|An American telecommuter in Venice|
IT specialist takes telecommuting hopes to new levels
The Venice Experiment: A Year of Trial and Error Living Abroad, by Barry Frangipane with Ben Robbins, Savory Adventures Publishing, 256 pp.
The Venice Experiment is a light read that gives you an in-depth view of both the challenges and rewards of moving to a new culture--and a break from your own daily work issues. The foreword gives you the background for how Venice, Italy, came to be built; it starts out in a joke-telling mode, about two peasants in a bar worrying about the pending arrival of the Huns, but eventually explains how this renowned city came to be built on millions of tree trunks--a fun fact.
The first chapter of the book sets out the premise. Barry Frangipane had a plan--a secret plan to move to Venice, and telecommute.
His challenge was to convince his wife, Debbie, to make the move. Frangipane’s plan was made simpler by a torrential Florida rainstorm.
Debbie, having left work with bunch of reports, got caught in the rain. Her disgust with the sodden reports, and frustration with the job in general, was enough to make her receptive. Frangipane had sold his software company and been consulting, and he reasoned that his clients didn’t care where he connected from. And the couple had previously traveled to Italy to visit family and fell in love with Venice, which explains Frangipane’s attachment to the city.
Arriving as an illegal alien
“Becoming Illegal Immigrants,” the title of Chapter 2, introduces a bit of turnabout to the usual travel book. Many Americans have very definitive ideas of what illegal immigrants are, but we rarely think of ourselves being in those shoes. The author discusses applying for a visa, being denied, trying to correct the issue only to find out he can’t, and more. He finds himself in a classic catch-22 but decides to go to Italy anyway, without the proper visa but still with his good intentions.
Searching for an apartment for the year-long sojourn, Frangipane runs into a bit of culture clash. One potential landlord asks him why he would need an oven? (And the need for an oven will figure later in the story, mind you.) The landlord says they merely serve as storage and advises the Americans to just go to a restaurant.
This isn’t the only adjustment to a different view on the way to live.
In Chapter 3 the author is settling into his new home and attends a wedding. After the all day-all night event, the host distributes tents to the guests, so they can sleep in a nearby field. Not quite the Hilton or Holiday Inn we expect when going to an out- of-town wedding here.
A hurricane--a little parting gift from the States--and pet immunizations delays the arrival of Debbie, but in time the couple is reunited. Once she’s there, they go shopping for household items and are culture-shocked as the store owner insists on assembling and testing every appliance the couple buys, to their protests. Can you imagine that happening at a Best Buy, for example? Black Friday lines every day of the year.
City of liquidity and “non ti preoccupare”
Living with Acqua Alta is something Venetians, even a temporary pair like the Frangipanes, must endure. Translated as “high waters,” this is the flooding the city periodically undergoes. The couple winds up hiring an electrician (who turns out to double as a plumber) to address a problem resulting from it. (The couple also enrolls in Italian language classes after many frustrating days of trying to communicate with the natives.)
In the author’s attempts to live in Italy and maintain his U.S. client base, he has to convert a room to an office and has better luck with a second electrician (though the second never fully completes the job).
Frangipane also learns “non ti preoccupare,” translated as “Do not worry, this is only temporary,” which is frequently used--and frequently is not temporary.
In setting up his office, for instance, he contacted Telecom Italia for a new internet connection. He was told he would have equipment in 10 days.
When it doesn’t arrive, he spends the next three weeks calling, each day being told “tomorrow.” He eventually learns that the system is over its capacity--new connections can only be activated when someone dies. After weeks of doing business at an internet café, Frangipane signs with a private company.
An American holiday abroad and Christmas without Santa
When an American tries to celebrate U.S. holidays in foreign countries, homesickness can result. The couple has their first Thanksgiving outside of the U.S.A. and matters grow complicated. Their efforts to celebrate include attempts to find an oven to cook a turkey in, something most of us take for granted; then having a scavenger hunt through the city to find such hard-to-get items as brown sugar, baking soda, and vanilla extract.
Christmas also proves to be quite different for the Americans. There are no Santas and holiday decorations hanging in every store window, no “Jingle Bell Rock” nor “White Christmas” to listen to on the radio and in every store. There’s just a small potted tree with some hard-to-find decorations and spending the day in church.
The time comes for a change. The author relocates to a new apartment in Venice and makes friends with a group of locals and has family come to visit. They continue to discover the quirks of living abroad--from the difficulties to get a hot shower to the lack of air conditioning units. In time, they adapt to the slower pace of their new home and adjust to its various idiosyncrasies.
And by the end of the book, they learn to appreciate the city as “one big happy family.”
You can also read other ABA BJ book reviews here.
[This article was posted on April 20, 2012, on the website of ABA Banking Journal, www.ababj.com, and is copyright 2012 by the American Bankers Association.]
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