So you don’t think I hated it here, make sure you also read my post about what I will miss about Sicily. But, lest you think it’s all sunshine and rainbows over here for us, here is my list of things I will NOT miss about Sicily.
What I will not miss about Sicily
Having nothing to do. When we have people here visiting us, or we’re traveling, or we have something else going on, things are great. However, a large chunk of the time we were here, Sean was working 12 hour night shifts and I was just hanging out by myself. That kind of freedom sounds really nice in theory, but in reality, there were a lot of days I woke up, and the only thing I had to do for the next 7 days was feed myself, Sean, and the cat. I’d make up stuff to do, go grocery shopping, clean the house, cook lots of stuff. I had some friends here that I’d go on little trips with or go get lunch with, but you can only fill up so much time with that. I’m legally not allowed to work in Italy, base jobs are given priority to military spouses (and even a lot of them can’t find jobs), and honestly, with all the trips and visitors we had, it was really hard to commit to anything long term because after just a few weeks, we were going somewhere or we had someone coming to stay with us. I felt like if I got too involved with something here, then I wouldn’t be free to do the traveling we had hoped to do, and either I would have to quit, or I wouldn’t be available to spend time with our friends when they came to visit. Excuses and sob story aside, I basically spent a lot of time at home in my pajamas. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of Netflix, spent a lot of time with the cat. It’s nice to decompress, but after not too long, it gets desperately boring and un-fulfilling.
To be honest, most of my time is spent like this and the cat is my number one photography subject.
Sean working 12 hour night shifts. This is hard on me and hard on him. 12 hour shifts, sometimes longer, with a 45 minute drive on each end. On the days he’s working, I see him for a couple hours when he wakes up in the afternoons, and then he’s gone. If I’m out doing something, there are times I won’t see him awake for days in a row. If we have something to do on his days off, it’s hard on him to switch to regular day-time hours, and then back to night-shift hours a couple days later. I have a lot of respect for people who work the night shift their whole lives, it’s not easy on you or your family.
The little things are so hard. Again, a lot of this is my fault for not doing a better job learning Italian, but everything here is hard. Things don’t work they do at home, and figuring stuff out is challenging. Going grocery shopping is hard, figuring out how to order in the different restaurants is hard (do you pay first? pay last? what is that thing called?). How do you return something to a store? What if the internet isn’t working? What if you’re lost and need to find something but can’t understand anyone giving you directions? How do I ask my landlord why it smells like we have a gas leak? Sometimes I would be lucky and find someone who spoke English, but most people here (rightfully) only speak Italian. I figured out the things I did frequently, but doing something new always gave me anxiety. And I looked stupid a lot.
Finding gas stations. We get gas vouchers from the base so our gas is cheaper (otherwise it’s like $8/gallon!) which is great and I probably shouldn’t complain about, but we can only use them at two types of gas stations, and a gas station attendant has to be present, and they have to agree to take the voucher. Usually this is fine, but when there is only one gas station in 40 miles and they won’t take the voucher and then the next station is out of gas and then the next station only has an attendant there until 9pm and the next station won’t take your credit card because it’s foreign….I miss the days of three gas stations at every intersection. Oh, and if there’s a gas strike? I never let the tank get below 1/4 full.
Restaurant hours. For lunch, things are open from about noon to 2, and for dinner they don’t open until 8. If you’re hungry at 4 or if you want dinner at 7, too bad.
Everything closing in the middle of the day. Everything. I’ve figured out some of the tourist attractions that are open all day, the big grocery stores are open all day, and some cafes are, but they just have coffee and gelato and pre-made pastries. All the shops, banks, the smaller tourist attractions, gas stations, everything is closed. It’s a nice time to drive, because the roads are empty, but it’s awful if you’re out sightseeing or visiting a town for the day. You have to prepare yourself because from about 1:30 to 5:30, you’re just going to be walking around empty streets.
Driving. People here drive like reckless assholes. The general attitude seems to be to just get where you’re trying to go, and not worry about the other cars on the road. People will be driving 15 MPH down a 40 MPH one lane road with zero care of the line of cars behind them. Or if someone wants to go 60 and the other cars are going 40, they’ll just drive up the wrong side of the road, honking their horn, literally making the cars going the other direction swerve out of their way. There have been many times that had I not swerved over to the shoulder I would have been hit head on in my own lane. The lines on the road mean nothing, every day I see cars swerving back and forth between lanes in the turns or driving down the middle of two lanes, not caring that they are blocking traffic behind them. Cars swing wide into the opposite lane when coming around corners. You get really really good at figuring out what space you can fit through with a half inch of room on either side. Almost every car is scraped. People walk on the side of the road or stand in the road, in the dark, wearing black clothes and just assume the cars will see them and not hit them. I’ve seen people reversing on the freeway and driving the wrong way through roundabouts or on 1 way streets (ok, I do this too sometimes). If someone wants to stop somewhere but doesn’t see a parking space within 20 feet, they will stop in the middle of the lane and get out of their car. Double and triple parking is common. And multiple times a day I see people with their infants or young children in their lap in the front seat. Or you see the kid standing in the backseat, or leaning their heads out the window. No seatbelts, no carseats, I hate it.
Road conditions. They’re awful. I’ve never seen potholes like the ones I see here. We hit one so bad that we tore a hole in the tire and ripped a chunk of metal out of the rim. The roads don’t drain, so they flood. They’re horribly lit at night, sometimes lanes just vanish, or in the middle of the intersection, two lanes turn into one, the plants are overgrowing into the road, which blocks your view. And nobody picks up the trash or stuff that falls off of cars, so you’ll see the same plastic crate sitting in the middle of the road for days, with every car just swerving around it.
Dead animals on the side of the road. There are tons of stray cats and dogs here, and when they get hit, nobody picks them up. I counted the other day and on my 90 minute drive I saw 5 decomposing dogs on the side of the road.
Trash. I can’t understand this. Sicily has so much natural beauty and the people are so dependent on the soil and water, yet they dump their trash on the side of the road, throw their garbage out their window, toss that fridge or toilet they no longer want on the side of the highway, leave their garbage from the day at the beach. It’s so, so sad.
Corruption/Mafia. Granted, being a foreigner I didn’t have to deal with this a whole lot, but talking to Sicilians about it and seeing how much money and how many resources are siphoned out of the economy by corrupt politicians and the mafia is really really sad. Corruption is everywhere here. The mafia gets portrayed as “men of honor” and are romanticized in movies and in TV, but in reality they are disgusting criminals and brutal murderers that have no care for the community or the people around them.
Getting cut in front of in line. Baahhhhh, I’ve been cut in front of so many times. People are shameless about cutting in front of you. If you are not right behind the person in front of you in line, someone will walk up beside you, look the other way, and casually just step in. I’m taller and broader than most people here and have become pretty good at either staring them down or turning my shoulder so they can’t get in, but it is maddening.
Being so far away from our friends and family. It’s hard. We’ve missed a lot of weddings/babies/funerals/other events while out here, and it’s kind of scary being so far away in case of an emergency.
Public toilets. I’m a good sport, I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve used lots of toilets that are pits in the ground. However, I’m looking forward to public toilets that are clean, have soap, have toilet paper, and where you can actually flush your toilet paper rather than having to throw it in the garbage next to you (which is full of the dirty toilet paper of everyone else).
Lack of variety in restaurants. If you want Sicilian or Italian food for dinner, you have hundreds of options. If you want anything else….maybe 1% of restaurants aren’t Italian.
Smoking. So many people here smoke, it’s disgusting.
Lack of resources if something goes wrong. Our circle is small out here, and is 100% comprised of Sean’s coworkers and their families. We have no family we can call for help, and everyone just relies on their coworkers to help if there is an emergency. Two of Sean’s coworkers were in a bad car accident earlier this year, and seeing how everything they needed had to be done by the people they worked with was kind of scary. Realizing they were in an accident, finding what hospital they were in, visiting them, paying the traffic fine, adding money to their cell phone so they could use it, paying their rent, bringing them clothes, contacting their family at home, translating what the doctors were saying, figuring out what medical care they needed. Everyone is in the same boat, and used to it, so you go above and beyond for the people you work with, but I just don’t like knowing that we would be a burden on people that aren’t family.
Not understanding what people around me are saying. You know what’s fun? Eavesdropping on conversations around you. Can’t do much of that here. You know what’s helpful? When the guy next to you says, “Don’t step in that dog poop,” or “That place you’re on your way to is closed.” I have no idea how much of that I missed out on.
Being an outsider. I will never be Sicilian. Even foreigners who have lived here for 30 years are not Sicilian. Even though people are friendly, you are always treated as an outsider, and that’s hard. There is a big American community on the base, but even there we are outsiders. Sean’s not military, and we are only doing this for a year and a half. Most people here are active duty, retired military, or have been doing the overseas contractor thing for most of their life. Our lives are different from most people on the base here, so sometimes it’s hard to relate.