I’ve had the pleasure to interview Italian expat and fellow blogger Simona, who’s been living in California for 20 years. She’s also sharing a lot of recipes in both English and Italian on her blog while teaching her readers the proper pronunciation of Italian ingredients.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and grew up in Italy.
How long have you been living in the U.S. and what do you do?
I have been living in California for about 20 years and I work as a programmer / analyst.
Why did you decide to move to America and how did you pick your destination?
I moved to California to be with my (now) husband.
How did you get your visa/greencard/citizenship?
I was granted an H1B visa, then, after getting married, I applied for and was granted permanent residency. In 2003, I applied for naturalization and in July 2004, I became a citizen.
What was the most difficult part of your immigration?
I think the most difficult part was not knowing exactly what to expect and how to respond to certain situations. Having a knowledgeable immigration lawyer was key to navigate the various steps of the process. And meeting some nice people working for what at the time was called INS was also important: it is easy to feel lost and discouraged, so the human touch was reassuring.
What do you enjoy most about living in America?
I am happily married. It so happens that we live in California, which is an amazingly beautiful state. But the relationship comes first.
Is there anything that you miss from home other than family?
I miss my Italian friends a lot. Old friends from before I moved to the US and also friends I made in recent years, through my blog. Every now and then, I miss certain places that I like a lot, like Assisi or Venice. And I miss cappuccino.
You’re very passionate about cooking and share lots of great recipes on your blog www.pulcetta.com frequently. Tell us a little bit about it.
Differently from what people may expect, I learned to cook after moving to California. It quickly developed into a passion. Then I started writing about food for local publications.
The primary reason for starting the blog was to write about Italian words and expressions related to food. I added an audio file that people can listen to to learn how to pronounce certain words correctly (like gnocchi or cappuccino). In time, I added recipes and also travel notes not just from Italy. I see the blog as a chronicle of my putting roots in California but also keeping my Italian roots alive.
People in the US love Italy — I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t — and Italians love California. I try to bring people from both sides closer. Among other things, a good number of my posts are bilingual (English and Italian).
Have you found any truly authentic Italian restaurants in the U.S. yet or are they all tailored to American eating habits?
When people ask me about Italian restaurants in the US, I suggest that they watch the movie The Big Night. In truth, I am not a good source of information regarding Italian restaurants in the US. I cook a lot, because I truly enjoy doing it. I make pasta, bake bread and make cheese at home. I don’t eat out much and when I do, I want to eat something very different from what I usually prepare, to explore other culinary traditions.
Have you found a good source online to buy Italian food and ingredients?
I live in a place where I have access to great produce, and as much as possible, I buy my ingredients locally and make things from scratch (for example, tomato sauce)
Italian products that I buy are:
- Parmigiano-Reggiano: I do not accept alternatives here. Since I can buy it in the store, I don’t need to order it online.
- Carnaroli rice: my favorite rice for risotto. I buy it in stores, if I find it at a reasonable price, or online.
- biscotti: these are not the biscotti di Prato popular in the US, but simple cookies, in the style of English tea biscuits. They are impossible to find in California, so I have been getting them from various importers in other states, most recently from Supermarket Italy ( http://www.supermarketitaly.com/ )
- caramelle: I am not a big hard candy eater, but I have a couple of favorite types. When I run out of the small stash I bring back from Italy, I order them from Capri Flavors ( http://www.capriflavors.com/ )
I used to buy imported mascarpone to make tiramisu, but then learned to make it at home.
I also learned to make cheese at home so I could get the whey to make ricotta, one of my favorite foods.
What are the biggest differences between every day life in Italy and America?
The pace of life is slower in Italy and in general people are more relaxed.
What were the most shocking or surprising experiences you’ve had since you’re here?
I remember my disbelief when I was explained how the health care system is organized in the US. Twenty years of experience have failed to convince me that this system is better than the one in Italy.
Please share your best advice for Living, Working and Traveling in the US. Anything in particular for other Italians?
Living in a foreign country is not like being on an extended vacation there, so my advice to people who are thinking about moving to the US is to do it for the right reason (i.e., do your homework before making a decision), do it legally (i.e., get all the required papers) and make sure they have a plan if things don’t go as expected. Once in the US, I suggest they make a point of exploring their new environment and meeting new people.
I think that living, working and traveling in a country different from the one in which we grew up is an amazing gift: it opens up a door onto a new world that enriches us by providing new experiences but also, by contrast, by giving additional depth to our earlier experiences. It is one thing to be an Italian in Italy and another thing to be an Italian in California. I learned to look at my native country and my experience growing up there with a different perspective and I must say a deeper appreciation for my cultural heritage. As an aside, a small dream of mine is to write about life in California for an Italian newspaper or magazine.
I think that the US is the land of natural wonders, so I recommend exploring the many national and state parks. Places like Redwood National Park, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, Point Reyes, Yosemite to name just a few, offer unforgettable experiences.