You know you have to come back when…


Suddenly, you start receiving one, then two then dozens of spam comments on your blog. That’s the sign. It means that you haven’t been writing for what feels like decades and that you have to come back or your collection of sparse thoughts will implode and be swallowed whole by the Internet. So I am. Back.

Not writing is easier than writing. Not doing is always much easier than doing. Anything. But I like this little place too much to let it go and even if right now I feel like I don’t have much to say, I will make the effort of keep coming.

Over an extremely long summer (it’s still surprisingly hot in northern Europe) with my newborn baby nicknamed Otto two things happened: I stopped feeling an expat in Belgium and I realised that no matter how far you go, national feelings are innate and not the byproduct of a single-countried upbringing.

How I started to feel a little Belgian. Since I last blogged there has been the World Cup to keep young and less young people busy during warm summer nights. It happened then: the Belgian Red Devils were all over the place. Supermarkets had special aisles dedicated to the football team and sold all sorts of gadgets. The husband spent a whole Saturday afternoon at the Carrefour with the children and they came back with packs of red, yellow and black Marseille soaps (by the way, the black one actually soiled your hands instead of cleaning them!), themed sunglasses, special Red Devils editions of crisps, cereals, mustard, beer…We had themed ads on tv every single day and dedicated shows where the Red Devils would open and reply to letters received by their youngest fan. Frankly, it was amazing. I come from a 4 times World Champion country but not once I have witnessed such nation wide joy and hope and warmth and support for the football team. Supermarkets in Italy never sold tri-colored Marseille soap bars. (I am sure the green one would soil hands too).

Watching matches was more than witnessing a football game happening far away on a medium sized screen. It was cathartic. Biblical. A myth. The small, discreet, boring little country in the middle of Europe bravely defying the giants of football. A bunch of young, funny, ambitious guys taking a leap of faith. It was cool. And then one night at a party, after Belgium had already been eliminated by Argentina, I found this picture on the inside door of the club’s loo:


and I felt a little Belgian. Which of course according to Murphy’s law must mean that I am about to move somewhere else. It’s like the last box: I don’t know if this ever happened to you but throughout the several movings of my 20s I used to keep an unopened box, somewhere in the basement. The box you are going to open one day, when you’ll have the time. If you ever come to open that box and thus completely settle in your new place, usually something is going to happen and you will be moving again shortly.

With the help of an extraordinary weather since the beginning of the year I am at peace with this strange place I have been living in since 2003. Do me whatever you want, Belgium, I have finally come to love you.

How my half-blooded kids feel very much pureblooded. I have always thought that a sense of belonging to a certain country, culture and set of values comes from growing up in a place. I couldn’t help but notice when I was in school that children that had transferred from abroad very often were a little different from us, single-countried Italians. They spoke with a metallic accent, they ate different foods, they were less interested in football than us and dressed differently. Nationality went hand in hand with a constant exposure to sunlight, pasta and roman architecture. Well, apparently I was wrong.

I feel very much Italian despite the uneasiness that plagues me every time I stay too long in Italy. I AM very Italian indeed but I never preached it. I have friends actively promoting the Italian-ness of their kids, by teaching songs, traditions and foods and patiently correcting each and every grammatical slip up. I am too lazy to correct grammar every time (and, sincerely, most of their genuine mistakes are so funny that corrections seem unfair) and not orthodox enough to teach things I have forgotten myself. But despite my (non) efforts in this sense, it turns out my children think of themselves as Italians (and a little bit French, not Belgian. That’s another story). It’s not about the sun, then. There must be something more.

What do you feel after your years abroad? And what do your children think they are, if you have any?


  1. Welcome back! Wish I had as good an excuse as a wee one for the dreadful neglect of my blog. That spam really does start to proliferate, doesn’t it?

    As for that unopened box… I have one of those full of papers, letters and photos I keep expecting to have a huge windfall of time to sort through! Hmm… if your theory holds true I may be in trouble as plan to tackle it in the next couple months…. or not… let’s see…

    And funny how that sense of belonging to a place / “national pride” thing sneaks up too… an innate Indian-ness (in my case) that follows along with me where ever I go. Heck, I was even dragged along to a Bollywood flick in Jakarta on Friday and started laughing as had shared amusing conversations with the hero on a flight back to Bombay from Kuala Lumpur (without knowing his name) and the mother of the hero is good friend of my partner and someone I’m rather fond of…

    You know you’ve spent a long time somewhere when you start to have the illusion that you know just about ‘everyone’. Gaakh!

    But then connect me with a fellow Canadian? Especially catching up with an old pal with shared history…? And that whole other side pops up to say ‘Why hello! It’s been a while… How’s it going?’ Fitting right back nice n comfy if they’ve also made the transition to a more global existence.

    The challenge for me are those remaining in Canada which simply seems to be going in a more conservative path (or maybe it is just that I’ve changed). It just doesn’t fit anymore…

    For your kids? They have an interesting life enriched but multiple elements… you’ll see where their life journey takes them. 🙂

  2. Thank you Carissa! I missed here very much 🙂
    You know, that’s exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago: I went to a very local event and for the first time ever, I did know everybody. More than that: I knew who their high school sweetheart was, most of their parents, all of their kids. That’s when I realised I have spent in Belgium a third of my life. As for the rest, I totally agree with you!

  3. Glad you are back! I too have returned recently after my hiatus and it feels good to blog again. I don’t know that I will ever hit that point in China, but interesting to consider!

  4. Congratulations for the birth of Otto !! With 3 “italian” boys, you must be busy 🙂 Welcome Back, Bene- Simone from California 🙂

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