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IMMIGRATION

‘Calore umano’: Why some Italian expats can’t resist the pull to move back to Italy

While many Italians flee from their home country in search of a brighter future and career abroad, and then stay there for good, some make the opposite choice and decide to return, realizing they miss too much of Italy. 

'Calore umano': Why some Italian expats can't resist the pull to move back to Italy
Italian charm: lovely towns, warm people, great food and sunny weather bring Italians back home. (Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash)

Roughly 120,000 Italians move abroad each year while just 68,000 return, according to Italy’s national statistic office Istat.

One of the main reasons why they come back, as suggested by a recent survey, is nostalgia for their home country.

The survey also revealed Italians living abroad realized that Italy still had a lot of opportunities in terms of jobs if you searched hard enough and a unique quality of life.

Carolina Barilone is a 35-year-old honey producer who moved back with her family from Stockholm, where she grew up and where her father owns an ice-cream shop.

She attended Swedish schools, fluently speaks four languages and worked for Ikea but in 2019, not happy with her life there, made the leap and returned to her native, remote village of San Biagio Saracinisco, south of Rome, from where her grandparents had emigrated.

She found life in Sweden was great – but not that great.

“It’s an apparently perfect country, with a high quality of life, everything works well,” she says. “Trains never run late. Schools, childcare and the welfare system are very efficient, but I was starting to miss the typical ‘calore umano’ (human warmth) of Italians – the easy going relations, the friendliness of people, the laid-back vibe.”

What appeared at first to be a well-functioning Swedish society lacked in her view the “cheerfulness of a stranger’s smile and the evening chats while sipping an aperitivo after work”. 

The Italian warmth and friendliness is missed by many expats when they leave (Photo by Michele Canciello on Unsplash)

Barilone realized that her life was just work, and that she and her Italian husband, who struggled with Sweden’s cold weather and sunless days, spent little time with their two kids.

“The school had turned into their parents, because we worked too much, they spent 7 hours at school, and school can’t substitute a family. We had no quality time together”. 

The Barilones missed not just the warm weather and typical openness of Italian people as opposed to what they deemed the ‘coldness’ of Swedes, but also a slow-pace lifestyle that only a remote rural area in deep Italy could offer them.

READ ALSO: From spritz to shakerato: Six things to drink in Italy this summer

They now live in an isolated, old restyled stone farm on a mountain top surrounded by nature and with great views of a pristine lake. The nearest village has just 300 residents, mobile phones seldom work. One of her two boys has even started working as a shepherd during weekends. The farm produces different flavored honeys and other honey-related products. 

“In Italy people easily socialize, they know what hospitality is and say ‘ciao’ when they meet you in the village. Forget about that in Sweden. Italians are also very physical, they seek some kind of physical contact and use body language a lot, the Swedish only shake hands, and not always”. 

Barilone says she makes less money with bees than when she worked at Ikea, but money can’t buy happiness. She loves her bucolic, unplugged rural life and has plenty of time to spend with her family – even she wakes up at dawn to tend to the bees.

Marco Pirovano, 40-years-old, a street food polenta maker in the northern city of Bergamo, also moved back home in 2011 after years abroad, nostalgic of family ties and “deep Italian bonds” .

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break

He lived on Australia’s Gold Coast and Saint Martin island in the Caribbean, where he worked as a chef. While both were paradise-like places, especially Surfers’ Paradise where he finally learned English with an Aussie accent, Pirovano disliked what he saw as “superficial” human contacts and “occasional friendships that lasted just one evening”. 

“We Italians, when we hang out and see there is potential to become friends because we share the same interests, we invest in that relationship and it becomes longstanding. We nurture the bonds of friendship, in the places I’ve lived it’s all very fleeting and so-called ‘buddies’ are usually so for just one night fun, or to get drunk”, he says. 

As for many Italians who have lived abroad, Pirovano also missed his family and relatives, alongside his hometown’s delicious food such as casoncelli ravioli and his beloved polenta on which he was weaned, and being able to chat in the tight ‘bergamasco’ dialect, which is comprehensible only to locals. 

Italy’s beautiful and lively Naples city (Photo by Danilo D’Agostino on Unsplash)

For Neapolitan energy infrastructure engineer Andrea Rodriguez, 41, the decision to move back to Naples in 2019 after a 5-year stay in Abu Dhabi all came down to realizing that Italy had many opportunities for young talent that he wanted to support.  

“I never felt at home, in Abu Dhabi you’re always a resident, never a citizen. After a few years there I started seeing only the differences and making comparisons, and Italy lured me back,” he said.

READ ALSO: RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

Back in Naples, Rodriguez launched a network to lure Italian brains from abroad, dubbed ‘Return for Future”, saying Italy’s future was in strategic green energy projects on which he now works. 

For a few years he even lived in the UK but says he couldn’t stand opening the window and not being able to catch a glimpse of the sea like he does now in Naples: “That would kill any Neapolitan who is born and bred on the shore”.

Another thing which is typical of Italians abroad: both Pirovano and Rodriguez also missed watching the matches of their favorite football teams.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Elections: Italy’s Lampedusa residents ‘left behind’ by migration focus

Italy's politicians are visiting Lampedusa to promise an end to migrant arrivals, but many living on the island say their other concerns go unheard.

Elections: Italy's Lampedusa residents 'left behind' by migration focus

“It’s just words, words,” complains Pino D’Aietti, who like many residents of the tiny island of Lampedusa feels abandoned by Italy’s politicians – except when a surge in migrant arrivals makes the headlines.

The 78-year-old retired plumber is sitting outside a restaurant on the island, where anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini has spent the past two days as part of his campaign for upcoming elections on September 25th.

Located between Sicily and Tunisia, Lampedusa is known for its beaches and turquoise waters, but also as the landing point for thousands of migrants on boats from north Africa.

On Thursday, Salvini visited the island’s migrant reception centre where as many as 1,500 mostly young men were packed in a facility meant for 350.

But while the League leader makes immigration the cornerstone of his election campaign, there is a sense of disillusionment here; an island of just 6,000 residents out in the middle of the Mediterranean.

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

“We have the most expensive fuel, the (water) purifier hasn’t worked for a long time, there is no hospital,” railed D’Aietti, as tourists in swimsuits browsed shops nearby.

“We are spare parts. When the tourists go, the rubbish we eat! It’s disgusting. And who defends us?”

League Leader Matteo Salvini enjoys a boat ride while visiting the southern Italian Pelagie Island of Lampedusa for his election campaign on August 5th, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

The lack of healthcare is a recurrent theme.

“We have specialists and that’s it. For anything else we have to go onto the mainland,” said 58-year-old Maria Garito.

Mayor Filippo Mannino admits healthcare is a problem, but tells AFP: “The municipality has limited means, it is up to the state to take charge.”

READ ALSO: Russia denies interfering in Italy’s elections

He has also called for more help from Rome – and the European Union – to help manage the number of migrants, which often becomes unmanageable in the summer months when calmer seas cause a surge in new arrivals.

Not far from the town hall, at the end of an isolated road, is the so-called hotspot, the immigration reception centre.

It is protected by steel gates, but those inside can be seen whiling away the hours in a few shady spots.

The government last week agreed to lay on a special ferry to transfer migrants three times a week to Sicily, and AFP reporters this week saw hundreds boarding a boat.

People at a migrant processing centre on the island of Lampedusa on August 4th, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Few get to sample the delights of Lampedusa – unlike Salvini, who was pictured in his swimsuit in a pleasure boat off the island on Friday.

Although the locals prefer not to talk about migrants, prejudice is an issue here.

Ibrahima Mbaye, a 43-year-old Senegalese man who arrived here on a French visa three years ago, said “there are good people but half the people are racist, you feel it”.

He has been working as a fisherman, but says it has not been easy – and nor is it for those who arrive illegally.

“They think that Italy is their future, but when they arrive they’re disappointed. They understand that it’s not easy to earn money,” he told AFP.

As for the tourists on holiday on Lampedusa, many are either unaware or willing to turn a blind eye.

“We read about it in the newspapers but we really don’t feel it,” said fifty-something Dino, who has been coming here every summer for ten years.

The two faces of Lampedusa “are two separate things”, he adds.

By AFP’s Clément Melki

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