"The locals have never been all that welcoming. Even other Italians talk about how snobby Florentines are, and its true. The males are a lot easier to get to know, which saddens me greatly. For a long time I hoped to become close friends with Italian women, but countless difficult and awkward experiences have made me gun-shy and inadvertently put my back up when I first meet them, which I hate as a feminist. I have finally started making some Italian women friends, but they tend to be exceptions who have lived abroad themselves" (MT, Oct 2012)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Florence? Which part of Florence do you live in ?
My name is Michelle, Im 37 years old and Ive lived in Florence for a total of ten years. I live in Isolotto, which is across the river from the Cascine Park.
Why did you move there?
The first time I came to study, the second time I came for work, and the third time I came for love.
What is the area like where you live?
Isolotto has totally grown on me over the years. My husband was born and raised here, so I didnt have much choice in the matter! And at first I had a really hard time moving away from the historic centre. The buildings here are much more modern, not at all as charming. But especially since having a kid my opinion has changed a lot. Its really a wonderful place for families. There is so much green. Within 15 minutes I can reach (by foot) two of the best parks in the city, not to mention countless smaller playgrounds. The cost of housing is more affordable. There is a lovely local community feeling with a main square and daily market. I never hear anyone else speak English here, which is kind of cool considering how much you hear it downtown. It has one of the best new libraries in the city. And now there is the (fairly) new tram that takes you right downtown in minutes.
What nationality are you and your partner?
I am dual Canadian-American and my husband is Italian.
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
We have one son, whose name I keep private online, and he was born in August 2010.
What was your experience of having a baby in Florence?
It was fairly traumatic unfortunately. I tried for a natural birth at the Margherita birthing centre but ended up in Careggi for an emergency c-section. My clinical care was great but the post-natal care was sorely lacking and breastfeeding support non-existent.
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I have a day job as the assistant to the director of an American study-abroad program and I write, translate and lecture on the side.
Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
We rented. It was very easy -- my husband knew a realtor who knew of a decent place near my husbands family.
How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
I would say pretty well integrated, though I still dont have very many Italian friends. And judging from expats I know whove been here for a lot longer, that may not change!
What language do you speak to your children?
I speak only in English. My husband speaks primarily in Italian and a little in English.
What is your impression of childcare and education in Florence?
I dont know all that much about it yet, since my son just started preschool a couple weeks ago. For the first two years his nonna cared for him while my husband and I both worked full-time. It was pretty incredible how matter of course the family help was. I love the focus on healthy food at school, which Ive heard continues for a long time. I wish preschool wasnt so expensive, though I gather thats on par with the rest of the western world. There is clearly a major need for more public preschools. We were put on a waiting list with hundreds of others.
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Florence?
Definitely an advantage is how open it automatically makes our kids to the world and different ways of living and thinking. Especially in a provincial place like Florence, that is key for me. I honestly cant think of any disadvantages!
How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Florence?
The locals have never been all that welcoming. Even other Italians talk about how snobby Florentines are, and its true. The males are a lot easier to get to know, which saddens me greatly. For a long time I hoped to become close friends with Italian women, but countless difficult and awkward experiences have made me gun-shy and inadvertently put my back up when I first meet them, which I hate as a feminist. I have finally started making some Italian women friends, but they tend to be exceptions who have lived abroad themselves.
Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
As mentioned above, yes, I think Isolotto is one of the most family-friendly areas in Florence. The only thing I can think of thats missing here is an English-language preschool.
Are you able to recommend to other MumAbroad members in the area any local services (home delivery, plumbers, dentists, babysitters etc) or any activities, restaurants or shops for children in the area?
The ludoteca on Via Canova/Via Chiusi is one of the best in the city -- its huge and often has great shows for kids on Saturdays. Baby Bazar on Via Bezzuoli is amazing for used kids clothes, toys, furniture etc. Coco Novo on Via Torcicoda is a wonderful reasonably-priced family-friendly restaurant that serves both pasta and pizza.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Florence with children?
Join the Firenze Moms 4 Moms Network before anything else! The blog and Facebook group have developed into such an amazing resource for expat mums in Florence in so many ways. If youre having a baby, see the Florence Birth Story series on my blog :) And know that there are good and bad stories for every place, public or private. Do your research and visit the places to find what feels like the right fit for you.
What couldn´t you live without in Florence?
My expat friends. Ive seen a lot of good friends come and go over the years, so the ones that stick around are like gold. With my family far away, it means even more to be able to relate to people who are going through similar experiences, especially when things are hard or frustrating or annoying.
What could you live without in Florence?!
The rude service. I can never get over how utterly blase and arrogant Florentine store clerks and waiters can be.
Michelles blog can be found at www.mapleleafmamma.com