No problem! (Living in Italy The Real Deal – Expat stories)

oltrepo wine milan

Two Dutchmen and their Dog in ItalyNon ci sono problemi – No problem!

With my right foot still on the pavement, the estate agent’s car was already pulling away. My reaction was fast: I pulled both legs inside and slammed the car door, averting an accident. The estate agent obviously had no time to waste! We were going to look at two properties in the Oltrepò Pavese, the area lying south of the river Po, which traverses Northern Italy. I sat in the front and the estate agent prattled on in hundred-mile-an-hour Italian. I only understood bits of what he was saying, partly because I was too disconcerted by the traffic which we were navigating with Italian flair.

For the last few weeks, we had lived in the quiet, historical, university town of Pavia. In the next 6 months, I was going to continue with my MA in Medieval Culture, and my husband, Nico would enjoy his well-earned sabbatical. He was going to hoover, do the shopping and cook, whilst I could immerse myself in times gone by. But there was this secret, unspoken wish that didn’t leave us alone: could we…., what if we…, imagine if…? And already, just a couple of weeks into our stay in Pavia, we started looking at properties, with the intention of permanently settling down and setting up a B&B! Soon after our arrival in Pavia, we discovered the wine region of Oltrepò Pavese, an area about half an hour’s drive to the south of Pavia. It was love at first sight. What beautiful countryside! And this is how our secret wish began to take shape: to find our own idyllic home on the top of a hill with panoramic views! In one of the free leaflets from the numerous estate agencies (agenzie immobiliari), our excited eyes spotted the perfect house that ticked all our boxes. We were now on our way to this house, with an estate agent whose main talents seemed to be smooth talking and rally driving.

italy villa

A House on a Hill with a View …

Once we got out of Pavia, the roads became quieter and I was able to follow Olita’s – as he was called – Italian a bit better. He was busy showing off his property know-how and reassuring us about the top quality of the houses we were about to see. If there was anything not to our liking, it could be easily sorted, without any additional costs, he said. He had already made an agreement with the owners. “Non ci sono problemi!” he exclaimed with much enthusiasm. If we didn’t like the colour of the house, it could be painted over, before completion, in any colour at all, even violet, maintained Olita. “Non ci sono problemi!” And the garden that had become a jungle from months (probably years?) of neglect would be completely cleared out, just for us.

We took in the landscape in front of us: it was mainly flat, covered in rice fields (growing the famous Italian risotto), farmland and poplar plantations, as far as the eye could see. Along the country road, we were driving past settlements: an endless mish-mash of houses and farm buildings of all shapes and sizes. We raced through small villages with stores, restaurants and cafés. Olita was consistently indifferent to the numerous white traffic signs warning of upcoming speed cameras. Did his employer pay the fines? Or was it going to become a hidden charge on our bill? We were fully aware that we were going to have to pay Olita commission if we were to buy our house through him. We had done our homework in the Netherlands and were well-prepared for all the traps that a would-be house buyer could fall into when trying to buy a house in Italy. We were on high alert! Olita, unaware of my misgivings, drove on at full speed.

Here and there along the side of the road, there were small shrines erected by friends and relatives of beloved maniacs, who had died in tragic road accidents. Olita didn’t seem to worry about suffering the same fate; he overtook slow drivers without mercy, regardless of whether the white line was broken or solid. Later on, having lived in the Oltrepò for several months, we discovered a santuario nearby; a memorial chapel for all the victims killed in road accidents in the area. The legendary recklessness of Italian drivers might have some foundation after all. Olita, for his part, did his utmost to conform to the stereotype. Occasionally, we met two cars side-by-side coming from the other direction, but luckily three cars in a row could easily be accommodated on this two-lane road. Non ci sono problemi.

expat stories italy

This is the beginning of the first chapter of the book (about to appear) “Living in Italy: the Real Deal – How to Survive the Good Life” with 60 witty short stories about the adventures of two Dutchmen and their dog in Italy. The author moved to Italy in 2008 and runs a Bed & Breakfast Villa I Due Padroni in the Oltrepò Pavese wine region, 40 miles south of Milan.

Stef Smulders

Stef Smulders was born in The Netherlands in 1960 and moved with husband Nico and their dog to Italy in 2008 to start bed-and-breakfast Villa I Due Padroni in the beautiful wine region Oltrepò Pavese south of Milan. In 2014 he published his first volume of short, anecdotical stories (in Dutch) about daily life among the Italians entitled "Italiaanse Toestanden". It was well received by readers, leading to a second volume of witty anecdotes. A third volume is to be published spring 2017. The English translation of his first book is about to become available as "Living in Italy: the Real Deal".