After almost five years in Rome, I rarely get homesick. I miss my family and friends back home, and sometimes I’m nostalgic for places I no longer live in, but these days, I feel that Rome is truly home. What I do get is a bad case of something I like to describe as the “I-hate-it-heres”. It’s an emotion like PMS and road rage all rolled up into one. Here in Rome, I like to describe this feeling as Rome Rage.
There are the men gawking shamelessly, the elderly woman jamming her elbow between your ribs on the bus, the endless bureaucracy, the government employees who seem to spend all their energy finding ways not to do their jobs (oh, and the new revelation that the Mafia Capitale is draining the city’s coffers dry). No one will ever tell you life in Rome is easy (unless they are lucky enough to have the resources to avoid the obnoxious parts of daily life). With time you learn tricks to avoid annoyances and I make the best of the inevitable, but in a city so mercurial, periods of frustration are inevitable.
The grass is always greener on the other side: A re-telling of the Three Billy Goats Gruff
Growing up I loved the tale of the three billy goats gruff. In the fable, three clever goats are tired of eating the grass on their side of a bridge. In order to eat the green green grass on the other side though, they must make it past a hungry bridge troll. The first two do this by convincing him to wait for their larger, and therefore tastier, brother. The largest brother then dispatches the troll with an enormous headbutt. This allows the goats to cross back and forth at will, partaking of the green green grass on each side of the fence.
The moral of the story is about greed, but in the original tale the troll is the greedy one. In my mind, the story has always been associated with the proverb “the grass is always greener on the other side”. Sure, the troll wanted more, but so did the billy goats. Their conviction that the grass must be tastier on the other side of the bridge leads to the entire conflict with the troll.
There is something amazing about living in many different places, always meeting new people, experiencing new cultures. We should always be curious about the flavor of the grass on the other side of the bridge, but shouldn’t be surprised if there are some nasty patches mixed up in it as well. And we can’t forget that the grass usually isn’t greener, it’s just a different shade of green. That means no matter where you go you’ll have the I-hate-it-heres. When I was in London the sheep-like zombie-walk of commuters made my blood boil, while riding the bus in Rome (which could be confused for an extreme sport) has the same effect today.
When you spend all your time and energy running back and forth between pastures, you never learn what you actually like about the grass you’re eating now. Sometimes you need to give yourself enough time to experience a place and learn what makes it tick.
Thanks for the metaphor, but how do we actually cope?
Personally, I think that the number one solution to dealing with any stress is exercise. If you take care of your body, you’ll feel better both physically and mentally. This doesn’t mean you need to spend hours on a treadmill being bored out of your mind. Find an activity you enjoy – try out functional training, join a yoga class, swim laps in a pool, or learn to breakdance.
The second step is to find things to love about where you’re living. Sometimes we get so stuck on the day-to-day annoyances that we forget about the amazing history and culture we’re surrounded by. It’s key to remember that while things can be frustrating, they can also be beautiful, exciting, and stimulating – sometimes you just need to look for the parts you’ll most enjoy. When I was frustrated by life in our neighborhood, I began taking long walks with the dog (exercise!) and taking photos. By photographing the space I learned to better appreciate it’s beauty – not one of marble statues and fine art, but of a historical working class neighborhood. I also believe that images have power to depict social problems – the trams that service this area, while picturesque, are entirely outdated. Images of garbage and disorder can be beautiful in and of themselves, while bringing attention to a lack of basic necessities like garbage cans. If you’re not keen on photography, try learning about the lesser-known history of your city, state, country, or neighborhood, or exploring new restaurants, shops, parks, and bars in the area.