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Spaesato! Posted by on Jul 10, 2017 in Culture

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. 

Un pavone spaesato? Spotted at the beautiful Tudor Kentwell Hall in Suffolk. Photo by Geoff.

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?

Melanoma Madness

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.

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  1. Mary:

    I hear what you say, and I can understand that it must be strange to return. All your examples of spaesato-ness are negative though. Are there any positive things you could tell us about your visit?

    • Geoff:

      @Mary Thanks for your comment Mary.

      Unfortunately, feeling spaesato isn’t a positive experience. But I did spend some quality time with my family, which is, in the end, the only reason I go back.

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

  2. Joseph T. Madawela:

    thank you. I TOO will redouble my efforts

  3. Cecilia:

    Ciao Geoff!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us in this wonderful post. Those last paragraphs really got me! I share your point of view and I also think that it is always easier to blame someone else for our troubles, instead of facing the real source of our failures as society…

    I hope that you and Serena have a wonderful time in England.


  4. Joan Engelhaupt:

    Like Cecilia, I too share the point of view you expressed in the last two paragraphs of your lovely blog and appreciate you all the more for that.

  5. Jenny:

    We British residents are able to view our country dispassionately too. We are not all ignorant, insular and self-indulgent. Your observations could have been wry and amusing but meaningful. I love Italy and the Italians but let’s not kid ourselves that it’s perfect. Your observations are hurtful when many of us are reeling from Brexit and fighting to maintain standards, bring up families with sound values, care for our environment and build a better country. If you perpetuate your view of Brits to your Italian friends I hope they can see beyond them. Lucky you to live the idyll. Many in your adopted country don’t.

    • Geoff:

      @Jenny Jenny, I don’t recall stating anywhere in my article that Italy is perfect, that would be a preposterous proposition.
      Furthermore, whatever gives you the impression that I am living “the idyll?”

      All of my friends and family are Italian. I’m not part of some exclusive ex-pat community, and have no desire to be. We don’t live in Portofino, San Gimignano or any of the other usual locations that foreigners dream of, but a simple, rather poor country town in which jobs are very scarce.

      My best friends are simple labourers who struggle to make ends meet, support their families and wade their way through outlandish burocrazia, furbizia, and fregature. Just as Serena and I have done for the past ten years!

      I find statements such as “I love Italy and the Italians” simply outlandish. It’s a statement that would never be made by someone who actually lives and works within the Italian culture. It’s something that would be asserted by someone who comes here occasionally on holiday and goes away with sunny idealized memories. The Italian peninsula and its inhabitants are as varied in terms of good/bad/indifferent as any other culture/location.

      Finally, please don’t make patronising assumptions about me when you know virtually zero about my life apart from the few tiny glimpses that I reveal through what I consider to be my honest and down to earth articles.


  6. Arthur Skinner:

    A lovely 35c??? I would never consider 95f lovely and i grew up in Fla. Here in Umbria 35c is hot.

  7. Lesley Brennan:

    Grazie Geoff, come sempre e buone vacanze a voi.

  8. R. Lambert:

    “Mainland Europe seems to be waking up” while thanks to our new president the US is turning inward. Che peccato!

    • Geoff:

      @R. Lambert Let’s hope that some good will come of it in the end.

      A presto! 🙂

  9. Michael Stevens:

    Thanks for the wonderful post, Geoff (not to mention the many, many others that have come before). I live in California, but I’ve spent what adds up to several years in Europe. I want to share that my one single month in Italy made the strongest impression. We can all learn from Italian culture!

  10. paolo minotto:

    Anch’io odio flip flops.

  11. Delia Valente:

    Grazie Geoff!

    Anch’io vivo fra due paesi, due molto varii paesi: Russia e America! Tutto è’ diverso: le culture, le lingue.
    Odio flip flops, odio i giornalisti, odio i politici. La gente dappertutto e’ simila -gentile, curiosa e accogliente.

  12. D Heitman:

    Dear Geoff and Serena

    Thank you for your post! I agree that the world is a better place when we’re able to experience other cultures, languages and people. Not all Americans and Brits have completely lost their way. The current climate makes me appreciate all the more the opportunities I have had (and continue to have) to learn new languages and experience other cultures. I have been a long time subscriber to your blog, but have never taken the time to let you know how much I appreciate it, and what you do. Siete molto gentile. Grazie.

  13. Bob:

    This is the second post I have read recently that has an overt political theme to it. While I strongly believe in free speech, I don’t read this blog to find someone’s personal views on the actions or behaviors of other countries. I read it to learn Italian. Please refrain from spouting political commentary. Like the saying goes, opinions are like. . ., and I don’t need another!

    • Geoff:

      @Bob Caro Bob,

      Why is it that every time someone begins a statement with a phrase such as “Whilst I strongly believe in free speech” you know that they’re about to tell you that they don’t want to hear what you’ve got to say?

      Perhaps I’d better just clarify the exact nature of this blog for you:

      It is, and always has been, about culture and language.
      It is not an Italian class.
      It is available to you free of charge.
      Reading it is not obligatory.

      Now, given that an important aspect of everyday Italian culture is that people very freely and vociferously express their opinions about politics and the actions and behaviours of other cultures, I’m a bit mystified as to why you’re actually studying the Italian language. Is it purely academic or are you hoping that at some point you’d like to actually participate in Italian culture?

      Serena and I have always welcomed and encouraged constructive feedback, and whilst I fully accept that the risk of publishing an article such as my recent Spaesato, is that someone will reply with un commento maleducato, we have very little tolerance for this behaviour.
      Hence, any future rude comments will be deleted. End of story!

      So perhaps whilst you’re here, Bob, you’d care to peruse the other comments on this article in which other readers have exercised their right to “free speech” in a positive and constructive manner. They may give you a pointer for the future.

      Saluti da Geoff

  14. Mike Rose:

    This spring our French friends took us to the American cemetery at Omaha Beach. I stood amongst a sea of crosses in silence. The second one I looked at, Private Garcia, Kentucky, 24th July 1944 (the day I was born). He was 19. They came from so many states in America. That night by their apartment in Luc sur mer we barbecued, drank wine and looked out in the evening light over “Sword beach” – the British sector.
    In 1969 as a university expedition we drove overland to Singapore in a Land Rover. West and East Europe, Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, crashed in Thailand, got to Singapore. We met some wonderfully friendly people everywhere.
    I worked in New Zealand as a farm advisor with pioneering farmers and then did exactly the same job with the landed gentry in the UK. I worked in Europe with a Swedish multinational marketing dairy equipment.
    UK is a wonderful country. I love my country. I love cricket, pubs, warm beer, BBC, classical concerts, gardening, DIY, rugby, historical buildings, history, tradition, the clever, tolerant people. I love Oxford where I was born.
    I met you last year in a café in Pontremoli and was taken aback by your criticism of the Britain. I went back to the organiser of our holiday in Lunigiana and said “I met this English hippy guy who lives in the hills and he is very critical of the UK.” “ Ah! He’s gone native”, was the reply.

  15. Andrei:

    Ciao Geoff
    A small piece of fine literature as usual.
    Always a most pleasant read.
    Keep doing your great job
    Saluti da Andrej

  16. Slavadu:

    What you haven’t *lost* however is common sense and your umore del paese 🙂
    Love your posts. Grazie mille.

  17. Gianna Shaw:

    Molto interessante a leggere grazie 😊

  18. carol morrison:

    And so, Geoff, you’ve given me a perfect descriptor for how I feel in my native land – England – sono spaesata – I share the views in your last 2 paragraphs, the only real difference being that I still live here and the two cultures I stride are here and in SE Asia. I ask you though to remember, as I keep reminding myself, 48% of us thought differently and its always best to know what you’re up against. Thanks for all your blogs – they keep me trying my Italian at the times ( many ) when I feel I’m going backwards!

    • Geoff:

      @carol morrison Thanks for your comment on my yearly rant Carol. Unfortunately, things seem to get progressively worse each time I visit.
      I just flew back into Genova, Italia a few hours ago … casa dolce casa!

      Saluti da Geoff 🙂

      P.S. I’d be interested to hear about your SE Asia connection.

  19. Ann:

    Here, here!! Wish others here could see ourselves from your perspective.
    From another world citizen.

  20. Lee:

    Monoculturalism? Anywhere in Europe? Sounds like a contradiction of epic proportions to me… try living across the pond… Since I am an American, and not even close to any coastline (Colorado), we are exposed only to the pseudo-french Canadian culture and the latin/hispanic culture of Mexico…and as a people, we are blind to the richness that adds to our isolationist lives. Hence, I study Italian. Completely out of my reach as far as a place to live, but beyond fascinating/intriguing.

    • Geoff:

      @Lee Do you know Suffolk in the UK Lee? If so, you’d understand exactly why I used the word monoculturalism to compare it with my life here in Italy.

      Remember, I’m not describing the whole of the UK. I taught for 20 years in multi-ethnic schools in inner city Nottingham: In my first school, 60% of the pupils were Muslim, mainly from Pakistan, and the last school I taught in was named as Britain’s most multi-ethnic school when I was there about 15 years ago.
      Hence, I do have quite a few points of reference upon which to base my observations!

      Grazie, comunque, per il tuo commento.

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

  21. Mike Rose:

    I would like to thank you both for your Italian blog over the last couple of years. At 73 years old I
    think my brain is a bit slow to absorb any more. As my Welsh speaking grandchildren said ( in
    English) “ Granpa you’re too old to learn a language”. Lovely! I shall miss the enlightened way you
    have presented the Italian language, particularly Serena’s charming stories. Time for me to
    “unsubscribe”, awful modern word.

  22. Rosalind:

    Conosco questo senso di spaesamento nel mio paese d’origine perché sono più di 50 anni che siamo qui in  Corsica. Mia madre diceva che non sarebbe più possibile vivere in Inghilterra perché non capiva più la lingua! Per me, non ci sono andata da più di 20 anni, fuori di 2 viaggi in Scozia (che non è la stessa cosa!) .

    And @MikeRose, don’t listen to your grandchildren! I’m your age and 4 years ago started learning Italian and Corsican. Not the best of plans to tackle 2 similar languages but results are appreciable.

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