Life, Travel

Coronavirus in Northern Italy: an Expat’s Perspective

Today I’m sharing my experience living as an expat in northern Italy during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a serious topic, but I felt it was worth sharing.

Today I'm sharing my experience living as an expat in northern Italy during the coronavirus pandemic. It's a serious topic, but I felt it was worth sharing.

When we moved to northern Italy last summer, we dreamed of pasta, vineyards, and travel. I was thrilled to bust out my rusty college Italian and get the chance to really learn the language.

Little did we know that eight months to the day after stepping off the plane, the country would go into a nationwide quarantine.

Before I get too far into this, a couple quick reminders:

  • I decided to share a bit about my experience living in northern Italy during the coronavirus crisis because people keep asking. I don’t want to add to the noise or the fear. If you’ve had enough Covid-19 content, please skip this! You won’t hurt my feelings.
  • I’ll go into more detail in a moment, but my experience is going to be unique from others: I’m living in an area much less hit by the virus thus far.
  • We are in uncharted waters here, and everyone is reacting differently and at different paces. Please be kind: to yourself, to me, and to others.

With that being said, here’s how it’s been for us!

Today I'm sharing my experience living as an expat in northern Italy during the coronavirus pandemic. It's a serious topic, but I felt it was worth sharing.
Been baking up a storm!

Coronavirus and Quarantine in Italy

I’ll be the first to admit that I was mad about the quarantine. The US military had already ordered its servicemembers and their spouses to not travel to certain regions heavily affected by coronavirus – including Veneto, only two miles from my front door. Schools and asili (nursery schools/daycares) had already been out for three weeks. Measures were taken, though hindsight shows not fast enough.

The travel restrictions and growing concern also meant that plans for my parents to visit were canceled. It was heartbreaking, to say the least. But when the quarantine kicked in only three days after my parents were supposed to arrive, it was so clear canceling was the right call.

For the first few days, I was pretty selfishly angry. I live in a small town and life here hadn’t changed. I think when the quarantine kicked in, there were no cases in my province (province=county to Americans) and only a few in my region (region=state).

But after doing a little research on other parts of the country and making a point to listen to health professionals instead of the media, I got it. There is not enough medical supplies or personnel to combat it even as it was two weeks ago, when there were less than 25% the number of current cases. Now, we’re in dire straits as a country.

Today I'm sharing my experience living as an expat in northern Italy during the coronavirus pandemic. It's a serious topic, but I felt it was worth sharing.
Posters went up within 48 hours of the quarantine reminding people to stay home.

Italians vs Americans

It has been fascinating to compare the ways Italians are handling quarantine to Americans, either back in the US or those living here.

Supermarkets are well stocked. Nothing runs out unless you try to go first thing in the morning when they haven’t refilled with the day’s deliveries. That was true before the quarantine. The only place running out of supplies is the commissary, the on-base supermarket for Americans.

Italians live much of their lives in public spaces: most mornings involve caffe at a local bar (coffeeshop), much of a family’s produce gets purchased at the weekly outdoor market, and many evenings each week couples and families take a stroll through town, la bella figura. So quarantine is a big ask culturally here.

It’s my impression that Italians like to make very persnickety rules and then ignore 90% of them. That breeds some major confusion for me as an American expat with a shaky grasp of the language. However, Italians are taking this VERY seriously. They’re staying home, staying inside, and abiding by the rules as far I can I see or read. If they’re outside, they’re walking to the butcher or the supermarket.

A week ago, they tightened restrictions, saying we can no longer walk dogs outdoors (previously one of the few exceptions for being out and about). This has been tough on us; I usually walk Wedge 3-5 km every day! But we are trying to figure it out and play more inside.

Today I'm sharing my experience living as an expat in northern Italy during the coronavirus pandemic. It's a serious topic, but I felt it was worth sharing.
Empty streets everywhere

How I’m Doing

That’s a hard question. How we’re doing changes daily, sometimes hourly. Feeling a bit stir crazy, for sure. Desperately missing daily walks. Getting a little creative with what I make for dinner, and baking way more than is good for my fitting into my jeans when this ends.

I’m very fortunate to be living in an area relatively unaffected by coronavirus. The quarantine restrictions were put in place in relatively good time for my region, so while cases here are growing, they never got as crazy as more affected areas such as Lombardi and Tuscany. I feel safe.

That being said, everything is intense. Hearing a siren makes you wonder. Seeing the streetcleaners running daily is simultaneously reassuring and nerve-wracking. Going to the supermarket is stressful and you can feel the tension in the air as everyone tries to stock up but leave enough for the next person, and move as quickly as possible to minimize exposure.

For my mental health, I’ve almost completely stopped reading English-speaking media. I follow a few people in different parts of Italy on Instagram and check in with friends. I’ll glance over local Italian pieces occasionally or read something if a trusted friend passes it on. I still want to see the data, which I get here. This gives me the numbers without the panic.

Today I'm sharing my experience living as an expat in northern Italy during the coronavirus pandemic. It's a serious topic, but I felt it was worth sharing.

Italy’s Dealing with Coronavirus

Italy is getting a ton of criticism on the world stage right now for not reacting fast enough. But I suspect that any EU or western nation would’ve acted similarly, given the situation.

I’m no public health expert, so take this with a grain of salt. But one reason Italy has been so hard hit is that their population demographics skew old. Young adults tend to leave, finding jobs in other countries. Italy has the second oldest population in the world after Japan, and that means that many of the people catching coronavirus are in the categories most at risk of hospitalization or death.

We are by no means out of the woods yet. Things are still scary here and the numbers haven’t taken a decided turn positive yet. Our original quarantine dates run through April 3, but there is no way it will be lifted by then. It’s sad to miss Easter in Italy (a major holiday here) and selfishly, it sucks to cancel so many friends and family coming this spring. My traveler soul feels stifled, even as I know this is the right thing.

But Italians are resilient. They’re fighters, and they believe in being good neighbors more deeply than I’ve ever experienced. People sing out their windows. There have been organized banners for children to create, encouraging us as we see “andrá tutto bene” – “all will be well” out our windows.

My 80-something neighbor, who I’ve been checking in on to see if she needs anything, brought me blood oranges with a giggled “vitamina c!” The nonna next door is checking in on me? I’m the one who should be caring for her! But that’s Italians for you, everyone cares deeply about their neighbors.

These are unprecedented times. I happened to be flying back into the European Union when fears of coronavirus hitting Italy first began – temperatures were taken as we stepped off the plane and warnings were posted in the airport, but little else was done. What could they do, after all?

Just Remember

Let’s acknowledge that almost all of us at some point uttered the phrase, “this coronavirus thing is not a big deal.”

I have watched friends, professional travel writers, celebrities, and people whose work depends on travel go through this process. There is a moment when everyone switches from “this is overrated” to “why would you leave your house for any reason?!?!”

Let’s be kind in the midst of that. Yes, please stay home. No, this is not overrated. But let’s also not berate people who may be only hours behind us in the realization process.

Living as an expat means I'm constantly noticing cultural differences between the United States and Italy! Here are a few I've noticed so far.

I hope this sheds some light on life in northern Italy under coronavirus. I share updates – some silly, some serious – daily on my Instagram stories, so follow me for those!

2 thoughts on “Coronavirus in Northern Italy: an Expat’s Perspective

  1. Such an amazing article! I was curious to see what was happening in Italy for people outside the medias. I am from France but half my family was from Italy so I really feel like it is happening to me! I think people are being a bit tough on Italians, from what I have seen they went in quarantine pretty quickly and are being pretty good students considering they usual way of life (we have quite the same in France lol), but like you said, population is quite old so no surprise there. I really hope that the curve is going to come down soon.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I think you said it exactly. Italians are doing shockingly well with the quarantine; considering how much of life is lived outdoors and in the public spaces normally, it’s quite the feat! Definitely getting harder as the weather is getting warmer. I hope you and your family are doing well!

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