My Top 10 Lessons from Living in Italy

Damien O'Farrell
5 min readAug 12, 2023

Recently, I started writing my new book, in which I reflect on my 35+ years in Italy and the lessons that I have learned. It is called ‘Gladiator Spirit: How to Thrive Long-Term in Italy’ and will also feature many lessons gleaned from the thousands of client relocations I have overseen into and from Italy.

These are lessons that have helped me and my clients to survive and thrive in Italy, and hopefully they will also help the readers of my book as they start their new lives in Italy. Here are just ten of the many lessons I have learned from living in Italy since 1988.

  1. Friendship: I never thought that I only wanted to be friends with Italians, though I was certainly open to that from the beginning. Instead, I sought out people who were likeminded, kind, and trustworthy; this brought into my life some of the most wonderful people I have known from all over the world. Their friendship has truly been a blessing. I’ve also been lucky to have made some great Italian friends.
  2. Leave The Past Behind: In my opinion, constantly looking back and making comparisons between Italy and where you come from can really hamper moving your life forward in Italy, especially if you look at your past with rose-tinted glasses.
  3. I Am Who I Am: Even after all these years, I know that I am still seen in my building as the foreigner who lives on the eighth floor, even though I have been living here since 1991. This makes me smile, and I am fine with this as I know that no malice is intended. To be fair, I am a foreigner, so I am only being seen for what I am. During the years, I have met several foreigners who were bothered by being seen as a foreigner, but to be honest, there is not much you can do about this, so it’s best to embrace your uniqueness in Italy and move on.
  4. My Energy is Precious: I have never gone down rabbit holes with foreigners or Italians, in real life or online, who see things a certain way and are waiting for me to disagree with them and therefore drag me into some pointless and argumentative discussion. I smile and move on.
  5. The Future Comes Very Quickly: The saying that the future will take care of itself never really sat well with me. From the beginning, I really understood that I had to be proactive in designing the future I wanted living in Italy as a foreigner, especially at the beginning when I didn’t know anyone. I moved to Italy with very little money, so while I could have my flights of fancy every now and again, I knew I was going to have to be extremely pragmatic if I wanted to live here long-term. Take care of your future today.
  6. I Am Not in Nirvana: While Rome still takes my breath away after 35+ years, I never felt that I had moved to Nirvana. This means that I saw the problems and challenges around me, but they helped to make me resilient, focused, and driven. Nowhere is perfect, and the sooner one understands that the better.
  7. Italians Know Best: No one knows their culture and fellow countrymen and women better than Italians, so when I was unsure of how to navigate the cultural waters, I always reached out to a trusted Italian friend. That is where I learned never to give away too quickly the formal ‘Lei’ while doing business in Italy.
  8. Don’t Get Left Behind: Unless you are independently wealthy, you may not be able to ride forever the coattails of what worked well for you at the beginning of your time in Italy, so make sure that you are keeping up to date and learning new things. Otherwise, a newbie with a fresh way of looking at things could take your place.
  9. Embrace and Accept: I never really spent much time wondering why Italians did things the way they did. Yes, sure, sometimes I was curious, but I never thought that Italians should do it differently or that I should be the one to explain this to them, as I believe that any change needed must come from within a person or country. Even in the early days, I would take a book to public offices because no matter how much I would complain or get irritated, they were going to win every time, and the sooner I accepted this, the better my life would be.
  10. Italy Changes: Many things have changed since I moved to Italy in 1988, some for the better and some for the worse. That is going to happen regardless of what I think or feel about it. Do I miss the Italy I found in the late 80s and early 90s? Sure, I do, but change happens, and that is how it is. Living successfully in Italy, as far as I am concerned, is all about going with the flow and understanding that you can’t hold the tide of time back.

As I said, these are my lessons that I have learned in Italy and that have served me well. Each person will learn their own lessons while living here, and, hopefully, these lessons will help them live their best life possible in Italy.

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Damien O'Farrell

Global Mobility Specialist and Expat Coach with thirty plus years’ experience in providing high-touch immigration, relocation, & coaching services in Italy.