Five Things That Will Blow Your Mind About Living in Italy

Stacey K Eskelin
5 min readJun 2, 2021

Including good doggos and a farting Contessa

There’s always a rainbow over Calcata. Photo by Stacey Eskelin.
  1. When someone displeases you in Italy, you can take out a denuncia or complaint against them, and then go to court. In, like, ten years.

In Calcata Vecchia, an artists’ community perched high on a rock overlooking a valley, loud, acrimonious arguments are pretty much the lingua franca. It’s a small village, so everyone’s like family, a loud Italian family that argues. They argue about money, politics, but mostly about slights, real or perceived. This is what happened to the Contessa.

The Contessa, who is now deceased, was elderly, opinionated, and apparently gassy. My boyfriend John, once a longtime resident of Calcata Vecchia, used to help her down the stairs, accompanied by the sounds of her thunderous farting. She reigned from her daily perch in the piazza, nodding with exquisite condescension to those who pleased her, and baring her fangs at those who didn’t. Somehow, she got into an argument with one of the locals who called her a “Vecchia Mafiosa,” or as we might say, “an old Mafia boss.”

The Contessa was not amused.

NOT the Contessa, actually, but I figure she could play her on television. No, this was an actress hired to stand on our balcony while they were shooting a scene in the piazza. We got PAID MONEY to let her be there. Photo by Stacey Eskelin.

She wailed. She wrung her hands. “Ma come si permette!” How dare you! The Contessa summoned her witnesses, including John. “I’m going to report him!” she told him. “I’m taking out a denuncia. I don’t care how long before it goes to court.”

In Italy, you can bet that any court proceeding is going to take eons before it goes in front of a judge. Italy’s judicial system is as chaotic as its fountains are beautiful. There are actual laws on the books from the days of Ancient Rome.

Years passed. The Countess did, indeed, shuffle off this mortal coil. Ten years after that fateful day in the piazza, John received a notice from the Court that he was being summoned as a witness in the Contessa’s denuncia. They had no idea she was dead.

As an American, I can’t help but find the idea of denunce quaint. If you call somebody names in my country, we’ll just snatch a gun out of the glove compartment and shoot you in the face. “Personal freedom,” and all that.

  1. Equally quaint is the Italian real estate custom of nuda proprietà.
Your own little retirement-age cash cow.

For less than market value, you can buy an occupied house or apartment from an elderly owner or an owner with an elderly tenant and wait for him to die. For real. Even if that person doesn’t die for a long, long time, which, given the impressive life expectancy in Italy, isn’t an unreasonable worry.

What’s the benefit for elderly homeowners? They’re able to enjoy the profits of the sale while still alive, all while continuing to live inside their own home.

The benefit to the new owner? It’s easier to obtain a mortgage, you might pay less than market value (although the older the original owner, the higher the cost of the apartment), and in theory, you’re not on the hook for the ordinary expenses of maintenance, building fees, etc.

Our friend, Carla, bought a nuda proprietà from an old woman in Venice. Years went by, and she didn’t die. Decades. Eventually, Carla just shrugged and said, “Go figure. Who knew I would end up with Highlander?”

Talk about playing the long game! I can’t help but feel that if we were to attempt this in America, there would be a massive uptick in fatal stair mishaps among the elderly. Am I wrong?

  1. It’s probably good then that there aren’t any FICO scores in Italy.
Euros. Colorful, aren’t they? I’m so used to seeing them, it’s American money that looks fake to me. Photo by Ibrahim Boran.

There is no such thing as a credit score in Italy. If you apply for a loan here, a bank will want to see tax statements and proof of employment, but they’re not going to run your credit score. There’s no credit score to run.

In the States, we live or die by our credit score — a system that’s opaque, plays by an arcane set of rules, gets hacked, is often wrong, heavily disfavors the consumer, and is often the means of determining whether that consumer can buy a car, a house, a phone plan, or even land a job. Creditworthiness has a such a stranglehold on the American public, it seems impossible at times to imagine life without that judgey, ominous overlord. Yet there are entire worlds out there where your worth isn’t analyzed and compiled into a set of binary numbers. And yes, it is very refreshing.

  1. Know what else is refreshing? Being able to take your dog to a café or a mall.
An adorable dog shopping at a drugstore. Photo by Peter Plashkin.

Both these things are allowed in Italy. I’ve even seen dogs inside restaurants, although that can depend on the individual owner. But any afternoon in Porta di Roma, say, which is the biggest mall in Lazio (the province around Rome) looks like a pedigreed dog show. All dogs are on leashes, and yes, some of them do poo in the middle of the floor. Their owners clean up after them and life continues. Moral of the story: if you’re in Italy and don’t like dogs, don’t go to the mall.

  1. Italy has twelve national public holidays each year, not including regional holidays honoring local saints.
An interesting place to enjoy one of those Italian holidays — Chia (pron. KEE-ya), which is where famous (and controversial) film director Pier Paolo Pasolini spent his last years. Photo by Stacey Eskelin.

The U.S. has none. “But what about Christmas and Thanksgiving?” you say. These are annual federal holidays in the U.S., but they’re not national. Congress only has the authority to create holidays based on federal institutions.

Italians make efficient use of their holidays by taking a ponte, or bridge. If, say, December 8, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, falls on a Thursday, your enterprising Italian will make a “bridge” of it by taking Friday off, too, thus creating a perfect segue into the weekend. Tuesdays are also useful in this regard.

But don’t misconstrue this as a sign that Italians are lazy. They are not. Some of the hardest working people I know are Italian. They just appreciate how to make the most of a given opportunity.

Do you like holidays? Some people don’t. Personally, I find holidays disruptive. Leave your comments below!

For more articles by Stacey Keith/Stacey Eskelin, visit: CAPPUCCINO.