Wandering and Wondering

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Adapting to a new life in Italy: An interview with Nita Tucker

Nita Tucker is the founder and editor in chief of the “The Florentine” newspaper. She also happens to be my neighbor in Florence, and I remember her handing me a copy of the latest edition of the newspaper with a welcoming smile on the day that I arrived. Since it was first published 2 years ago, the newspaper has become a vital source of news and information for the English speaking community in Florence, helping both short term visitors and ex-pats to better connect with the Florentine and Italian way of life.

My neighbour Nita

How then did it all start, and how did Nita herself adapt to Florence and Italy after moving here from Santa Fe, New Mexico in the USA? I asked a few questions to find out.

What was your original reason for coming to Florence?

I had always wanted to live in Europe, and also wanted my children to have the experience of living here. When I turned 50 I realized that I still hadn’t made it happen so I decided then and there that I was going.

Tell me about the beginning of “The Florentine”?

When I initially moved over here in September 2004 I planned on continuing with the work I was doing as a management consultant and had no intentions or thoughts at all of becoming a newspaper publisher. While we were living here, however, my husband kept looking for local news in English so I thought it would be a great idea to create an English newspaper. In November 2004 we decided to go ahead with the idea, and by April 2005 we had published our first issue. It is still hard to believe how quickly it all came together.

Initially we had no idea what we were doing, and we just wanted to get something published. It was a case of “ready, fire, aim” instead of “ready, aim, fire”, but we were lucky enough to hit the bulls-eye first time. Not that we can’t get any better, but I think we hit a nice spot.

What are some of the experiences you’ve had since you’ve been involved with “The Florentine”?

I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world to live the life that I have here, because having the newspaper I have access to everyone and everything. Everyone wants to meet me and show me their art, their wine, their home, their business. So I am very appreciative of the life that the newspaper has given me, even though I don’t make a lot of money from it.

The newspaper is such a unique cross cultural experience. I am dealing with Italian advertisers and staff and English readers, so I am constantly working with people from both cultures. This can be very challenging, but I love it.

On the phone with the office

When you first moved here, how did you adapt to the new culture and way of life?

For me it was an immediate love affair. It wasn’t very difficult for me to adapt because prior to moving here I’d already had a number of different careers and worked in many different countries, so I was used to change. I had always loved travelling to exotic locations and experiencing different cultures. Since moving here, however, I no longer feel the need to travel as much because living here fulfills my identity as an international citizen. I feel more myself here than I did anywhere before.

What do you like about living here?

What I love about Italy is the pace of life. It isn’t a lazy pace, but you take the time to enjoy things such as having a meal, going to the market and talking to people. What I dislike about Italy is the pace of business. To become a book publisher here, for instance, it took us 6 months, whereas in the USA it takes 5 minutes over the internet. But even though it can sometimes be frustrating doing business, to me the benefits of living here far outweigh the costs.

One thing that has overwhelmed me here is the kindness of people. You may not always find good customer service, but you find kindness that I’ve never experienced before. I had an earache once and I went to the pharmacy to get some eardrops, and the pharmacist told me I had to go and see a doctor. Since I didn’t know any doctors, she closed her pharmacy and personally took me to see her doctor. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.

In the States my life was very compartmentalized. I would talk and act differently when I was at work, at home, at the gym or out with friends. Here my life feels much more integrated and I don’t need to put on different hats. I also feel much more connected to my environment. What I mean by this is that I can walk down to the market where I can touch and feel the food, rather than going to the supermarket where everything is shrink-wrapped or pre-packaged. I can also ride my bike to work rather than having to sit in a car where I feel blocked off from life.

The other thing I love about Italy is that people are not so politically correct, meaning that you don’t need to watch everything that comes out of your mouth. People here don’t get offended very easily. In the States my mouth often got me in trouble, but here I feel free to say what’s on my mind.

Nita walks home with her groceries

What advice do you have to others who may be thinking of moving here?

When you move to another country you give up the right to complain. If you are complaining about stuff while you are here, then you just shouldn’t be here. So I don’t complain about the problems of running a business, because it is the price I pay for living in a culture that I love.

Another secret to living here is that instead of prejudging the way things are done, you need to get a deeper understanding about why things are the way they are. When you have a deeper understanding of something you have a deeper appreciation of it. The reason why book publishing takes such a long time here, for instance, is that some of the laws relating to it are hundreds of years old. I may still disagree with the way it is done, but having the deeper understanding makes it easier to accept.

My final piece of advice is that you need to take every opportunity that is available to you. Be open to other people and ways of doing things. Be curious. Learn as much Italian as you can. Don’t be afraid of making a fool of yourself or of making mistakes. Take the first step and invite others into your life, and they will invite you into their lives.


Footnote: The free, bi-weekly edition of “The Florentine” newspaper can be found at various locations around Florence. It can also be read online at http://www.theflorentine.net/. In addition to the newspaper, Nita has her own personal blog which you can read at http://www.nitatucker.blogspot.com/.

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