Milan may only be Italy’s second-largest city, but it’s also the richest and has the most jobs. Those are just a couple reasons why expats flock to the country’s design capital…even if they couldn’t care less about design. Of course, there are a number of other reasons why foreigners end up in Milan – and we’re always curious to hear people’s stories. James, an expat from Britain, sat down to explain why he moved here, and how the city has treated him thus far.
Ciao, James! Hope you’re doing well today. Please introduce yourself to our readers so they can see how lovely you are.
I’m an English teacher originally from Cheshire, UK. I’ve been in Milan for just over a year now, currently living in Porta Romana. I came here for the love of travel and a girl…mainly the girl in all honesty.
And now that you’re here, what do you love about Milan (other than the girl)?
Milan is quite a unique city in Italy from my experience; it’s the most Europeanized, which is both good and bad. I think you have a similar feeling here as you do in London; you feel like you’re in an important place where things are happening. Unlike London, though, Milan is small and cheap (comparatively speaking).
I like the way I can eat well without having to spend too much money. That’s something I’d say for all of Italy, especially the south. Eating well is the standard here, and that’s a great thing I never could have appreciated without leaving England. I suppose the thing I like most about the city, and this country in general, is how it’s changed my lifestyle. England has such a strong focus on the drinking culture, which can be great but ultimately leaves you worse off than you were before. I think people here appreciate a slightly wider scope of things, or at least slightly different.
What do you dislike about the city?
Leaving a country famous for bad weather, I was fairly confident that I’d be laughing all through the wetter months at the lack of rain hitting the ground. That’s not the case. The rain here is so much worse than in England. Not in the frequency of rain (I would say it rains more often in England), but generally the UK gets showers. Here we get torrential rain for three days at a time.
On a lesser note, I know that Milanese people tend to think that Milan is this super organized city completely removed from the chaotic south. I hate to break it to them, but that isn’t true. There appears to be a huge gap [in Milan] between receiving information and acting upon that information.
I can say this for the place I work, where teachers are sometimes completely uninformed about what’s ahead of them, and also for the transport system. You should see what it’s like on a match day at Lotto station; I think there’s a more direct way of getting to San Siro now, but when I first got here it would be unbelievable. Surely the Metro can foresee these events? Can’t they put more trains on?
You do also occasionally get things like people parking their cars on tram lines when they want to nip into a shop. How they don’t get arrested for that I have no idea.
But overall, I have to say there’s nothing major I dislike about the city. Italian people are very enjoyable to be around.
Any particular struggles you encounter in Milan? Or in Italy as a whole?
I guess my ongoing struggle is with learning the language. I live with two Italians and my aforementioned girlfriend, and her family are all Italian (and don’t speak English, I might add). It can be frustrating to be excluded from conversations – and most of all, boring. Italian is a beautiful language and even though I’m still wrestling with the basic grammar right now, I know that when I can speak it properly I’ll be pleased with myself. I think it will open up another aspect of Italian life that I’m not yet able to appreciate.
There are small things when you first arrive that you have to get your head around; just differences between how things are organized and arranged. But I imagine that’s the same when you assimilate yourself into any foreign culture.
The European debt crisis hit Italy pretty hard, and things still aren’t completely recovered. How do you find the employment situation here?
There is a lot of work on offer for an English teacher, both with schools and privately. I have to say that employers are a little more laid-back and understanding than they are in England (sometimes perhaps a little too laid-back). Right now I’m having some problems with my school, but I have a lot of options for movement. I think there are some more diverse options with the kind of work you can apply for if you’re a mother tongue English speaker. Your language in itself can have value for some employers.
What are your favorite things to do in Milan?
Finding somewhere good to eat meat and cheese is always a good shout. My girlfriend and I eat out a lot and we have a couple of preferred places to go – check out Salsamenteria di Parma and Gnocco Fritto if you like cold cuts, cheese, and wine (particularly Lambrusco with the former).
I’m into photography and I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Italy is a great place to indulge in this interest. You’re surrounded by both natural and man-made beauty constantly; it’s easy to see where the Italian obsession with beauty comes from.
Any other restaurant picks you’d like to share with us?
Other worthy mentions are Lacerba for aperitivo, Zio Pesce for fish, Cascina Cuccagna for healthy stuff, and Le Striatelle on Via Vigevano. If you feel like spending a little more, you should also go to this Argentinian place off Viale Sabatino, it’s called Don Juan. So, so good.
By the way, what do you think of the Milanese?
Honestly, I don’t know a huge amount of Milanese people. I do teach a lot of them, though. They’re perfectly nice people generally; not as engaging or warm as the southerners, I have to say, but they don’t have the best weather or food here, so I guess they’re bound to be a bit colder.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to move to Milan? Would you recommend moving here, or are there better places to live in Italy?
It depends entirely on what that person plans to do here. I’d be tempted to recommend the south, just based on the nature, food, weather, and people there. However, keep in mind that there is much less work on offer there, so if you’re planning on doing anything other than teaching English or opening an Italian restaurant, Milan is probably your best shout. Plus, a lot of people don’t speak English in Italy overall. It’s true for Milan and even more so for the south, so if you don’t already speak Italian, be prepared to have to learn quickly if you’re going to live anywhere other than this city.
Is there anything unique to Milan which you feel can’t be found in any other city?
I don’t really feel well-traveled enough to answer that; maybe ask me after I’ve lived in a few other places! I doubt there’s so much focus on Fashion Week anywhere else; it seems we have about five of them over the year. Milan is a vibrant, interesting, and safe city. It’s not going to blow your mind with what it has on offer, but life here is good.