The cost of buying American in Italy

The other day I went to a drugstore to buy a hand wash. While I was browsing through the products, I noticed that they were selling a hand wash by Aveeno, our popular American brand.
My surprise quickly turned into shock when I checked the price: € 8.79, which is $13.11! I can understand the quality of the product and (probably) the import fees, but is this enough to justify why this item is 6 times more expensive than other brands?
Obviously, I opted for another product, as you can see from the empty spot on the right.

The learning here is that popular US brands might carry a much higher sticker price in Italy than what we are used to see at home. Coupled with the fact that the Euro is particularly strong these days, don’t assume that the same inexpensive item found at your neighbor’s market might be as convenient when you visit an Italian store.

The Italian school system

During the past year many changes have been made to the Italian school: the reintroduction of one main teacher, the mandatory use of a uniform, the grading of the students’ behavior, just to say a few.

However, besides these recent changes that have taken place because of a new law (Riforma Gelmini), many are the differences that I’ve noticed after the first days of school. Obviously my notes are made by comparing the American system to the Italian one, and most precisely to the specific schools my kids are (and were) attending.

Books – Books are provided by the government, the only expense for the student’s family is for the class supplies (paper, pens, erasers, uniform, etc.) . I spent about Euros 100 (~$150) for both kids.
Notebooks – Kids have a notebook for each subject.
Hours – Kids can either go to school from 8am to 1pm, including Saturday, or from 8am to 4pm, excluding Saturday.
Recess – Kids attending school from 8am to 1 pm have only one 20 minute recess (around 10am). They stay in class. Most schools don’t have a playground.
Volunteers – Parents are not allowed to volunteer in class, unless they are holding a certain level of expertise in a field or topic that the students are learning. In this case they can teach in class for a few hours.
Diary – Kids have a diary to keep track of the homework they need to do.
Fundraising Auctions – Auctions are not held in public schools.
Communication – Families and teachers communicate through the student’s diary. Emails are currently not used.
Office – In my kids’ school, the school office is open only one hour in the morning, and one hour in some afternoons.
Physical Education (P.E.) – Kids need to have specific clothes (white t-shirt and black shorts) and shoes for P.E. They keep them in a bag that remains at school (until washing is required…).
Principal – Some schools share the same principal. In our case, we share the principal with four other schools.
Religion – Catholic religion is taught in all public schools. Kids have the right to refuse the attendance, in which case they are moved to another class for alternative activities. The crucifix is present in all classes.
Classrooms – Besides the desks and chairs, my kids’ classrooms have a blackboard with chalks, and a metal armoire for supplies. If it wasn’t for the 2009 calendar on the wall, it looks exactly the same as when I was there 30 years ago.

Spending 4 months in Italy with my kids

Have you ever considered spending an extended period of time in Italy? If you are like me, you probably did many times. And if you’ve kids, you might have shelved this dream considering all the complications that come with any international move.

As an Italian mom living in the US for more than 13 years, the idea of giving to my kids the opportunity to experience Italy more than just as tourists was extremely appealing. So after some long conversations with my husband and some careful planning, we decided it was worth the try.

My two young kids (Alessio, 6 and Silvia, 9) would attend a local elementary school for four months. For conveniency, we chose our hometown Trieste as our destination. In Trieste we still have our extended family that helped us with some of the logistics such as finding a rental apartment and getting some of the school paperwork done. Admittedly, knowing the language and having local support made things smoother, especially due to the time difference (9 hours) and the inability to use the Internet to get through some of the school red tape.

As a small business owner, I was able to put on hold my activity. My husband’s job in high tech wouldn’t let him leave for too long, so he decided to stay in the US and reach us later for a vacation.

So, here I am, back to my hometown, Trieste, where I’ll stay until Christmas, with my kids attending the same Italian elementary school I was attending when I was their age…

While there, I’ll try to cover some of the curious aspects of this experience. If you’ve some questions feel free to email me or post a comment below.