By Jennifer Avventura
The life of an expat is never easy. Moving to a new country, maybe learning a new language and generally starting a new job are stressful factors for anyone beginning new.
I’ve been an expat for sixteen years and in four different countries.
First I was an expat in Australia, where I spent nine months, working in beach-side cafes to make enough money to travel further up the coast or deeper into the red desert. Some jobs lasted a weekend, some three weeks, but never over three months in one place, as my visa wouldn’t allow it.
After Australia came England, where I spent nine months working full-time in a snobby restaurant where sirs and madams dined, on the largest island in the Channel Islands, Jersey. My apartment was the size of a jail cell, but it was cheap.
Islands, islands, islands. They lure me with their folk tales, secret cultures, and stunning beaches.
The Cayman Islands became my third home away from home. I applied to several restaurants via fax, I heard from one and accepted without hesitation. Working for two years at a large restaurant on the famous Seven Mile Beach, I honed my skills as an international waitress and bartender. I saved money, partied like it was nineteen ninety-nine, and met expats from all over the world including my future husband.
In 2008 I packed up my bags for my fourth expat adventure to join my husband on his native island of Sardinia.
By now I was a pro, I knew the ins and outs of being an expat, or so I thought.
Unlike the first three countries where I could speak my wild English tongue and use my working skills to make some money, in Sardinia I had no skills.
And maybe I was out of my ballpark.
Finding friends, forget it. It took me over a year to befriend the one and only friend I have today. The Sardinian women want nothing to do with me, I can see it on their worn faces.
I wanted to wear a t-shirt that said, “Hey, I’m nice, and Canadian, talk to me.” Instead, I cried on the bathroom floor, in my husband’s arms, on Skype to friends back in Canada and even in my dreams.
I’d never felt so alone in those first few months, so isolated, so scared of the adventure I’d just taken on. I was an outsider, I didn’t fit in, and the locals knew it. I was in no way like the rest of the women in this small town. Tall, blonde, athletic, with big feet. An oddity in this short, small, rugged place.
Thankfully life evolves and with it so did I.
I’ve learned the language(s), developed friendships old and young, cooked whole pigs in my oven without eating a bite and gone au natural in a setting where you can only feel with your soul.
There are a few things I don’t adhere to as a wife to a Sardinian. I don’t iron jeans, socks or bed sheets, I recycle cans, paper, plastic, and glass, and I don’t clean the floors every day or twice a day. I sit in the town square with the men, smoking my one cigarette of the day while their wives pass with shopping bags in hand and faces upturned.
I don’t care because I Am Canadian. I also don’t hail to the almighty hand and word of my Sardinian husband, like most women here.
Did I mention that when I flew into this stunning beach oasis that I didn’t speak a lick of Italian. Nope. Nothing. Ok, well I could say “Ciao.” That’s it. Ciao. Lucky me.
I buried my nose in Italian Now! Level 1 by Marcel Danesi, listened to Italian Earworms CDs (learning Italian set to music, awesome for the beginner,) studied the Italian dictionary, and watched Italian movies with English subtitles.
I took these new-found skills to the supermarket and asked a girl out for coffee. She said no. After a year of asking, she finally said yes. She is my one and only Sardinian girlfriend on this island.
E ora parlo e scrivo in italiano.
And now I speak and write in Italian.
This bit of knowledge has been a godsend. Without language, I would have nothing here, no job, no friends, no face to face contact, no fun. I had to study, I have to study.
I studied Italian but maybe I should have studied Gallurese.
Within one language in Sardinia there are several others. In my town they don’t speak Italian (well to me they do) they speak Gallurese.
Gallurese is an Italo-Dalmatian romance language deriving from the Corsican and the Sardo languages.
There is nothing romantic about this barbaric tongue and there are no books to study it.
My world is not an Italian world. My world is Gallurese. When I go to work all communication is in Gallurese, when friends come to the house Gallurese is spoken.
I now I understand three languages: English, Italian, and Gallurese.
However, I only speak two: English and Italian. Gallurese I leave for my husband and friends. They get a kick out of the few words I speak.
Some locals have asked me not to speak in dialect as I am not Sardinian and it’s considered disrespectful. But these people are few and far between and have a foot already slung in the grave.
Being an expat in Sardinia is a wonderful eye-opening experience, I’ve learned how to cook, how to relax and how to enjoy the wondrous beaches this island has.
I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Every day is a new day, and every day I learn something new. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy, I wanted to fly away from this island to never return. But I’m stronger than that, I’ve evolved. Some say I’m stubborn. The point is: this expat is never going to retire. I’ve persevered and continue on in this island oasis I now call home.
Jennifer is a Canadian Freelance writer living in Sardinia, Italy. On her blog she shares local traditions, popular folklore festivals, and delves into the ancient mysteries surrounding this extraordinary island in the Mediterranean.