Giulia Marchetti Interviews Roy Heffner
Who is Roy Heffner?
I am a 75 year old American living for the past 12 years in Italy. I live in Villa San Giovanni in Tuscia with my wife Rita (Italian) and our wonderful dog and two cats. My mother was 100% of Irish heritage, while my father was ¾ Irish and ¼ Cherokee Indian. I was born in the New England state of Massachusetts and led a quite nice childhood until the age of 10 when my father died. His death affected my mother and us children in a not so nice way. Our lives became difficult. We moved to South Florida when I was 11. A horrible place at the time. I started working full time when I was 15 (in addition to going to school of course). I married at the age of 19. Had two children by the age of 23. Worked hard and graduated from college in 1967 with a degree in geography, which is why I had a career in computing as geographers were the original computer users. Advanced through different computing related jobs (programmer, analyst, hardware salesman, Big 8 consulting, etc) until I started my own company in 1980 in New York City (up until this time I had been in Chicago). Health care computer consulting. It grew into a quite successful business. It developed into a database application development company. Had many Fortune 500 companies as customers. I also developed the first microcomputer based system for politicians (Democrats only!). That’s how I ended up visiting President of the United States in the Oval Office. I lived well for many years. Living in Chicago, New York City and the Bahamas on a boat. I met my now wife in July, 2001. Rita was/is an artist who moved from Italy to the US in the early 1980’s. Once I met her, I knew that I would love to have her as my life partner. 9/11 happened and we bonded. We decided to permanently live here in Italy in 2008. We did return to NYC for a year several years ago (to earn some money) but have not been back to the US for 4 years now. And we have no plans to go back to the US. Italy is now our full time home.
You lived in many different places in the USA. How can you describe your life in big cities like New York and Chicago?
I lived in both Chicago and New York City for many years. Had a residence in each city. People always ask me which one I preferred. I didn’t have a preference. When in Chicago I was happy to be in Chicago and when in NYC I was happy to be there. My life was similar in that it involved going out to bars and restaurants frequently. Like for every meal of the day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I never cooked when living by myself. I didn’t learn to cook until I came to Italy. Now I cook frequently. Of course, in both cities there were millions of people, lots of things to do. Very exciting. And pretty good parties. I must say as much as I love living here, it can be kind of boring. But that’s not so bad. I am much healthier now than when I first arrived.
What about the Bahamas?
I had a guy working for me who’s family had a place on a small island in the Bahamas, called Elbow Cay. It is in the northern Bahamas, which is called the Abacos. He asked if I wanted to come. I said sure. That was circa 1983. Small it was. But unbelievably beautiful. At that time there were no cars on the island. The house had no electricity. You walked or used a boat. I went back many times over the years. Became friends with the local people. I took Rita there for the first time in 2002. So loved it of course. So I bought her an old derilict sailboat which she fixed up. She, our dog and two cats moved there! She learned wood carving there. Had an art studio. I would visit once a month (as I had a business to run). The island has been developed (it’s only 125 miles from the US) but it still has it’s beauty.
What do you miss about your life in the US?
I don’t really miss my life in the US. Mostly because I have a character trait that where ever I am, I am. If I was in Chicago, I was in Chicago and did not miss NYC or the Bahamas. If in the Bahamas I was in the Bahamas and did not miss the other places. I adapt very quickly to the current situation. So, it’s the same here. I am here in Villa San Giovanni in Tuscia and happy to be here.
Why did you decide to come to live in Italy?
Originally, our plan was to live in Italy in the summer, NYC in the fall and spring and Elbow Cay in the winter. That was the plan. However, that lifestyle requires a fair amount of money (mostly due to travel expenses as our animals travel with us). I had a fair amount of money but through a series of financial setbacks, lost it and lost my income. So, the main reason we decided to come here was financial because living here is much much cheaper than the other 3 places we lived in. I am left with a relatively small pension as our only source of income and we can live well on that here. Not so elsewhere. However, that being said, if we were say to win the lottery, we would stay here. It is our home now.
Would you recommend other Americans to come to visit or live in Italy?
Well, of course. Then I would have someone to talk to! Lol. Just joking. We have had many visitors over the years. I suggest they come stay with us for the first couple of days and then go off on their tourist type trips. Virtually everyone has said that the best time they had on their trip(s) was staying in our village. Every one. Seeing what the real Italy is all about. And there is so much to do in this area. Plus going to the sea for a day is always a hit. My best friend lives in Luxembourg (he is Luxembourgish). Is a high level executive at an important company there. High pressure. He has been here several times as he can chill out like no other place. And his children love it here too.
Living here for Americans can be easy or difficult depending on the individuals. There are about 300,000+ people living in the Viterbo Province. There are only about 150 Americans living here. Language is the biggest barrier. It doesn’t bother me not to be fluent. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours learning but to no use in having a real conversation. I do have several friends who speak English. If I need to communicate with an Italian only speaker I use Google Translate on my phone. It has a setting that allows you to have a real time conversation. And it works!
In your opinion, which are the most different cultural aspects between Italy and the USA?
You can read my little phamplet to answer that. But in general, other than the potential language barrier, life in Italy in terms of cultural aspects is not all that different. I get along just fine here. Not a single thing that I would call a barrier.
What don’t you like about Italy?
There is nothing I don’t like other than things I would not like anywhere. Such as I am a liberal and don’t like conservatives. Italy is like the US in that it’s pretty much split 50/50 between the two groups. I don’t like lousy drivers or people that litter, etc.
There is an old joke that goes something like this: I love Italy and I love Italians, but they have a different word for everything!
What do you love about Italy?
Well, that could take several pages to express. The simple version is, it’s physical beauty, it’s ancient history, it’s unique people, the art and monuments that are everywhere, the love of family, great food…
How do you rate Italians in terms of human connections, particularly in a small village like Villa San Giovanni in Tuscia?
Interesting question. We get no tourists here. None. I am the only American for many miles around. I have made many deep connections here. I have several good friends and many family relationships (the village is where Rita’s mother grew up). I feel closer to Rita’s family (and now mine), than I do my own. I have taught 2 of Rita’s male first cousins how to play golf and they have got quite good at it. I have taught a lot of people English and have sort of a fan club for helping them out. So, I have had a plethora of human connections to say the least here is the village.
You are the very first member of the Italian Human Connections Association. What prompted you to support this association?
Because one of the founders is a babe and will support anything she does!
Roy’s handbook about the Italian lifestyle available for free download following the link below:
I remember the idyllic streets of Villa San Giovanni; it’s so picturesque you can’t take a bad photo here. And the wild berries are so sweet hanging down from neighbors’ fence. When there is a festival, everyone comes out to celebrate, young and old, they all sing and they all dance. You can’t be a stranger here. The warmth of the people will fill you up like a delicious afternoon Cappuccino.
Haisi, thank you very much for your comment. Your description of Villa San Giovanni in Tuscia offers a beautiful glimpse into the Italian way of life. It touched my heart …