Australian expats in Rome, Italy: What it's like to live there

Surely everyone falls in love with Rome. I don't know how you could resist it: the history, the culture, the food, the bars, the fact you can just walk aimlessly and stumble upon world-famous sights without even trying.

But would you want to live in Rome capital full-time? Would the dream of life in the Eternal City match up with the touristy fantasy? Could a random Australian just roll up there and hope to get by?

I decided to find out, not by moving to the Italian capital, but by talking to someone who did: blogger and author Maria Pasquale, who moved from Melbourne to Rome seven years ago, and who says there's more to life in the Eternal City than just pizza and pasta (though there is still plenty of pizza and pasta).

How did you come to be living in Rome?

My parents are Italian migrants, so I grew up in Melbourne but we always had a strong tie to Italy. So in 2011 I walked away from a corporate career, family and friends, and I decided I'd go and live for three months in Rome. I'd never lived out of Melbourne. I thought I'd do three months, see how it goes, what's the worst that can happen? Seven years later I'm still here.

In Rome you have to meet with the bank manager. And the bank manager is never there.

Was it hard to settle in?

It wasn't easy. I found that in Italy if you don't know people, they won't work with you. I started sending out CVs, applying for jobs, and it's been seven years and I haven't heard back from any of them! I only knew one person when I moved here, so I started going to networking events; through that one friend I made other friends, and slowly started to work my way in. And then through friends I met the owner of a start-up company, Eating Italy food tours, so within six months I ended up in what turned out to be a dream job working in food tourism.

What's it like organising things like apartment rental in Rome?

Anything bureaucratic is not simple in Italy. Finding a house, I dealt with an American agency that does rentals for foreigners, and unfortunately that caters to a foreign dollar, so it was expensive. But they helped me find an apartment. I'm also fortunate to have Italian citizenship, so no one can kick me out!

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What are the people like in Rome?

They're friendly, boisterous; they're renowned for being very open and welcoming. That, for some people, can seem a bit intrusive. You think, why is this person telling me their whole life story when I hardly know them? But that's what Romans are like. Culturally I guess they're more aligned with central or southern Italians. And that's not to say that northerners are rude, which is the stereotype, but I guess they're a bit more reserved. Italians have always said that Milan is Europe and Rome is Italy, and that kind of refers to the fact that in Rome, shops will still close in the afternoon, you'll find people knocking off early from work, having a drink in the sun. They're reasonably happy people.

What did you find surprising about the city?

A lot of things! But for someone who works in food and travel, Romans' knowledge of food – I find any Roman who doesn't even work in the food sector will be able to sit there and tell you about the aging process of the cheese you're having. Things that in my experience, unless you're a foodie or somebody that works in food, you wouldn't know. The interest and passion for that comes from the home here, developed at a very young age.

Is the dream of living in Rome different to the reality?

Absolutely. When you live in a city like Rome, the perception is that you're sitting around the Trevi Fountain throwing coins in all day. But the bureaucracy! Just a simple thing like opening a bank account, the sort of thing you could do in Australia from your phone with a few clicks of a button… In Rome you'd have to meet with the bank manager. And the bank manager is never there. It's a really long, convoluted process.

Rome is also not going through a positive period at the moment. There's a rubbish crisis, I've never seen the city in these conditions. It's dirty. There's been a massive migration of seagulls into the city, and they say seagulls only migrate where there's rubbish. There's no beach in the centre of Rome. And the political climate, sometimes you think this is sadly a really ugly place. I really do love the city, and it is a fantastic place to live, but it's not perfect.

Are the cliches about Italians true?

Well, one of the cliches that you hear from people is that Italians don't work, and that gets on my nerves a bit. Because people here, especially in the food industry, work very long hours, and the conditions can be questionable. People work really hard, and for a lot less than in the Australian economy. The other cliche is that Italians just eat pizza and pasta all day. That's actually not what we eat! We eat a lot of other dishes. Even Roman cuisine isn't just pizza and pasta – there are a lot of other aspects to it.

What's your favourite way to spend a day in the city?

Walking. It's a walking city. I often say to people, throw away your map. I'll often pick a part of the city I don't know well on a weekend and have a walk around, have brunch or lunch, catch an exhibition – Rome, in terms of culture, is so, so rich. There can be 20 different exhibitions going on at any one time. Then have a rooftop cocktail with friends, take in the city.

Does living in Rome ever feel normal? Or is it still a buzz?

I still have moments of buzz. It's when I walk by one of the big monuments. Sometimes I think I've become one of those Romans who walks past the Colosseum and doesn't even notice it, but then there are moments when I might have had a crap week, and I turn a corner and see the Pantheon, and I think, "Oh my God, I can't believe I actually live in this city." Sometimes I say that out loud. It's crazy. Rome really is an open-air museum. It just envelopes you, and you can't believe it's real.

For all of Maria's tips on visiting and/or living in Rome, plus details of her new book, check out heartrome.com

Have you ever lived in a foreign city? Would you recommend it? What are your tips on settling in?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater 

See also: 20 things that will surprise first time visitors to Italy

See also: Twenty reasons to visit Rome

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