It’s a funny thing, that greener grass on the other side…
I recently met an Italian man named Marco who describes the United States the same way I would describe Italy…exciting, rich in culture and history, immense natural beauty, and people that are more open and friendly than back home.
The things I find lacking in my life in the US I find vibrantly present in Italy..yet Marco would say the same for the US. How is that?
I’m not sure, but I was so intrigued by the passion Marco exuded as he spoke about his obsession for colonial Northeastern US that I asked to interview him to explore this paradox further.
If you can imagine, Marco was born and raised just half a mile from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. In the 80’s, when the fax machine was a novelty, the import-export company he worked for asked him to start a branch in Washington, D.C. Speaking no English, Marco tore himself from his beloved Florence and moved to Washington, a decision based on a feeling that he couldn’t say no to such an opportunity.
He arrived in the US not knowing what to expect. “In Italy, it is common to know US history only for what Hollywood has brought here: the far West, the gold search, the gunfighters, the pioneers heading west on their wagons, and the ‘bad Indian against the good white settler or US army’.”
He spent 6 years there (then 2 in Miami), immersing himself in everyday local life. Most of all, he discovered American people. “I never found a deep relationship with Americans. As easy as it was to meet someone, it was just as easy for it to remain superficial.”
Exploring these cultural expectations and differences is something that has always intrigued me. The idea that we think a certain way just because of where we were born is eye-opening. Pinpointing our thought patterns for what they are— a cultural creation— allows us the opportunity to step outside of that circuit and experience life from the other side, where a multitude of perspectives [and possibilities] exist.
So is it this discovery of new perspectives that lies at the core of falling in love with a foreign country? Perhaps it is more basic than the scenery, the food, and the opportunities that persuade us. Perhaps it is simply the human experience of discovering there are many different ways to live and realizing that we can choose in what way we want to arrange the rhythm of our life.
Perhaps that’s how it worked for me, but for Marco..he actually left the US and didn’t feel pulled back there for 10 years. By chance, he learned about some off-the-beaten-path places in the US that he nor any other Italians knew existed, and this intrigued him. His return voyage to the US in 2003 kicked off a series of seven more trips, from Civil War battlefields to Appalachia to a maple syrup farm in Vermont. He was absolutely hooked and, as a result, knows impressively more than I do about the history of the US!
So there we sat, side by side, in love with each other’s homes and intensely curious about each other’s lives in our respective countries. A beautiful wonder that culture and travel can affect two people so much. As we explored this oddity, I came to realize that there is no answer to why one can find themselves trading their home for another far away. Travel is personal, our individual journeys take us along widely branching paths. Likely it’s a combination of mysterious influences that we’re never really aware of but that undoubtedly lead us where we go.
Want to learn more about Marco and his experiences in the US? Click here to read the full interview!