Americans usually flock to Italy for its rich foods, historic streets and slow living — but the country is suffering a major outbreak of the coronavirus, and retirement isn’t quite what it usually is over there.
Nancy Hampton, a retired graphic artist from Virginia, moved to Umbertide in the Umbria region with her husband in 2014. When Hampton, who blogs at “Nancy Goes to Italy,” and her husband had been living in Germany for work, they enjoyed the different culture compared with the U.S., and said they’d like to move back to Europe after returning home. Having taken many previous trips to Italy, they decided to make it their retirement spot.
They found themselves in Umbria, which is closer to the center of the country.
The 69-year-old retiree said she’s making the most of her time during the lockdown, and still frequenting local businesses with friends. But some of the details that make her town what it is are suffering: The weekly market has closed down, Italians are being told not to double-kiss or embrace (a difficult ask for a culture that relies on these forms of affection) and people are expected to keep a safe distance from one another, even in bars and shops.
The northern part of Italy has been most impacted by the outbreak of the coronavirus, known as Covid-19. Still, the Italian government announced it was locking down the entire country on Monday. Travel has been restricted within the country, affecting more than 60 million people in Italy. Sporting and other large events have been postponed until at least the beginning of April.
More than 10,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Italy, with 631 deaths. More than 700 people have recovered after contracting the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Hampton spoke with MarketWatch about retiring in Italy, and what it has been like since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the middle of February.
MarketWatch: What is it like being in Italy while all of this is happening?
Nancy Hampton: We are right in the middle of Umbria. We don’t have any big cities, maybe Perugia, which is not gigantic, and because we are kind of off the beaten path, we don’t get a lot of people coming or “traffic.” It has been pretty normal here. Everything was fine until the big lockdown, so now they have to take it seriously. For stores and restaurants, it’s different than it has been in the last couple of weeks.
MW: What is the lockdown like?
Hampton: A general rule is no large groups interspersed together. They try to limit the number of people, by having four people in a store — that keeps large groups from forming so you don’t have too much contact with other people. All of the town gets taken over by the market once a week on Wednesdays and I found out they’re not going to have it, so that’s a huge deal. That never gets canceled. Everyone comes from around the mountains and hills here. They can’t control the number of people interacting with each other, that’s why they closed it.
MW: What are some ways the coronavirus impacted your retirement there?
Hampton: I’m not a person who gets shook up about this, so we just stay mostly at home right now and let this thing go by. It’s not bothering us. I guess a lot of people think you’d be all panicky, but not for us.
I went out for coffee this morning, and met two friends. We’re going out for lunch tomorrow. I think it’s important because the restaurants and bars are now depending on people going out in the day, they can’t have people go out at night (Editor’s note: Restaurants can only be open until 6 p.m. under the lockdown.) It’s important to support them and keep things going until it’s passed. It’s hard for restaurants, bars and market people — that’s their livelihood and this has been terribly disruptive.
Piazza San Francesco in Umbertide.
MW: Is Italy’s attitude toward aging different than that in the U.S.? How does that affect the way they handle retirement, especially during a health crisis?
Hampton: People here do value older people more than they do in the United States. They tend to “nonna and nonno” (Editor’s note: Italian for grandma and grandpa). They’re very important family members, and they’re more integrated in society than in the U.S. They realize older people are more vulnerable to the contagion, and if they catch it they have more complications than everyone, so they’re trying to be careful with the older people.
MW: How is the health care in Italy? Has it been reliable during this time?
Hampton: It has been different. I have not had to go to the doctor myself, but I read now that you can’t just go to your doctor. Usually how it works is, you go to the doctor during their office hours. You don’t make an appointment, you just go and wait in the waiting room until you can see the doctor. Now they’re not doing that because you end up with people bunched together, so you need to call and make an appointment and you can go individually.
Hospitals are being more careful. They don’t have an emergency room anymore. You have to ring the bell and tell them what the problem is. Everyone has been careful. They’re staying put in their homes.
MW: On a normal day, when there is no worry about a health crisis like this, what is it like being an American retired in northern Italy?
Hampton: The people are super nice here, everyone is welcoming. We are a part of the community. There are a lot of expatriates who live in the area — there are British and Dutch and Swedes and all nationalities. It is not what I call a heavily tourist area. We have a lot of friends, and if we need anything, they help us.
MW: The coronavirus has now spread throughout the U.S., concerning many Americans. Considering Italy seems to be a step ahead of the U.S. at the moment, do you have any suggestions for how people can remain calm?
Hampton: So many people tell me, “you’re there with all of these people infected and how awful it must be for you,” and I say to them: “People don’t know how many others have got the virus in the U.S. It could be running rampant. You have to be careful. Wash your hands, that’s what everyone tells you to do, and stay away from huge crowds. Stay close to home for now.”
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