Living in Sicily: 11 things I’ve learned
Every August, we return for 1 month to the Italian island of Sicily for our summer break.
The classic blend of Mediterranean sunshine, sea, and traditional Sicilian food, I consider myself lucky to return each year.
Visiting a destination, of course, greatly differs to living there. But, after 5 years of (intermittent) living in Sicily, I’ve learned a thing or two about living the Sicilian life.
Where we stay in Sicily
We’ve 2 bases on the island where we stay during our summer vacation.
Our main home is in a small coastal town called Santa Teresa di Riva. It’s located on the east side of Sicily, with Messina being the closest largest city. The nearest airport is Catania Fontanarossa.
We’re blessed to live on the ‘lungomare’, the stretch of road that runs along the sea. The beach is directly opposite, with clean waters (most of the time) and temperatures of around 25°C.
We normally stay with family members on their farm, which so happens to be a luxury glamping site. IUTA Glamping & Farm is eco-friendly, boutique and your chance to experience Sicilian agricultural-tourism.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like, this is my first-hand experience of living in a small Sicilian town.
Please note, that the following is based on my personal experience and is not meant to offend in any way.
1. Community is strong
One of the first things that struck me during my early visits to Sicily was the strong sense of community.
Unlike in a big city like London, it’s normal for Sicilians living in small towns to rely on each other. While it’s expected that family members help each other out, I’ve also seen neighbors stepping in when needed.
From bringing food over, to exchanging goods, like lemons for oranges, it’s uplifting to see in person.
From my experience, this sense of community doesn’t just happen during times of crisis. It’s an intrinsic part of daily life, and is something I wish I grew up with.
Blue skies and warm waters in Santa Teresa di Riva, Sicily
“…this is my first-hand experience of living in a small Sicilian town. “
2. Contacts are everything
It goes without saying, that the right contacts make the world an easier place to navigate. And, when you live in a small Sicilian town, knowing the right people can make the biggest difference.
This isn’t about knowing where to eat the best Sicilian granita or Pasta alla Norma (though helpful).
Living in Sicily means exactly that, knowing how to live day to day.
To give you an example, one of our most important contacts is a local fisherman. It may sound strange, but to eat good, and fresh, fish and seafood in Sicily isn’t always a given.
Instead, he lets us know when the catch is fresh, and always gives us a reasonable price.
Good contacts are essential in small towns in Sicily, especially for fresh fish and seafood
3. Sicilian is difficult to understand
One of my first posts that I wrote about Sicily was 5 fun Sicilian words and phrases. It was a playful introduction to the dialect, and one that I was also beginning to learn.
Years later, I’d be lying if I told you that I’m now fluent in Sicilian.
Living in a small Sicilian town, I get by on conversing in regular Italian. The same goes for when we’re in Vicenza, and I hear some locals speaking in the Venetian dialect. It’s obvious to everyone that I’m not from there so I don’t try to pretend that I can speak it.
Not on the same page — living in Sicily
Something that you should be aware of, is that different parts of Sicily have their own regional dialect. And, as a family member once told me, they may mock you for not speaking their lingo.
Naturally, if you don’t understand them, you’ll be none the wiser anyway. But, if you do plan on living in a small Sicilian town, learning the local language is essential.
Not only will it help you to communicate effectively, but it’ll also give you a fully immersed Sicilian experience.
Keep practicing the local language until it becomes easier
4. Sicilians are strong people
The first word that comes to mind, if you ask me to describe Sicilian people, is strong.
Strong minded, opinionated, willed and sometimes loud, the shy, retiring types are a minority. While this only refers to my own experience, it’s something with which I’ve a love/hate relationship.
Some Sicilians can be very direct in what they say, which for the most part, I’ve no problem with. It all depends on the situation and the context.
On the other hand, I’ve also experienced situations that didn’t leave me with the most positive impression.
Act the same
The ferry ride from Reggio Calabria to Messina in Sicily is a straightforward ride. It takes about 20 minutes and can be a hit or miss experience.
The first time I took the ferry was a big miss.
We waited for about an hour to enter the port in Messina, along with a hundred or so other cars. This was followed by a mad dash to buy a ticket as there was no other way to buy beforehand. It was a far cry from the calm and order that we’d experienced in Tallinn.
Finally on board, I made a beeline for the bathroom, only to find a long line ahead of me. While some women waited patiently in line, others boldly skipped it and went straight to the front. There was no reasoning, nor any attempt to give an excuse, however feeble.
Instead, there was plenty of line jumping, and even 2 times of being pushed aside to get to the front.
Not a one off incident — living in Sicily
The same thing happened at the line for the bar. By the time we’d arrived at Reggio Calabria, I was relieved to be back in the comfort of our car.
Since then, I’ve learned that you’ve to behave in a similar way in some contexts in Sicily. That’s not to say that you should also jump the line, but you need to be tough. The more time I spend here, the more I realize the importance of standing your ground.
Being surrounded by many strong-minded people, it’s something to be aware of, especially when living in a small Sicilian town. Speaking of the people….
Learning the local lingo helps to break barriers
5. It takes time
While there are the perks of having a close-knit community in a small Sicilian town, being accepted into one takes time.
It’s not that the locals are suspicious of new faces, especially during summer in a coastal town like Santa Teresa.
As I learned in Vicenza, many people are curious as to why you’re there. It’s not often that they come across foreigners, and the only visitors they see are typically other Italians.
However, I’d say to give it time. The more they see your face around town, the more likely they are to accept you into the fold. Speaking their language will help to break barriers, and in time, people will slowly open up to you.
After time, the local people will begin to warm to you
6. Driving in Sicily comes with a warning
I never want to drive in Sicily.
On an island with plenty of long winding roads and scenic routes, driving here should be a dream.
However, my rose-tinted glasses have long been tarnished with memories of irrational Sicilian drivers. Though it can’t compare to our experience of driving in Morocco, I’ve zero desire to get behind the wheel.
Even in a small Sicilian town like Santa Teresa di Riva, I’ve seen several accidents over the years. Sad to say, but it’s not surprising given the things that I’ve seen.
From speeding around bends in a 30kmh zone, to overtaking cars on busy roads, driving in Sicily isn’t for the feint hearted.
I’ll leave the driving to the Sicilians
7. Slow connections
Something that won’t come as a much of surprise is that the internet in Sicily can be slow.
Many larger hotels are more likely to have a fast, and reliable, connection. The same, however, doesn’t apply to smaller towns.
Not made for conference calls — living in Sicily
Having a fast and reliable WiFi network makes a world of difference to remote workers or digital nomads.
However, when you’re living in a small Sicilian town, you may need a backup should it not work. I found this out the hard way when I tried joining a conference call.
Despite being next to the router, and in a location where the signal was strongest, my connection kept cutting out.
After constantly trying to reconnect to the call, I eventually had to give up.
I should point out that, the internet works perfectly if you’re using it solely for leisure. Just be mindful of your connectivity if you’re planning on staying long term in Sicily.
Working online in Sicily can be challenging
8. Slow service
Living in a small town in Sicily means learning to have more patience.
While I consider myself to be a generally patient person, there have been times when I’ve also been tested.
Maybe it’s something that comes with island living, but service in Sicily tends to be on the slow side.
Breakfast in Sicily is a good example of this. One morning in Santa Teresa, we waited for about 20 minutes before someone arrived to take our order.
Another day, in another pasticceria, we ended up leaving after not one member of staff came to our table.
I should point out, that on the second occasion, there were hardly any patrons in the cafe.
Though slightly frustrating, you’ll be happy to read that Sicilians don’t discriminate. On that same morning in Santa Teresa, I overheard 2 other patrons complaining about waiting for a long time.
Service can be slow in small Sicilian towns, but is usually always worth the wait
9. Compromising on goods
This is an obvious one, but living in a small Sicilian town means having to compromise on certain things.
Local shops won’t stock the same products that larger cities have, so you have to make do with what’s there.
What’s more, online services like Amazon do operate in Sicily, but delivery times will take longer than usual.
Online deliveries take much longer than usual to arrive in smaller Sicilian towns
10. Food is reasonably cheap
It’s easy to live well, and cheaply, in a small Sicilian town. Fruits and vegetables from Sicily are some of the best that you’ll find in the whole of Italy.
Other produce like meat, bread and dairy products are also reasonably priced.
As I mentioned above, knowing the right people can make a big difference when buying fresh fish or seafood.
Cheap, fresh and full of flavor
11. Frequent get-togethers
Having regular get-togethers, either with friends or family, was something that took some time to get used to.
Regular for me, meant once, or a maximum of twice a month.
Instead, it’s common, when living in a small town in Sicily, to have weekly gatherings. Monday night might be a casual dinner at a rosticceria, while Tuesday might be a birthday at someone’s house.
If you happen to get invited to a Sicilian family get together, say yes. It’s an evening of great fun, tradition and Sicilian food, and it’ll be a night that you’ll always remember.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading stories about my Sicilian life. If you’ve any questions, feel free to ask me them in the comments below.
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....