I push more buttons, I plead with it, I alternate fingertip pressure and suddenly GURGLE GURGLE SWOOOOOSH (not my bowels) — the sweet smell of caffè.

I literally (literally) raise my fists to the sky, look to my left and look to my right for someone who has witnessed my Monday morning victory. If I can accomplish this, I tell myself, I can do anything (or at least lots of things).

Meryl Streep at the Oscars with standing ovation

Then, the water comes back on. Grazie, Madonnina.

My father-in-law, who is semi-retired, has been deputized by his wife and son to be my guardian, escort, navigator, aide, and semi-translator (I say semi because he doesn’t speak English) during these first days of adjustment.

He came home from work to have lunch with me and to impart various instructional nuggets, including but not limited to:

  • How to turn the kitchen gas on and off — chiuso, aperto, chiuso, aperto
  • How to recycle — it’s complicated and you get fined for putting the wrong thing in the wrong category – plastica, carta, indifferenziata
  • Where the chocolate is – dai, mangia
  • How to not get splashed by hot olive oil – attenta, attenta

He makes us four fried eggs served with cheese, bread, and wine, plus fruit for dessert. I eat more than I want to, because that’s what you have to do with your Italian in-laws. If you say no, it will still be put on your plate, nine times out of ten. “Come on, Christina. Vitamin C. It’s good for you. Eat it.” I wish they had a dog.

“Do you want some coffee?” he asks at the end of our meal. I’m fine for now, I say.

“Good, because I don’t know how to make it,” he replies.

And there we have it: Even if I didn’t conquer that elusive machine this morning, I could’ve still been on my way to becoming a legit Italian (husband).

Renzo* asks what I’ve been doing this morning; I’ve been working in a grammar book, I share.

“Don’t study too hard,” he advises. “Do the school of listening to me and Rosa, and the fruit vendor, and the people in the street. That’s how you learn, in real life.”

He says I’ll become autonomous if I start writing down all my questions, thoughts and plan for each day. “But, when you go out alone, watch your purse, watch for cars. Do you have any euros on you? At least 10?”

Rosa soon calls from her office to check on me. “Did you eat? What did you eat?”

We should move before I have to spend my 10 euros on new pants, but upon learning that we are looking at apartments in Milan, Alberto and I are met with the following: “Why would you move to another neighborhood? Why don’t you move into the apartment below us? Or into your uncle’s house around the corner? You want to move to that area? No, that’s not a nice area.”

Costanzas in Seinfeld

I’m reading The Italians and this is straight outta Chapter 12: Family Matters. An excerpt:

“Though often referred to in the media by the pejorative term bamboccioni, Italy’s stay-at-home offspring enjoy a remarkable degree of public tolerance. When the late Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, the finance minister in the Prodi government of 2006-2008 who popularized the word, dared to suggest that parents should kick them out of their homes, he ran into a firestorm of national indignation.”

Also, in a 2005 study cited in the book, researchers found that “Italian parents report that they are happier when living with their adult children. This is the opposite of what happens in Britain and the United States.”

Beloved and grateful daughter signing off,


*Name changed

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