Entrepreneurs & Expats in Italy: Making the Move as a Single Woman in her 50's | Dogs, Dating & Renovating!
We are excited to start a new series on our blog - Interviews with Inspiring Expats in Italy - sharing stories of hard work, big dreamers with determination, entrepreneurs and risk takers!
In 2010 we first met Susan Dufresne, she was travelling through Italy with one of her son's and stayed at our farm, inn & cooking school. Throughout the years Susan kept in touch and shared the trials and tribulations of moving to Italy and restoring a farmhouse with us.
It seems fitting to ask Susan to be our first guest in this series of interviews because not only was she a guest at our inn years ago and made the move, but she will be joining our panel of Expats & Experts in our Move to Italy to Retire Workshops! Sharing with our guests what life is really like a single woman, in her fifties living and dating in small town Italy!
Now 30 years after her first trip to Italy, Susan made the leap in April 2017 and moved with her two dogs to Guardia Sanframondi, Campania. And as she puts "Moving to a small village in Italy has truly been an adventure and a comedy of errors."
Let's jump right in!
Why did you want to move to Italy?
I grew up in a little coastal town in Northern California with a large Italian and Portuguese community. I didn’t think there was anything unique about that community until my mother remarried and we moved to Oklahoma for a bit. Before, normal food for us were things like salami, pasta and sauce and fruits like pomegranates. Then was introduced to chicken fried steak and crawdads! A bit of a culture shock.
When I was in my early 20’s I took my first trip to Italy with my friend, Maria. It was love at first sight - literally. The minute I came out of the Termini train station in Rome, I knew I wanted to live in this country. I loved the language, the food, the culture and people. I never forgot that moment and kept that dream alive for another 30 years.
What was the catalyst for wanting to move?
"I was burned out by my corporate job and feeling a bit lost but had never given up on my dream of living in Italy. I have always known that someday I make the move here. I was previously married, I have two children, Steven and David, who are now in their 30’s and two grandchildren. I am always asked how my children feel about my move. The answer is that they have been prepared (maybe brainwashed?) since they were young. I talked about moving to Italy all the time. They were not surprised at all when it happened and probably would have been more surprised if I hadn’t moved.
What inspired you to finally make the move?
My son, David, and I took a trip about 6 years ago to Italy. I wanted him to see another part of the world and selfishly chose Italy. We were traveling to Rome, then traveling up north eventually to Venice and back. I found La Tavola Marche through a search and was very intrigued and it was on the way to Venice. What an inspiration! An American couple who took a chance and uprooted their life to start new in Italy. I would like to say I chose La Tavola because of how beautiful it was but I think deep in my heart, I wanted to meet people who had made the leap. They were truly inspiring to me in their bravery and determination. (What an incredible complement...you make me blush!!)
I’m guessing it is not something new for their guests to tell them that they will live in Italy one day. But I was serious! I continued to follow their blog and listen to their podcasts. Sometimes it was difficult for me to listen to their podcasts to be honest because I was so envious. It’s true. I wanted to start my life in Italy but knew it would be a few more years. That trip to La Tavola helped me to overcome any doubts and make the move.
It's not easy moving to Italy! What kept driving you forward when the going got tough?
I just kept thinking about the life I wanted. I knew that it would be almost impossible in the States. I had a fairly stressful job which involved quite a bit of travel, and being transferred to various cities. But I knew if I took those positions in the company and transferred where needed, I could save enough money to make the move to Italy. Also, my children were now living on their own and beginning their own lives (one lives in Florida and the other in Saigon). It was time. I sold my home, my car and gave away or donated most of my belongings. I often thought I was crazy to do this but continued to listen to my heart. I knew I would be happy but also knew it would not always be easy. It has been hard work but I have not regretted it for one minute. The beautiful Deruta vase I bought 30 years ago on that first trip now sits in my living room in Italy. It amazes me every day that I am here.
What's it like dating in Italy? This is a part of the culture I know nothing about.
The fabulous thing about the Italian culture is that I find the men very engaging, passionate in their interests and they truly enjoy having a dialogue. But there can be little landmines for a single woman whether you are seeking out someone to date or not. I live in a small town of 4,000 people and could probably make a fortune with a "The Real Housewives of Guardia” show. But…. I would then have to move. Just like any small town, gossip is a pastime. There are also many stereotypes of single, western woman coming to Italy solely to find men whether married or not...It can be frustrating, but it’s the truth. You will be asked out for coffee often and assume the man is single. They usually are not. That’s another reason it’s important to find a support system. They can give you the background of the locals and help you navigate through this.. I am a fairly independent, non-traditional woman but do respect the place that I live and do not assume that I have the freedoms that I would in the US. This is small town specific of course and it was my choice to move somewhere where I knew I wouldn’t always agree with the attitudes towards women.
The smaller town mentality can be difficult and confusing sometimes but the benefits are also incredible. Like your neighbors looking out for you and bringing you some fresh tomato sauce, olives, or whatever is seasonal and from their kitchen. Knowing the bread lady, meat guy, fruit and veggie guy so you get the freshest food possible and they sometimes throw in something extra for you just because. The hospitality is incredible. If you ask for directions, do not be alarmed if someone or a group of someones, jump in your car and lead you to wherever you were trying to go. One of my biggest dilemmas here is trying to figure out how to reciprocate the enormous generosity. That’s a good problem to have and something I appreciate every day.
How do you spend a typical day?
It’s fairly erratic right now because of the renovation in my home. Usually I am mainly dealing with renovation - consulting with the workers on plans and layout, trying to find material and general errands. Like you, I do not live near a major center where there are a lot of options so I do quite a bit of driving back and forth to Naples and the surrounding area for materials.
When I do have a break from renovation, I meet with friends for coffee and dinner, go to local events, take an online Italian class with a group of people and lots of walks in the mountains with the dogs. Errands can also take up a fair amount of time in a small town because I need to go shop to shop and make sure I get everything done before pausa, which Guardia Sanframondi takes very seriously. Stores are closed for up to 3-4 hours mid-day. Blessing and a curse.
Now that you live here and reached your goal of moving to Italy, what are your plans?!
I initially thought that a blog giving information about restaurants, activities, local trips, artisan, workshops, etc. for visitors and expats was something I would be interested in doing. There is no site or information currently in one place and Guardia has over 200 expats with second homes. But after many attempts to start, I realized that my heart was not in it and I would not enjoy it over time. I have a marketing background so initially thought only about the need. But I didn’t move here for that reason.
As they say… follow your passion. So I recently started working on a blog showing my day to day life here. It is not live yet but should be up early next year called SempreItaly. I am a fairly adventurous person and love exploring. It will be from the prospective of a single woman who had a major life shift - going from the corporate world in the States to a small town in Southern Italy. And the dogs! I hope it is entertaining and helpful. I will talk about learning the language, being so far away from family, cultural differences, getting by as a single woman and everything else that happens in my life. I want to show the generosity of the people, my major faux pas which are daily and what there is to offer in this area. This I am excited about!
I have a hundred more questions for Susan (and I'm sure you do too!), as I mentioned before we are so excited to have her on the panel and joining our Move to Italy & Retire Workshop! She will be here to share more stories on her experiences of moving with pets, purchasing & renovating a property, dating and dealing with family! Below are a few tips and things to consider before moving to Italy, from the perspective of many of you dreamers - a single woman in her fifties!
A few of Susan's Quick Tips on Moving to Italy:
- Social Media - Remember that Italians have Facebook too! A woman I know moved to Italy, started complaining about everything Italian and forgot that she had “friended” quite a few locals on FB. Keep those rants in personal messages. Google Translate works both ways.
- Thick Skin - You will need it. Italians love to make fun of each other - to their faces - and can laugh at themselves. It takes a little getting used to but is harmless. When speaking you will say the wrong words a lot - just roll with it and laugh at yourself. Be careful of the word “Fico” It’s tricky!
— Italian food - Do you really, really, really love Italian food? I do but after weeks on end of nothing but Italian, I crave some Thai, Mexican food or any other type of food. Bring your spices, your cookbooks and when friends are heading over to visit, have them bring anything you can’t get in Italy - within reason of course. It may seem a minor thing but after a while you will be dreaming of a carnitas burrito or tom yum soup.
- Professionals - Get a good attorney, commercialista (accountant), notary, and auto insurance agent in your area. Seek out referrals from locals and other expats.
- Type A Personalities - You may struggle. Italy is a tough cookie and will probably not change anytime soon. You’ll either need to let go and enjoy the crazy ride or enjoy Italy as a vacation spot only. Plus, isn’t that why we want to move here - because it’s Italy?
Things to Consider Before Making the Move as a Single Woman:
- How do you handle being alone and out of your element? If it’s something you know you would struggle with consider moving to a city with a more international atmosphere or try a trial run in a rental before making the leap to move longer term.
-Can you imagine being away from your children and family for long stretches of time? Will you be able to travel to see them or they to see you? Skype and other services are great but do not replace that connection. When thinking about the cost of moving and living in Italy, I would include travel back and forth as well.
-How will you handle your new found popularity? You will have friends you haven’t seen or heard from in years asking to come stay with you, cousins that you had forgotten about suddenly interested in coming to Italy. It’s nice to feel wanted but be careful with the constant flow of guests especially in your first year when you are trying to figure out your new life. Be prepared to be popular!
Thank you Susan for your insight & inspiration!!
Take the first step towards the sweet life!
Meet Susan along with other inspiring expats at the next Workshop: How to Move to Italy & Retire / Buy a Holiday House in March & May 2018 at La Tavola Marche (Le Marche, Italy). Jason and I love hosting this workshop! If you are dreaming of retiring or buying a holiday house in Italy understand there's a lot of work needed for la dolce vita! We share first hand experience on what you need to know when it comes to house hunting, negotiating, taxes, health care and life in Italy!