New Series, by Kirsten Hills
To an outsider- life in Florence, may seem idyllic- with its sun, beauty and charm, but us mums know the city can be a challenging place to raise children. It can at times be anything but the ideal city to live in. Add to this the pressure to bridge our cultural differences with the Italian way of doing things, and it can lead to unhappiness.
She is one of us who has struggled to feel at home here. She is a 35 years old French woman, married to an American, and has two children Leonie and Milo – aged 3 and 2. They have been living in Florence for two years.
Why did you move to Florence?
In 2011 my husband William was offered the position as European Manager for the shoe company “Frye”, here in Florence. Their office is on Lungarno Guicciardini.
What do you like about Florence?
The steaks and coffee are good. Life here is cheaper than in Paris. The weather is much better, the beach is close- by in the summertime, and skiing in the Winter.
What is your work background?
I worked for ten years in film production. I started as a PA for the famous film director Luc Besson, and I moved to Montreal in Canada, where I continued working in film marketing and promotion. I returned to Paris and I worked in cartoons.
By this point I’d met William and we moved to Venice to do a documentary on the gondolas, where I got pregnant. I never wanted to give birth in Italy so I returned to Paris. After that we lived in Switzerland, and finally William secured work here in Florence.
How do you spend the week?
The children are in full time childcare, so I have started a cake making business. It started as an interest, but I now do commissions- for birthday cakes and special occasions. I love thinking up new creative ideas and designs for cakes. I’ve done DJ decks, a beach, gondolas, and a piano. I get a lot of compliments.
My husband travels a lot with work (sometimes up to 3 times a month), so I am often on my own with the kids.
You’ve traveled and lived in many countries, what are your thoughts about life here in Florence?
I don’t like it here. I find it difficult to meet people. Above all I’ve not managed to find work, which is the main reason I don’t feel at home here.
What have you struggled with the most living here?
The paperwork. My husband has a Swiss contract but we live here, so at the beginning we couldn’t get free healthcare. We have had SO many battles. The way of doing business here- is entirely about who you know. In France it’s much more egalitarian, and professional.
The banks are also ridiculous. Every time I need to do something I have to go there and resolve it face to face.
And life in Florence?
I think the city is messy. They don’t respect the rules for parking, nobody cares. Queuing doesn’t exist here either.
How helpful has the ‘Firenze Moms 4 Moms Network’ been?
I can see it’s a really useful group and there are playgroups in the week, but with my kids at nursery, I don’t feel I can go along! I am also incredibly shy. I really find it difficult to go to the meet-ups. I think I will force myself to go to the next one though, as I don’t have many friends here.
What do you miss most about France?
The bread, and the cheese. I’m sorry to say it, but they don’t know how to make cheese here!!
What do the children think of life here?
They love it. We live in the countryside, just this weekend we went skiing in Abetone, and they are learning a third language- which is fantastic.
Of course everyone in Italy is baby-crazy, so they are spoiled rotten, and everywhere you go, you get a reaction. EVERYWHERE. So if you are in a restaurant, and your kids are having a fit, everybody on the other tables will react with “poverina”, so you can eat in peace, which is good!
How is your Italian?
Not bad. I can make myself understood in any situation. I think I’m basic level but my husband says I’m fluent!
Which languages do you speak at home?
William and I speak in French- since we met in France. He speaks to the kids in English, and I speak to them in French. They are obviously speaking in Italian at school/nursery. I also speak fluent English.
How do the children manage with three languages?
Really well, sometimes they confuse words. Their mother tongue is Italian I guess as they spend more time exposed to it during the day.
What do you do for childcare for the children?
Leonie goes to scuola maternal and Milo is at the private nursery Cubo Magico. I am delighted with the nursery. It is expensive, but the staff are lovely, but I am less happy with the school, where the teachers are less passionate about their work and being with the kids. Plus the food at the nursery is first class but I think the school food is horrible.
At school if I say I have an issue with my daughter, they always respond “but she’s so small”. Which I disagree with. I think in Italy they infantilise children here too much.
How did you find the nursery/schools?
Well when I first came here I didn’t know anyone, and I eventually met a woman at the play park, who really helped me, she gave me the names of the places.
Where do you live in Florence? And why did you choose here?
We live in the hills, to the south of the city. Close to Pian dei Giullari. The apartment is part of a large old villa, and it’s beautiful. The children can go outside to play, and it’s so green. The only down-side is I need to take the car to go anywhere and it can feel a little remote.
What activities do you do with the kids in Florence?
My daughter LOVES trampolining and so I take her to one at the Co-op in Gavinana. There’s Mondo Bimbo piazza della Liberta. For clothes I love HandM in Novolli.
Where do you see your future?
We are looking to move. I’d like to go back to Paris.
Explain your Facebook photo and when it was taken?
A friend took it in Paris a couple of years ago. People think I’m posing but I was actually just doing my hair one morning, and it was taken unexpectedly.
All those that are willing to be interviewed for ”My Story: How I came to Florence” contact Kirsten Hills at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the writer:
Kirsten Hills has been living and working in Florence since 2011, where she is a journalist and teacher. She has two children.