Friday, February 19, 2010

Promising Forever

This question gets asked repeatedly when I meet new people: "Rimani per sempre?" (Are you staying forever?) It comes after exchanging names, jobs, origins and a few other odds and ends.

How strange of a question. It is so total in its scope. Forever. In the introductions phase of a simple conversation, I get asked about my plans to stay or not stay in a place for my entire living life. No American would ask the same question to a fellow citizen if that person moved from Baltimore to Buffalo or even among Italians to someone who moved from Padua to Palermo. However this question seems perfectly normal to ask a foreigner who has come to live in their town or neighborhood.

I usually respond that the only time I have had to answer a question including the word "forever" in it was when I said my wedding vows and those only apply to my commitment to my husband. Everything else can change, and maybe should.

As foreigners, we are novel to locals but also threatening. An expat has chosen to radically leave their "natural" surroundings for somewhere completely new and different. And if that expat already left one place once, they could do it again in the new place of residence. It is almost as if the people are calculating whether they should bother to get to know me for fear we could become friends and then I might leave them in the future.

In life, one of the only things we can count on is change. As humans, many of us really don't want to face that fact. We hope things will stay the way they are. Italy gives this impression more than other countries, especially when compared to America. The buildings are old, if not ancient, and there is a sense that the passage of time has not disrupted much over the centuries.

It's not true.

I can just look at my street and see the flood of changes in the 3 years since I moved here: road became one-way, bike path installed, 2 new constructions built, one more house in construction, the bar changed ownership and the pastry shop remodelled. My street may be a superficial example but it proves a point. Things change. Period.

So I may change. In fact, I am changing houses to start. I'll be moving to another section of town that is technically not even in Padua (since it makes up its own comune) but sits squarely within what is considered the city limits.

Even though I am changing, I am not leaving, for now. So sit tight Paduans and refrain from asking what really is a "dumb" question, if you think about it.

Disclaimer: Paduans aren't the only ones who have asked it. I think people do this all over the world. I just want to be specific since I am An American in Padua.


  1. I got asked this before I left the US. I found it uncomfortable too. Two thoughts flashed through my mind, the first is that nothing is "forever". That word caused me a lot of angst in my life. Forever may exist but not in our limited view of the universe. Next, I just moved here and don't know what the future holds. When we bought our farm 20 years ago, I thought that was going to be "forever". Things change, but mostly, we change. So how do I answer without spewing all that? I said, I dunno, haven't even left yet...
    Now I'm going to have to come up with another answer. I think I'll say "se tutto va bene".

  2. Yes, se tutto va bene - or - se Dio lo vuole.

  3. Oh boy, don't I know what you mean. "Forever", what a word. Would like to have a conversation with you about this. Angelica

  4. I just found your blog and am enjoying your perspective since I live just across the border in Slovenija. We are asked this question of forever too, but only after the time of polite getting to know you is over [although I have no idea what that time frame is]. Slovenes seem honestly surprised that we would want to leave the "gigantic" USA for tiny Slovenija but their amazement is said through great pride that we have "chosen" them.