I am currently (Fall 2021) living in a small city in the north of Italy. Here, there is an American Military base, and that supplies this city with a constant supply of Americans, all of whom stay here for just a little while before moving on.
I also lived here in 2003 or 2004 (life is hard, who can remember the details?), and here with me were the Americans. However, I don’t think they were the same Americans.
IN that 2003 period, I don’t think I ever ran into many Americans when I was out and about in the city. The only one I can ever remember encountering was one guy at a bar, celebrating his successful return from Iraq, and buying ever rando on two feet shots of tequila (which, by the way, was a truly excellent night. Wish I knew where that guy was). But other than that, the Americans were conspicuously absent EVERYWHERE from the city. I walked around a lot and I just never encountered them. Not anywhere.
Now? Now they seem to be everywhere.
I ran into some randomly walking about at the open market, I see them at the supermarket, and I see them at the Farmer’s market. I saw them at the train station going to Venice for the biennale of Venice. I see them window shopping on the main drag. I see them at cafes, I see them at bars, I see them at restaurants.
Ok, so why am I making such a big deal about totally normal behavior? There’s no big deal about being an American and being out and about, right. Well, it’s notable for me because it is different. It is notable, because it wasn’t happening before.
In 2006 I became friends with an ex-US Military expatriot living in Italy. He still had roots in the community of military Americans living in Italy, and I got to know many of them. There was never a big emphasis on integrating, outside from doing some typical tourist stuff. They shopped almost exclusively at the US supermarket commissary on the base.
All that seems to have changed now. Now, they seem to want to.
I have people in my family who don’t get that change happens. I have some pretty heavily anti-American people in my family. Whenever they talk about Americans, it is always a very fake caricature. One of these people has not been in the US since 2000. Change is hard to see, both when you are in within and when you are outside of it. But it does happen. Sometimes these changes will be good. Other times it won’t. Right now, compared to the Americans of 20 years ago, the young Americans that are here are super open, curious and willing to integrate and have fun in Italy.
This is a good thing.