House Hunters International is one of my favourite tv shows. I’ve been watching international real estate shows for about six years or so but HHI is the one I enjoy the most.
Elizabeth and Roy bought their house a year or so before we did. Sadly we haven’t had the opportunity to meet them yet, but I have followed Elizabeth’s blog about the changes they have made to their artist’s retreat. Their realtor, Joe, was also ours. Watching this program got me thinking about all the expats that have come before us and how
I have been writing this blog for over a year now, but in terms of being an expat in Sicily, I am really a total neophyte – especially since we are only part-time expats. There are so many others who have come before me and so many have been so generous with their knowledge and advice.
Some of these expats are ones that have never met me, but their words encouraged me to find our place in Sicily. Daphne Phelps wrote a wonderful book about inheriting a house in Taormina and turning it into a B&B. She played host to such literary giants as Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell, and Truman Capote.
Theresa Maggio taught me about the magic of the mountain villages. The name “Sicily” conjures up images of the azure blue of the Mediterranean and beaches dotted with colourful umbrellas, bikini-wearing women and Speedo-sporting men. But, when you turn your car inwards along winding roads that take you through the mountains, you find beautiful villages, most still unspoiled by tourism, with incredible views.
I was taken on a journey, in the Stone Boudoir, through wonderful small towns like Sperlinga, Polizzi Generosa, and Nicosia. It was this book that led Nick and I to realize the possibilities that lay in a small mountain village like Cianciana.
I have also learned from other bloggers with many years in Sicily. Jann Huizenga from Baroque Sicily has been very generous with her knowledge. I am hoping to get to meet her this summer.
Another blogger who has taught me much is the author of The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife. I don’t know her name but her posts about the Sicilian version of the tooth fairy, a car made of duct tape, marrying your cousin and particularly her post on privacy Sicilian style have taught me so much about life in Sicily.
A blog that I recently came across is Unwilling Expat by Rochelle Del Borrello. She is an Australian who had no plans to live in Sicily but, in her words, for the sake of love and adventure, she followed her husband to their tiny Sicilian town. She writes about beautiful secluded towns in Sicily.
I started thinking about what brought other expats to Sicily, so I asked three expats about their experiences coming to Sicily. Here are the answers I got from Jann at Baroque Sicily, from Joe from Agenzia Immobiliare MyHouse, and Scott from Access Sicily.
1. What originally drew you to Sicily?
Jann: I taught a short course here in 2002 and fell in love not just with the quirky town, but with my students and their families.
Joe: My dad is from Cianciana and my mum was from Ribera
Scott: I originally came for an experience to buy and renovate a house in the sun for myself and to experience a new culture.
2. Did you plan on buying a house or was it a spur of the moment thing?
Jann: I’d nurtured a dream of moving to France ever since I was 14 years old, but in 2002 I set my sights on Sicily instead. I kept coming back to the island every year for the next 5 years until I found the right house.
Joe: A house makes sense in the long run as it pays for itself as compared to renting a property if you are coming here on a regular basis. You can buy a small livable house for 20000 euros.
Scott: It was planned.
3. What was the most frustrating/wonderful experience as a homeowner in Sicily?
Jann: Most frustrating: waiting 2 heat-less, hot water-less years for a gas hookup from ENEL. Most wonderful: Discovering stones from a Norman castle in the house walls (the nearby castle that had collapsed during an earthquake) and learning that the “cantina”–old wine cellar–was the neighborhood refuge during WWII.
Joe: Language can be a problem in getting procedures done at the Town Hall such as change of ownership for water and refuse collection rates. But the staff at My House are available to help anyone who requires assistance.
Scott: I love the culture here now but working in a very laid back environment where punctuality is of low importance drove me crazy. However I do love that the focus of life here is on family and life not money and work.
4. Do you have any regrets about your move to Sicily?
Joe: No, it is an island of sanity in a world going mad.
Scott: None at all, I am here for keeps.
5. What was the one thing were you absolutely not prepared for?
Jann: ONE thing? Sicily is an endless series of surprises!! I didn’t expect:
*the sweetness of the villagers;
*the joy I’d find in the food;
*the way the rain comes down in sheets, sometimes for days at a time;
*the ways in which the cruel Italian bureaucracy would test my patience;
*how much I’d need to relinquish control and rely on friends to get me through the tough stuff;
*how much I’d come to relish the mid-day nap.
Joe: How this small Sicilian hill town (population of approximately 3500 ) attracts people from all over the world
Scott: The bureaucracy. Everything is complicated and the simplest tasks become laborious with mountains of paperwork.
6. Friends: expat or Sicilian?
Jann: I moved to Sicily to sink into the culture, tackle Italian, and take up a completely alien life. Those goals don’t fit too well with hanging out with expats. However, I must say that I adore the few expat friends I have, and it’s always a relief to break into a language where the words don’t stick in your throat.
Scott: A good mix but I try to be part of the local community I came here for the culture not to be part of an English community abroad.
7. What would you want to tell people about Sicily before they consider moving here?
Jann: Be prepared for the fact that the Sicilian way of thinking may be quite the opposite of yours. Be ready to embrace a new definition of “friendship”–one with a lot more obligations. Be ready to go with the flow and get over your obsessive concern with punctuality. Be ready to be a source of amusement and gossip for Sicilians. Get in shape: these hill towns are killers.
Joe: Come and see for yourself, natural beauty, culture, art, climate, cuisine, friendliness, faith.
Scott: Certainly in this area it is not very touristy so not many people speak English, at least a basic grasp of the language (being able to buy groceries and ask for help / directions) is essential.
8. Funniest story as an expat.
Jann: The first one that pops into my head concerns a bidet. I didn’t want one in either bathroom since I’ve never needed one before, but my engineer insisted (if you ever want to sell the house, it must have a bidet! said he). So he took me to his friend’s bathroom shop, and made me pick one out. In the course of conversing with these two macho Sicilian men, I made it clear that the bidet would have to be tucked on its own into a far corner of the bathroom. They threw up their hands in gleeful frustration, and proceeded to demonstrate why this would not work, and exactly how the toilet/bidet combo is used in Italy. (Other customers had gathered round by then to watch the show.) I guess you had to be there, but I got quite red-faced.
Joe: Joe promised to send me a story later but is a busy, hard-working guy. I’m sure I will get one from him sooner or later!
Scott: The very first time I drove through Palermo I was not prepared for the chaos, Palermo’s roads and drivers are like nothing I had ever seen and I honestly was not prepared. As my nervousness and frustration built and I realized there was no way out. I started to join in the random horn pressing and then started to laugh hysterically. It was like a workout for my patience and when I came out the other side I definitely had more.