woman

When expatriation gets to your face: how I became a foreigner to my people

ImageI am a walking Italian stereotype. I tried everything to look different: bleached my hair during teenage (ending up more orange than blonde), tried an endless number of hair coloring later on, avoided sunlight for months in a row (which, I can assure you, it is not an easy task in central Italy). I went through a romantic flowery clothes phase to look more English (impossible to get the English rose skin, though. I should have asked Michael Jackson his tips), through a minimalist trying to look someway Scandinavian and even through a rock, leathery phase to court the Germanic look. I didn’t have a single hope to succeed. Then I tried the American look: big hair, high heels, flawless makeup and perfect nails. Too bad I resembled a cheap version of Sophia Loren, not exactly what I aimed for.

At some point, in my early 20s, I made peace with the fact that I would never be blonde, pale or with small hips and I started sunbathing again. Belgium was a breakthrough in the complicated relationship with my self-image. The Low Land is populated by women with small hips and big backs, thin, ash-blonde hair and greyish skin (a particular color induced by the lifelong sun deprivation and that has nothing to do unfortunately with the above-mentioned English rose complexion). I became Monica Bellucci. Belgian women are of the resistant sort: they drink a lot of beer, eat greasy food with nonchalance and are genetically adverse to developing cellulitis. They live basically on an Atkins diet and do so much sport – busy as they are with bicycles, tennis, stairs, child-bearing and child-rearing – that they can show off their toned legs till the age of 80.

In this nordic set of feminine values, I stood out as the non-sporty, lazy, anti-cellulitis cream heavy consumer, constantly dieting Italian. Had I known that before, I would have moved to Sweden instead. I can’t imagine how lucky I could have been there.

The confusing part of this rambling is that a decade of living in the Low Land might have had an influence on my face and body. Sun deprivation has made my skin pale and my hair darker, the 35 floors I climb on average everyday (according to the infallible Fitbit The Husband gave me for Christmas) may have toned my lazy Italic legs and I got used to not wearing makeup and jewels when going out at night. Sometimes I even get out of the house in those running outfits Americans stars are always photographed in on tabloids. My mother says I have adopted a sciatto (sloppy) northern look.

This and my very pale children are the main reason why people address me in English when we are in Italy. I don’t belong anymore, apparently.

Then in Belgium I go to the playground and covetous mothers, in constant search of help, approach me cautiously to ask how long I have been taking care of those kids. To them, I am the exotic looking nanny.

Confused and Lost in Translation, that’s my destiny.