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Once again, it’s time for our annual visit to my family in England. As usual, this causes me to reflect on a few cultural differences, and deal with that strange mixture of nostalgia and alienation familiar to expats and emigrants.
When Italians discover that I’m originally from the U.K. they usually ask me: “Ci torni ogni tanto?” (do you go back every now and then?), or “Torni spesso in Inghilterra?” (do you often go back to England?). To which I usually reply something along the lines of: “Si’, ci vado tutti gli anni per qualche giorno.” (yes, I go there every year for a few days).
This exchange is often followed by the question: “E come ti trovi li’?” (and how do you feel when you’re there?). My answer to this question?
The word spaesato/a/i/e comes from paese (village), and means ‘lost’, ‘out of place’, or ‘without points of reference’. It’s a sensation that a city dweller might feel in the wilderness, or a village dweller in the big city. But it’s particularly unsettling to feel spaesato in the place where you were born and grew up!
So, my dear wife and I have decided to list some of the most notable differences that contribute to this spaesato-ness, if you’ll forgive my horrible anglo-italian conjunction!
In our home environment of Valdantena, Lunigiana, we are surrounded by an amazing variety of wildlife, including, of course, our famous seven adopted cats. The forest is heaving with creatures great and small: cinghiali (wild boars), caprioli (deer), volpi (foxes), poiane (buzzards), istrici (porcupines), ricci (hedgehogs), picchi (woodpeckers), gufi (owls), lupi (wolves), serpenti (snakes), insetti di tutti i tipi (all sorts of insects), the list goes on and on.
Here, in the east of England on the other hand, the vast majority of creatures that we’ve seen have been very dead, very flat, and very stuck to the road. Not a pleasant experience for sensitive nature lovers such as ourselves!
Rules and Regulations
I always say that rules are written for idiots who don’t know how to behave in a socially responsible way or to use common sense. If that’s the case, then there must be an awful lot of idiots in England. There’s a rule for everything! Take the sign that Serena spotted next to a parking area at a lovely Tudor manor house which we visited: “Park near the fence. Nose towards the fence. Do not park between trees”.
All that just to park on a bit of grass next to some trees on the edge of a field? If a sign existed in a similar situation in Italy it would probably just say: Arrangiatevi! (Sort yourselves out!)
Flip Flops Mania (Serena’s pet peeve this year)
When we left Italy the temperature was a lovely 35°C. Arriving at London Stansted airport we were relieved to find a temperature of about 24°C, (far preferable to the 13°C we’ve encountered in past years!). Now, 24°C is, in our opinion, pleasant, but not exactly scorching. Not according to the Brits though. Shorts and flip flops seem to be obligatory here in Britain as soon as the temperature ‘soars’ above 20°C, and we can only assume that the British want to believe that c’e’ la spiaggia dappertutto (the beach is everywhere), and they’re all on holiday!
What, we asked ourselves, will they wear if it actually gets hot?
Granted, the British don’t have an awful lot of practice at dealing with the sun compared to us Mediterranean types. But come on, surely everyone knows by now that too much sun on pale English skin is not good news.
It seems not however, as was testified by our day out at an airshow. The airfield was fully exposed to an uncharacteristically glaring sun, and there was little shade available if you wanted to watch the flying displays.
In the morning, the flip flop clad spectators who gathered along the edge of the flight-line appeared as the whitish sea foam along a shoreline. By mid-afternoon the sea-foam had been transformed into a huge barbecue adorned with bright pink cooked shrimps and lobsters. Ouch!
Yes, poor old Britain! Ruined by the choking unreasonable regulations of the EU, and a terrifying invasion of malevolent lazy foreigners. It really brings a tear to one’s eye.
Until you see the wealth, the obese shiny new cars, the massive supermarkets and shops stocked with everything one can imagine, the charity shops selling virtually brand new clothing and discarded goods that would seem like luxury items to a large percentage of the world’s population.
And out here in East Anglia, one of the bastions of the staunch Brexiteer? A life of spoiled monocultural middleclassness where people will recount how bad things had got before Brexit, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Britain is, like it or not, still part of the EU, and that British politicians presently seem totally incapable of doing anything to resolve the huge ridiculous inward-looking mess that they’ve created!
Who Am I?
Travelling between two very different cultures reinforces that which I’ve observed for most of my life:
I am a citizen of the beautiful little blue-green planet which we call Earth. I reside on a spectacular peninsula of the European continent. I love being able to spend time with people of different cultures and to hear other languages spoken, thereby enriching my own life.
I once lived in England, but that’s not who I am.
I’m not afraid of ‘terrorists’, but I am concerned about the narrow, black and white, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ thinking that gives rise to extremism in any society.
I’m saddened by the retrograde mentality that seems to have invaded my own country and its big cousin.
At the same time, however, I’m grateful that mainland Europe seems to be waking up to the perils of demagoguery, overt nationalism, and populism. We’ve been there time and again, and it causes nothing but division, misunderstanding, pain and misery.
Keep studying, dear readers, keep breaking down those cultural barriers. We promise to do all we can to help you in your endeavors.