We’ve all heard it said. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” But this is one of those things that’s much easier bantered about than done. On vacation, it’s fun to fully immerse yourself in the way other people do things, to dress up in the way they are. To even, temporarily, try on their thoughts and opinions. But in real life, over time, if you live in a foreign country, you become an interesting mix of your old and your new, perpetually-away-from-home self.
One of the things about me as an American that has been both an advantage and a disadvantage here and which has, in any case, been tested, is my way of taking things on full-steam ahead, as if every new passion/idea/philosophy-du-jour is a full-time profession. We love “isms.” And we apply our national “ism”—consumerism—serially to almost everything new that interests us. It’s no wonder we say “I’ll buy that,” when what we really mean is, “Yes, I accept that as a valid point of view.” If we could buy it, really, we probably would.
Before I came to Europe, single and chugging down the “career girl” express, I went to the gym every day. Every day. It was a religious thing. And if I didn’t do it, I felt badly. Guilty. My puritanism kept track of my perfectionism/egotism. I wanted to be perfect in word and deed. (What a bore, but so be it, that’s how it was.) And it wasn’t until I moved to Amsterdam and then to Milan that I realized that “ism”-ing through life didn’t leave a lot of room for other people (you know, relationships?) and for Life with that all important capital L.
Besides which, Italy makes it very hard to stay on the metaphorical express train to anywhere. If the Romans don’t passionately share your ideas about accomplishment in all colors and sizes, how are you to carry on “accomplishing” in your accustomed style? (Ex-patriotism has the last laugh.) I don’t know how to explain it. Family is the great “ism” at work here, even greater than Catholicism. And so, a new order was imposed on me, but it was an order that I was wanting (and needing) to accept. Partially, that is.
I still believe that if I want to do something I should try. I still think about possibilities more than I think about impossibilities. I still suspect that doing something really well requires a degree of obsession. I still believe that elbow grease and determination can change a life. And this is one of my qualities that Italians seem to really admire, even if they find it all a bit naive. I think they’d like to “buy” some of this American-ness if they could, but most of them don’t have the right currency.
As it is, I’m trying to replace “isms” with balance. The American in me needs the best of both worlds. But even balance can be taken too far I suppose. Anything can. In the end, you have to do what feels right, regardless of what category it falls into. So I leave you with this badly thought out blog, and welcome your thoughts on the subject. A tennis court is calling: “Get-it-out-of-your-system-ism!”