I have a medicine cabinet full of about 3000 ibuprofen tablets, an ample and widely varied supply of bandages, and enough clear, calamine lotion to get me through a dozen or so seasons of zansari attacks. Do I need all of this? Probably not, and it’s my own fault they are crowding out space for stuff to deal with other ailments. You see, I didn’t manage my “care package” delivery request from a friend visiting us here in Luccaland last fall very effectively.
With tourist season coming upon us and travel opening up in this new phase of COVID, we all might start to experience a trickle of friends and family dropping in for a day, or two, or ten while they are visiting Tuscany. The most considerate of the lot typical ask, “Is there anything I can bring you?” My husband and I have only been living here for the COVID years, so we are not very experienced at managing these offers.
Lesson Learned: Do not overstate your need.
An unfortunate Achilles snap in the Spring of 2020 introduced us to the difficulty of getting ibuprofen in the quantity and the price we were accustomed to back in Minnesota. So, when we had our first post-COVID visitor announce themselves a year later and ask the sherpa question, there was no doubt ibuprofen would be on the list. With this medicine cabinet need on our minds, the stories of our difficulties finding reasonably priced assortments of bandages got blurted out, along with my personal need to set aside worries about running out of a favorite, clear calamine lotion.
We repeated our call for ibuprofen, bandages, and calamine lotion pretty much every time we talked with our friends about their pending visit. Apparently, that little inner voice of expat panic eked through, however unintentionally, each time we chatted. You know that voice; the quiet one that is always there and whining, “Why did you take me away from all that was familiar and comfortable to make me live a life full of change and daily surprises where we can’t even get decently priced ibuprofen!?!”
Long story short, that panic of the new-expat along with COVID lockdown mania translated into about a half-suitcase-full of supplies from “home,” including enough ibuprofen to pop like candy, bandages to play dress-up, and calamine lotion to afford the useless luxury of anti-itch prophylaxis.
Lesson Learned: Not yet.
We have yet to fully-master the task of engaging our friends and family visitors in this practice of circumventing Italian customs laws and fees. A recent visitor carrying a response to my request for white cotton crew socks resulted in the need to devote a full dresser drawer to my now, lifetime supply of white cotton crew socks. Again, I may have overstated my need, sounded desperate, and fail to provide some useful information, like exactly how many socks would satisfy my need. However, on the plus side, those value-priced 650-weave count cotton sheets from Costco that also claimed some precious space and weight in our friend’s suitcase have provided a lot of pretty dreamy sleeps. I might add, the US-configured Android streaming box that fell out of some luggage has served its purpose of providing access to Hulu and other US-limited streaming services that my VPN has enjoyed vexing.
We all need a little “home” comfort.
We learned about the need for certain things from the life past to help get through the rough patches in expat-life during our first holiday visit to Tuscany. We could hear the yearning and desperation in the voices of our hosting friends who previously lived in the US and seemed to long for Ziploc bags and plastic wrap that could be ripped from the roll without being mangled into a wad of useless, clinging processed oil.
For others we have met here in Lucca, the desperate desire in a care package is for a food product. There are the Dutch friends who long for a “drop,” a very particular Dutch licorice or speculaas cookies. The Brits’ list includes a call for any of the stuff needed for a good, really spicy curry, crunchy peanut butter, marmite (Why?!?!?), bacon, or a nice, strong cheddar cheese. In our days of packing things into our bags when traveling to Tuscany, it was books or bags of dried fruit and mixed nuts from Costco that weighed us down but made our Tuscan expat friends happy.
Certainly, these are all l things that with some effort could be found in our new home. But a lot is carried in these little deliveries. Who can deny the tinge of excitement that comes from the transgression and collusion to buck the customs rules, regulations and tariffs? Plus, there is the value of having a very tangible, practical need or desire satisfied. But really, this is a ritual for the expat soul, the comforting feeling of having just one thing, ONE THING, in your life that feels totally familiar and satisfies without resistance. Yes, just a little respite from the expat flurry of change, adjustment, or accommodation which can sometimes be a real pain. The care packages from visitors are a small, but essential part of expat life; they make it easier. In my case, they gave me the comfort of knowing I can pop a fist-full of ibuprofen if need be to ease some of the minor pains of expat living, at least for a moment, so I can collect myself and get on with creating and enjoying my expat/immigrant life.
Just another reflection on the minutia that fill the days and lives of an expat in Lucca.