My mother is nearing 80 and, unlike her progeny, has never strayed from the shores of ‘Good Old Blighty’, unless you count a day trip which she once made to the Isle of Wight many years ago. And so every year I make the long journey by car from our village in Lunigiana to my mother’s house in Suffolk, England, passing through Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France, before taking the ferry from Calais to Dover across those twenty vital miles of water known in Italian as la Manica. What a difference twenty miles of water can make!
Allora, eccoci in Inghilterra! (So, here we are in England!). Anyone who has lived for several years as an expatriate will recognise the strange sensation of returning ‘home’ to one’s own culture and realising that one has become an outsider. As an outsider you have a kind of privileged view over what was once your patria (homeland). You see things in a way that would not be possible if that culture was all that you had known. And it’s almost impossible not to make comparisons between the two different cultures that you have lived in. Serena and I do it constantly.
England vs. Italy, A Few Observations:
On the road
The Bad: Why do the British insist on driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road? To make matters worse they go clockwise round roundabouts! And even the small country roads are suffocated with ridiculous amounts of traffic, especially those enormous trucks full of consumer products. Driving our little left hand drive FIAT Punto on British roads is definitely not fun! The speed limits are in miles per hour, and our Italian car only shows kilometres per hour. This means that in the standard 30 MPH zones I have to drive no faster than 48.28032 KPH.
The Good: Wow, the traffic signs are so clear, nice big simple signs which are not obscured by thirty seven tiny notices for Giorgio’s Bar, Franco’s Pizzeria, La Festa del Fungo, the local Carabinieri, La Piscina, and so on. People STOP at pedestrian crossings … now that is a novel idea! And we can actually walk on the pavements because they haven’t been turned into ad hoc parcheggi (car parks).
The Bad: Anonymity. Here I am in my little English home town which, when I was young, wasn’t that different from our present day Pontremoli in Italy. But what’s become of all the little bakeries, groceries, tea rooms etc? Alas they are no more, replaced by the ubiquitous chain stores, supermarkets, and multinational franchises, that seem to dominate every town in Britain. My favourite little English tea rooms? Replaced by an American franchise’s pseudo continental cafe (it shall remain nameless) which sells expensive buckets of mud masquerading as ‘cappuccino’ or ‘caffè latte’. Superfluity. The supermarkets and shops appear to me as cathedrals founded upon the religion of consumerism, packed with worshippers browsing the shelves which are overflowing with infinite goodness. Please don’t talk to me about the financial crisis, come and live in Italia for a bit and then we’ll discuss it.
The Good: Choice. Something that’s always quite surprising about the Italians is how conservative they are, especially when it comes to food. A little example: Why is it easier for me to buy fichi secchi (dried figs) in England than in Italy? I mean figs grow in Italy for Gods sake! But no, in Italy dried figs are eaten at Christmas, not before not after.
Yes, in England you can find just about anything … con l’eccezione di un buon cappuccino!