The fear of the fake: What “authenticity” means to a foreigner in a strange land.

Another interesting post from Married to Italy on one of the challenges of being an expat: how to keep hold of your own cultural identity whilst embracing a new one.

A lovely post. Enjoy.

Married to Italy

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said,

Authenticity, it is almost needless to say, consists in having a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks that it involves, in accepting it in pride or humiliation, sometimes in horror and hate.

Let me repeat that last bit: “humiliation”, “horror or hate”. The three H’s, if you will. Three sentiments that every expat/immigrant/foreigner becomes quite familiar with over the years of trying to adjust to a new culture without losing the one left behind.

Authenticity is a loaded word with a lot of baggage in the life of an expat or immigrant.

  • Are my experiences here “authentically Italian” and am I representing them in an authentic way?
  • Am I being “authentic to myself” as I change over the years in this new culture?
  • What even IS something “authentically Italian”? An old man on a bike with a prosciutto…

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In which I am out of action…

Salutations! Happy 2015! Buona epifania! Felice anno nuovo! Buon natale! Happy Bonfire Night! Happy Halloween! Happy August Bank Holiday Weekend!

As you may have/probably not noticed, it has been quite some time since I last posted anything. I wish I had some hugely dramatic and exciting story to enthrall you with about how I was tracked down by my aging, estranged Aunt who, in her old age had reached out to me, her favourite niece who she had been watching all these years from afar and finally felt it pertinent to build a relationship with before she departed this world. Her favourite niece to whom she wanted to bequeath the entirety of her prodigious fortune, including her mansion and massive wine cellar. I wish I could tell you that I spent the last few months bonding with her and then subsequently living it up on all my new found wealth, enjoying haute cuisine, fine wine and superlative art. Art like the life-size Hugh Jackman replica that I commissioned to be made solely out of cheese and chocolate hobnobs.

I wish I could tell you this. I have, in reality, just been ill. For bloody ages. I won’t go into any mundane detail, because who needs a great big, bloggy whinge so soon into the New Year? No one. (Just to clarify, it was nothing serious and I am on the mend now) Needless to say, however, it has been a tiring couple of months and I haven’t been feeling too inspired to write anything other than, “Does anyone know the Italian for ‘please, no more blood tests’?” and “whinge”.

Oh and I also got engaged just before Christmas, so that was somewhat distracting.

Anyway, this mini post is just to inform my huge readership (hi mum) that I am not dead and that I shall be up and blogging again soon. Just as soon as I finish this last course of antibiotics, and stop staring at my ring.

My engagement ring. Grow up.

Dear Son…

A beautiful post from my good friend, Steve.

LeProsey

Dear Son...

You were all we ever we wanted
Before we even knew
Everything you’d bring
And everything you’d do.
All your little ways
Are just the way you’ll be
Some are from your mother
And some of them, from me.
I hope they’re never tainted
Or ruined by the world
Although this is just a dream
I’ll fight as if it weren’t.
Even your young eyes
Can see the pain around
Wishing I could look for you
And keep it out of view.
You’ll be turning four
Before this Christmas comes
And there’s nothing that I need
To love you even more.
I’ll miss the way you greet me
As we both get old
Jumps and hugs and raspberries
When I walk through the door.
Being “Superheroes”
To you is just a game
But in reality you are to us
In every single way.
At times you might not like
Things…

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In which I am complimentary…

italy loveIt’s been a while since I’ve managed to write anything for a number of reasons, the main one being that working in a school means that from around May to July your life suddenly goes up about 17 gears and most days you’re so tired that you can barely remember your own name. Factor in the 35 degree heat and your brain is more or less mush, good for nothing besides telling you that wine is the only solution. Oh also I went on holiday – hilarious, masterpiece on that to follow. I’ve been looking over my previous posts though and I’ve started to worry that my curmudgeonly, comedy of error-style review of life in Milan might be misleading. It might give people reason to think that I am at best, a miserable bastard or at worse, a borderline xenophobe. Neither of those are true, of course. I only have the one St George’s cross tattooed on my arse and only on occasion can I be found cursing the Italians and their lack of appreciation for Carling on tap. Seriously though, it’s high time I stopped all this tomfoolery and let you know just how great life can be in Milan. How lovely (most of) the people are and how there’s nothing you can’t do, the smog will inspire you…

I would now like to draw your attention to the definitive (kind of) list of five of the best things about living in Milan, according to me.

1. FEED ME. As you may have surmised from my previous post, I love to consume. Good food is what I live for. You know those people who don’t really take any joy in food and just eat to live? They’re weird, don’t trust them. I absolutely live to eat. I wake up ravenous and go to bed dreaming of tomorrow’s breakfast. You know when people get paid and treat themselves to a new pair of shoes or a new dress? I treat myself to an artisan loaf and a selection of cheeses. So imagine being that person and living here – the home of good food, the land of pizza, pasta, cheese, focaccia, risotto. The epicentre of all that is good and right in the world. In my first 4 weeks in Milan I must have gained at least a stone and a half…of JOY. I remember one night, quite early on, when my friend who’s a boy and I wanted to go out for dinner (sorry, Wigan-folk, I have to call it that here – calling it tea just confuses people) but we’d just blown our wage and what little savings we had on moving abroad. So calling upon trusty tripadvisor, we hunted out a cheap and cheerful place to go. We found a dive of a restaurant that did a margherita pizza for 3 euro 50. Seriously. Off we went, expectations firmly set low. The pizza, in fact, was exceptional. The 3 euro litre of wine was delicious. The service was…well you can’t have it all. Plus my Italian was still offensively bad at that point, so that was probably partly down to me.  Imagine my delight though – my pure, unadulterated glee on the discovery of this simple fact: I was now living in a place where even the shitty, cheap restaurants are FLIPPIN’ BRILLIANT. I was going to like it here. I was also going to get very fat.

2. Café Culture. You know how most people think of Italy and they envision picturesque, winding, cobbled streets with people sitting outside, lazily enjoying a drink in the sunshine? Well it’s not all quite as romantic as that. There are hardly any cobbled streets in Milan and it rains fairly frequently but there are A LOT of cafés. In a morning, the café or il bar is not a place to linger. You get in, you order your espresso, you down it at the bar, you go. Don’t even think about sitting down. The Milanese seem to take their coffee very seriously. Coffee isn’t a cappuccino or a mochachoccalatte or whatever it is that Starbucks are peddling, it’s an espresso. Simple as that. Speaking of Starbucks, I have yet to see one here. I get the feeling it might be a dirty word around these parts. Maybe that’s because, as the coffee connoisseurs of the world, the Italians take far too much pride in their product to let it be manhandled by such a huge corporate coffee giant. Then again, maybe it’s just because there’s no room. In Milan, you can’t move for cafés. Half of them look like utter shit-holes on first inspection too, but once you grow accustomed I find that there is just something so charming about the café culture here. People sitting outside of an afternoon, enjoying first a coffee and then a glass of wine before going back to work. People seem to be able to appreciate the art of doing nothing here, the simple joy of just taking time out of your day to simply sit, have a drink and an actual, face-to-face conversation with a friend. Don’t get me wrong, Milan is as fast-paced and hectic as any other city but there is a definite appreciation of slowing down and savouring a brief rest here. Who cares if you had an errand to do, you can do it tomorrow. Who cares if you’re going to be a bit late going back to work after your lunch hour? Or, for that matter, a bit pissed? Which brings me to point number three…

3. Daytime Drinking. It’s totally acceptable here, folks. In fact, its expected I’d say. I’ve only really realised since moving here that us Brits have strange standards surrounding day time drinking, namely the midday rule. Someone orders a beer at 11:30am: “You animal! You’ve got problems!” 12:01pm? “Whueeyyy DAY SESH DAY SESH!” There’s none of that here, probably because Italy is not a nation of alcoholics (supposedly), so one or two glasses of wine in the afternoon can actually mean one or two glasses, not one or two bottles, two Koppabergs and then shots for good measure. I once saw an old man go into a cafe in Venice at 10.30am and order a glass of red wine, like it was the most normal thing in the world. My initial thoughts were of mild amusement and a bit of “go on, you lad” but then I realised that nobody else seemed to think it was strange at all. In fact after that I started to notice this more and more – a prosecco at brunch, a glass of red during lunch hour, no big deal. The Italians don’t drink to get drunk, they drink because it looks cool. Kidding, they just have a healthier relationship with it and know, more than most how to savour the taste of wine, how to appreciate the artistry that goes into it. Wine is their craft and they are very bloody good at it. Either way, if it means I can drink before lunch it’s all gravy. 

4. Non si parla Italiano? No problem. Now I am not for one minute suggesting that it’s easy to live in a country where you don’t speak the language because it is, quite frankly, exhausting. It makes everything ten times harder than it needs to be and can be as frustrating as it is isolating. However, I will say this for the Italians – they are ever so nice about your inability to speak their language. There are quite a few places in Europe that I have visited where the people are perhaps not so patient when you speak their language poorly, not naming any names *cough* France *cough* but the Italians are, on the whole, a much more supportive bunch. I appreciate it must be very frustrating for people in other countries that hoards of British people show up every summer, expecting everyone to speak their language, then addressing non-English speakers loudly and slowly, as if they’re simple. I’ve seen it myself and it’s not pleasant. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when abroad I am always filled with a sense of embarrassment and guilt at my shoddy grasp on languages. Even my command of my own is questionable at times. It doesn’t help that everyone you meet here can usually speak around three languages, all to an impressive standard. Nor does it help when you ask “Parla Italiano?” to which a good majority of people reply “Only a little, I’m sorry” and then proceed to speak to you in word perfect English that HRH herself would be proud of. It would be easy to develop an inferiority complex but people here are mostly just so encouraging when you try to speak. They know you’re not Italian, they can tell your Italian is weak but they let you try. Perhaps the best example of this is comes from a friend of mine from work (who I hope won’t mind me using this story). She told me recently that after months of pronouncing the word for ‘years’ (anni) incorrectly, she had mistakenly been telling everyone she conversed with that she had 26 arseholes. It took 9 months before anyone corrected her. So you see, the Milanese = good eggs.

5. Getting out of Milan. It seems an oxymoron, I know, but undoubtedly one of the best things about living in Milan is the ease with which you can get the hell out of it. When I started my new job last September, my boss told me that if by Christmas I had only seen Milan, then I was doing something wrong. Milan is a fantastic base for exploring Northern Italy – you’ve got the Alps and the Lakes practically on your doorstep, and big cities like Verona, Florence and Turin are all only a couple of hours away on the train. I remember the first time I stumbled into Milan’s main train station (which looks like a bloody palace, by the way) and couldn’t help but feel bemused at how different life was going to be here. Overnight my train travel options had improved tenfold. Not that I have anything in particular against Southport or Preston, it’s just that I’d rather go to Rome, given the option. In our first week of being here, my friend who is a boy and I were taken on a day trip to Lake Como by two, now very good friends. That in itself made us both laugh – a week prior we were in Wigan and now we were on a day trip, to Lake Como! Ha ha ha how very bourgeois of us! That’s just it though, it’s not. It’s just the norm, it’s a pretty cheap day out actually. So when Milan gets too stifling, when you are starting to forget what fresh air feels like and you are sick of living in a pool of your own sweat then just remember, in less than an hour you could be in Bellagio, sat by the water drinking wine and keeping a desperate eye out for Clooney.

So there you have it, Milan is rather good. Now if they could just get themselves a Tesco…

An American speaking Italian is like a dancer having two left feet.

Lovely post from Married to Italy. Sums it up beautifully!

Married to Italy

One of the most difficult things to learn in a new country is not the language itself, but how to use the language in the right way.

I arrived in Italy 6 years ago, not knowing any Italian at all. I took French grammar rules and collided them with an unruly Italian accent. It went surprisingly well, even though I wasn’t taking any classes, and within a few months I was able to express my thoughts. It was during Year 2 that I first made a joke. No. Sorry. It was in Year 2 that I first made a joke that someone actually laughed at, which (for me) marked a new threshold of mastery of the language. During Year 3 I started to get more adventurous with grammatical structures, including those that are rarely used by Italians themselves in conversation (at least not by Reggiani). And in Year 4, I finally made some girl friends…

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In which I have a medical check-up…

medical tests

For those of you not fortunate enough to be amongst the people that I already told around 125,000 times; I recently ran a half-marathon. I’ll just give you all a moment to wallow in your awe…

…there we go. The run itself was, of course, a bit of a slog toward the end for a beginner such as I, and I did come away from it with one less toe nail. That being said, it was jolly good fun and a really gratifying experience. The run took place in Jesolo, just outside of Venice. Which is a lovely/weird little town that reminded me of Southport but with better weather and actual, nice restaurants.  The course was beautiful for the first 12 kilometers, taking you all along the coast just as the sun was setting. Properly gorgeous. The second was mostly just dirt tracks and roads and some clever dick thought it prudent that there be a hill at the 14th km mark. That was fun. Aside from that though, the run was just great fun and I met some very nice people over the course of the day. Then again, maybe the race itself just seemed mega fun in comparison to the ridiculous hoop-jumping I had to do to actually run the bugger.

One would think that in order to run a half-marathon, all you would need is a pair of running shoes and the actual will to do so. Not here. I decided a while ago that I was going to do it, to push myself and to give myself something to work towards. Admirable, I know. I thought “I’ll just google ‘half-marathons in Italy’ and bob’s your uncle, that’s me good to go.” Incorrect. I must have tried to sign up for at least four different races before I actually found the one in Iesolo. Turns out that in Italy, if you’re not a member of a professional athletics society, you can’t even jog to the postbox if you’re not insured because what if a fly accidentally gets in your eye and you’re blinded forever, or you get your hand stuck in the postbox and have to amputate it – did you even think about that?! For the love of God, get inside and lie down right now, you’re not insured to use any of your limbs! You get the message. It was hard, bloody work. Finally I found a race where, for a fee of 7 extra euro, the organisers very kindly set up a one day membership to an athletics society on your behalf, to enable you to participate. Then all you needed was a medical check-up. Fair enough, seems logical that the organisers wouldn’t want anyone dropping dead of a heart attack half way round the course and as luck would have it, I’d already had a check-up with a doctor when I signed up for the gym because again, you’d be wrong if you thought you could use a cross-trainer without some kind of insurance. Your head might drop off ten minutes in or something, and then where would we all be? So I scanned my gym medical certificate up on to the race website and continued happily with my training. In the final week before the race, when I was contentedly carb-loading and making what can only be described as the best playlist of all time, I received an email from the race organisers. That’s nice, I thought, they’re probably emailing to wish me luck and asking can I send them my playlist afterwards. Actually, they had emailed to let me know that my medical certificate wasn’t valid, TWO DAYS before the bloody race. Now I’m not usually quick to anger but I am quick to flap and considering how hard it had been to even be able to sign up for a run and how hard I’d been training, and especially all those carbs I had valiantly eaten in preparation for the big day, I was MAD. I also began to flap like a nutter. Unfortunately for a number of my Italian colleagues, my Italian is utter crap so I then spent the next day at work inflicting my flapping onto others. The school secretary, god love her, rang around a bajillion (artistic licence) different doctors offices to try to find one that had an appointment available in the next two days. At the same time I also had another colleague phoning my gym and asking if the gym doctor couldn’t just sneakily add on to my certificate that I was not likely to drop dead after running for a couple of hours. Sadly not. All was not lost though, as the school secretary had managed to get hold of a doctors office on the other side of Milan, that catered for “the international community in Milan” meaning all of the staff spoke English. Perfect. There were no actual appointments available but she was told that if I dropped in at 4:30 there would be an opening, so off I ran after work. Upon arrival I approached the reception desk and said, in my best Italian, I do not have an appointment but my name is Lorna, I am on the list. The woman looked at me for a second and then started speaking really quickly in Italian. I asked her, again in my best Italian, if she spoke English (as advertised) as I didn’t understand what she had said. She then made a gesture with her hand which can only be described as meaning “oh for fuck’s sake” and rolled her eyes. Ah, so not quite so international then. I kind of just stood there then, looking at her like an idiot for what felt like about 10 hours until a nice lady in the waiting room took pity on me and stepped in to translate. What followed was the most awkwardly hilarious exchange of language you’ve ever heard. The woman behind the desk proceeded to rant in Italian about how I can’t just show up expecting to be seen without an appointment and expecting everyone to speak English, as all English people do (to be fair, she has a point). Meanwhile the woman translating, who despite her obviously excellent grasp of the English language, had not quite mastered the art of paraphrasing set forth translating all of this word for word, as I began to increasingly wilt and wish for the ground to swallow me up.

Eventually, the angry receptionist yielded and told me to sit down and wait, in which time my kindly translator left the building. After about 20 minutes she called me up and handed me a form to fill out and sarcastically wished me good luck. Well the joke is on you, thought I, because I at least know enough Italian to fill out my name, date of birth and the like, so suck on that you unnecessarily angry, kind of racist weirdo. Nome: ha! Data di nascita: ha! Indirizzo: ha! Quando è stata il tuo ultimo ciclo mestruale: errrrmm…..  Shit. I read it again under my breath, trying to make it look like I knew what it said but was just thinking really hard about my answer. Another lady in the waiting room heard my mutterings and obviously either took pity on me or wanted to further add to my misery because she half-yelled from her seat, “WHEN WAS YOUR LAST MENSTRUAL CYCLE?” I gave her what I thought was a knowing, sisters in it together kind of look followed by a please can you come over here kind of head bob, the latter of which was obviously lost in translation because she stayed put and shouted back “IS IT NOW? JUST WRITE TODAY’S DATE.” Ah good old life.

After wallowing in my shame for another 15 minutes the doctor eventually came out to speak to me. Thank GOD, it was nearly over. The doctor couldn’t speak English either but was ever so nice to me when I explained that I only spoke a little Italian, so that was something. She handed me a pot which I understood to be for the provision of a urine sample but just in case there was any confusion she pointed at it, then to me and said “pee-pee”. Humiliation level-up. Afterwards, I was shown into the doctors office where I was, quite frankly, glad of the bloody privacy at least and we began the examination. It was your bog-standard medical check-up – height, weight, hearing, eyesight. The nice doctor was ever so impressed when I told her all the letters on the eye chart in Italian, I’m sure. She was fairly young and seemed very enthusiastic, asking me why I was living in Milan, telling me all about how she wanted to learn English because she loves the English language and she wants to move to London one day. Then she escorted me into an adjoining room and that’s where it all took a dark and sinister turn. By which I mean, it got more mortifying than public period announcements and pee-pee combined. Sat waiting in the next room was another young, equally enthusiastic doctor who was unequivocally male. I was asked to remove my top whilst the female doctor listened to my breathing and the male doctor typed the results of my examination into a computer. Legitimate. It was when I was asked to remove my bra and sit atop an exercise bike that it all started to feel a bit sketchy. To the end of my days I will never understand the following things: 1. Why did they wrap around my chest a transparent, plastic bandage? 2. Why was it necessary that it have holes all over it? 3. Why did one of my nipples insist on poking through one of the holes? 4. Why, when the wires that they stuck on to me to monitor my heart rate were only attached to my chest, back and rib area could I not have just kept my bloody bra on?!

It may have been the singularly most bizarre and soul-destroying experiences of my life so far, and that is saying a lot. I decided the best course of action was just to not make eye-contact, to just keep my head down, do my cycling and get out of there as quickly as humanly possible. Denied. The doctors decided, a few minutes in, that instead of politely averting their eyes and keeping to themselves whilst I sweated it out in my own, much less sexy, Carry-On version of that Eric Prydz video, that now was a great time to brush up on their English and proceeded to use me as a human dictionary for the next 15 minutes. Upon completion of the world’s most offbeat medical examination and with my humiliation palpable, I left the doctors office confused, emotionally scarred and very sweaty, taking with me the small consolation that I could at least go forth in the world knowing that thanks to me, two Italian doctors now think that the English word for “teacher” is “please, God, make it stop”.

Friday Photo: A Very Happy Hour

Upon first arriving in Milan, I was nothing short of bewildered. It was uncomfortably hot, I couldn’t speak a word of Italian and my new flat smelled a little of wet dog. All in all, it was scary and I’d be lying if I said that in those initial few days I didn’t question if it had been the right move. After a good cry and a thorough clean of the flat, things started to look a little better but it wasn’t until my new employers arranged a night out that things really improved. The fact that everyone was lovely and extremely welcoming was great, sure, but what really cemented my love of this beautiful, smoggy city in those early days was my first experience of the Milanese happy hour. Previously, in my mind, the term ‘happy hour’ conjured up images of sandwich boards outside Whetherspoons, offering 2 pitchers of watered down, sugary shite for the price of one, with every purchase of three-day old, microwaveable nachos (not snobbery, just humour). However, out here it means something different, something entirely different in the best way imaginable. Have there ever been any two words that, together, incite more unadulterated joy than the following: free food. Yes, people, balls to your 2-4-1 cocktails and your half price pints. I am talking about all you can eat, motherchuffing BUFFET. I give you the simple yet beautiful art of the Milanese aperitivo.

Eat me!

Eat me!

As I understand it, the idea of the happy hour here is that you drag your chic self to a bar after work, you drink one cocktail, have a few pre-dinner nibbles with your equally chic friends/colleagues, smoke approximately 150 cigarettes and then go home and eat your dinner later in the evening. You know, at around 10.30pm or something. However, here’s the deal from my Wiganese point of view: you pay anywhere in the region of 5 – 10 euro for a drink, traditionally a cocktail – a spritz or a negroni. (As a general rule in these situations: the more bright orange your drink, the more Italian you will look)  This then gives you access to your “pre-dinner snacks” which (in most bars) appears to be more along the lines of a buffet. Mainly because it is. My first experience of this was like accidentally stumbling into a carb-filled Utopia. What? I can eat as much as I like from that buffet and get a cocktail for 8 euro which, in real money (because I still do that) is little more than a fiver? I can actually go up as many times as I like and eat all that fresh pasta/pizza/bruschetta/olives/cold meats/focaccia? Cue Belinda Carlisle: OOOOOOH BABY DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT’S WORTH etc.

Pretty much every bar in Milan does this, so I have made it my personal mission to go out and sample as many as humanly possible. Admittedly, not all of them offer the buffet – they will just bring a few nibbles to your table, like a bunch of jokers. A fun suggestion though: if you ever do go out and experience a good, buffet-style aperitivo then you might want to play my game of spot the Brit. Which basically just consists of seeing how many other people in the bar are in wide-eyed awe, filling their bloody boots in the same, aggressive manner as yourself. Then sending a sage nod in their direction in acknowledgement of a mutual respect of the most important of all rules: get your flippin’ money’s worth.

In all seriousness though, this is actually one of my many favourite things about Milan. There are a wealth of articles available online offering lists of the best aperitivo places in the city but most suggest the very trendy (and expensive) places, which is great if that’s your thing. My suggestion would be to opt for the more studenty, “artsy” areas – the Naviglio canal offers plenty of choice, as an example. I won’t bore you with a list of suggestions but should you ever visit Milan and would like some recommendations from a food/bargain loving Northerner, then look no further. For now, I will just recommend that you go out and get amongst it! Most places have this on offer between 5 and 9pm (give or take) so go forth and eat, my friends and don’t come back until you’ve had to loosen your belt at least once. Do me proud.

Friday Photo

It may surprise you to know that, on occasion, I am more than just a sarcastic, curmudgeonly face. Despite my rants I am absolutely loving living here, so the idea of the Friday Photo is to offer a little (non-satirical) insight into life in Milan, showcasing some of the best things it has to offer. Whether you’re considering visiting for a holiday, taking the plunge and moving here or just like looking at pictures of nice stuff, I hope these weekly snaps provide a positive and interesting vignette of Milanese life. At most, I’d like to think they can offer useful travel tips or recommendations but at the very least, I live in hope that they will make you PROPER JEL.

Kidding… or am I? (Curse you, satire, creeping into everything that I do)

So without further failed attempts at being funny, I present the very first Friday Photo:

Duomo di Milano

An obvious choice for the first photo but Milan’s cathedral completely lives up to expectation. Maybe one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen, the Duomo is well worth visiting at any time of year. In the Summer months when set against blue skies it’s bloody gorgeous. I would recommend paying to take the lift or brave the stairs to the rooftop, as the views over Piazza Del Duomo and the rest of Milan are incredible on a clear day. It’s also worth a visit during Fashion Week if you fancy a laugh at the posers who just do laps of the Piazza, hoping to get talent-spotted. Then at Christmas when the huge tree is on display and the (admittedly, not quite as good as Manchester’s) Christmas market stalls are out – it’s fairly magical.

Inside, it’s just properly stunning. I’m always pretty impressed by the architectural design and ornamentation of churches anyway, but the Duomo is exceptionally inspiring and definitely something you should see when in Milan. Furthermore, it’s everyone’s favourite kind of activity – a free one. Taking the lift or stairs to the rooftop will cost you but entrance into the Duomo itself is free of charge. Perfetto!

Oh and there’s also some decomposed cardinals on display inside, if you’re into that sort of thing.

In which I blend in…

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I have always had an inkling that I am something of a closet country bumpkin. Three years living in Manchester brought me to this supposition. I loved being so close to the city centre for a night out, I loved the sheer level of choice of cultural activities available on any given day, I loved the variety of shops and restaurants. That’s a given. I did, however, begin to experience an increasingly intense hankering for trees and grass. Crowds began to stress me out and I yearned to breathe air that was not 40% oxygen and 60% Magic Bus fumes. It was after a year or two of living back in Wigan, where countryside was on my doorstep and the only crowds were outside Greenhalgh’s, that I began to grow bored and miss the razzmatazz of the city. At this point I came to another realisation; I am a woman of contradictions, my needs are complex and I am plagued by my own, perpetual dichotomy. Which, in layman’s terms, can be loosely translated thusly – I am a contrary little shit.

When I first arrived in Milan in August I was struck by how calm and quiet the centre was, in comparison to, say, London. I could get a seat on the underground and everything. Not quite the verve and buzz I was looking for, but still nice. Then September happened. The Milanese returned en masse from their summer holidays by the coast, and they returned at full fucking pelt. Now, as mentioned in my first post, Italians in general are rather impassioned and not known for their patience. That’s not to say they are not nice people because they are, in fact, bloody lovely. Warm, welcoming, good eggs. I would thoroughly recommend living here. It’s just that to the untrained ear every conversational exchange sounds like a massive and very angry argument, even though they are merely having a friendly chat. They’re just operating at about 15 decibels higher than most and using their hands, A LOT. In restaurants and shops they don’t waste time on the niceties – they just get the job done. None of this “please could I have…”, “if it’s not too much trouble…”, “if you get chance…” nonsense that we Brits like to waste our time on. God knows why we feel it necessary to say thank you at least 250 times during any retail transaction but, like queueing, it’s just part of who we are. It’s not even that the Italians are rude, it’s just that forced politeness is not part of their culture. They don’t seem to believe in wasting time on the unnecessary. Which is why, during my first couple of months here, I struggled with the crowds in a big way. They’re not like crowds that I’m used to, I didn’t know how to handle them. If my pale skin and freckled face didn’t make me stand out as a Brit in a crowd of Italians, then my pathetic apologising to people as they practically frog-marched me out of their path certainly did. Why do we do that? I’ve always wondered. Why do we apologise to people who have walked into us, stepped on our toe or got in our way? Well no one does that here. To a certain degree, that is just part of the hustle and bustle of city life, but if you take away the deeply ingrained need to be polite to absolutely everyone then what are you left with? Hell on earth, that’s what. It’s never fun to feel like the alien, to feel completely unaccustomed to the ways of a new country and to stick out like a quivering, overly polite sore thumb.

My advice is to toughen the hell up, and fast. Don’t take it personally that people have no qualms in knocking you into oncoming traffic if it means you are removed from their path. You have to forget everything you’ve ever learned and assimilate. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that the change happened in me but to say I have become an aggressive pedestrian would be an understatement. Add to the mix the fact that if you ham up your Lancashire accent enough, you can pretty much mumble any obscenity at people under your breath and come away punch free and you are bloody laughing. (N.B – Do NOT forget to revert back to form when returning home. People will understand your utterances and will likely take it out on your face, or at the very least tut really loudly at you which, as we all know, is more or less the same as being nutted). I began to feel a great sense of satisfaction in my new, cut-throat approach to crowd control. Pregnant women, old men, infants – no one was safe from my new barging-in skills. Oh what’s that? You’re 95, you need a zimmer to help you walk and you’d really appreciate this seat on the metro, would you? TOUGH LUCK, Old Timer. You can effing well stand. I’m no tourist, I know how it works here. Marvel at my new, Italian ways!

It was on an unremarkable Thursday evening as I was travelling home from work that it happened. My true initiation into Italian culture, my proudest moment since moving here, the moment that was to establish my status as a true Milanese. No longer would people automatically recognise me as a Brit out of water for I, Lorna of Wigan, got my very first ‘prego’. Now to those of you who don’t know; ‘prego’ is Italian for ‘you are welcome’. However, when used sarcastically it is also Italian for ‘thanks a lot, you massive dickhead’. I was walking past the school on my street and got caught up behind a trio of slow walkers. You know the type. I tried a few times to get around them, but their sluggish chorus line was impenetrable. It’s ok, thought I, for I know how a true Italian would handle this. So with an audible sigh of disapproval and a cry of, “Permesso!” I barged my way through the crowd defiantly. One of the women called me an ‘idiota’ which I reckon is Italian for ‘cool dude’ and the other yelled, “Ahhh, PREGO!” in response to which I turned around, chest puffed out, hand gestures at the ready and cried, like a true Italian, “Thank you!”.

Damn you, Britain.

In which I learn a humbling and valuable lesson…

It is a well known fact that as Brits, we enjoy a drink. I won’t bore you with fear-mongering statistics, we can all read the Daily Mail should we so wish, but it is an undeniable part of British culture and it absolutely contributes to the bad reputation that we have abroad. It’s not big and it’s not clever, obviously, but surely all of us are guilty of the odd over indulgence from time to time? Even some of the tee-total people I know have been known to get absolutely shit-faced upon occasion. That’s the very reason that some of them don’t do it anymore, they can’t not act like complete nobs when drunk. Apart from my little sister who, having dappled on the odd occasion,  just goes out and doesn’t drink through choice. Weirdo. *

It’s not exactly something to be proud of, all this binge business. God knows I’ve walked down King Street in Wigan on a Saturday evening enough times to recognise that it’s actually really unbecoming and completely ridiculous. Sure, we all go a bit overboard when we turn 18 and move away to uni for a few years, but I’d be lying if I said that as I got older I just didn’t understand why people couldn’t or wouldn’t recognise the point in the evening at which they should switch to soft drinks. Is there any real need to be throwing up on a dance floor or squatting to take a piss in the middle of a busy street, in plain sight of other actual, human people? After my indulgent university years were at an end and I took on a job as Support Worker, where I literally spent every hour I had at work, drinking to excess became less and less appealing. I was too tired for big nights out and I certainly couldn’t cope with going to work with a hangover. I became more of a “couple of glasses of wine with a meal” kind of a gal. Maybe the odd fruity cider on a rare, sunny day. I might even push the boat out on someone’s birthday night out and mix drinks. I know what you’re thinking, what a massive bloody grown-up who would totally be more at home in the cool, laid back drinking environment of the Mediterranean. WRONG.

If you’ve been pre-drinking at one of your British friend’s houses (a drinking habit I am so on board with as it suits my old lady/Scrooge ways perfectly, in that it’s much, much bloody cheaper) and you’ve just opened another bottle of prosecco when you realise it’s time to leave, what else can you do besides decant it into plastic cups and take it with you? We are, after all, a nation of booze-lovers so to waste it would simply be criminal. A word to the wise: if you live in Italy and you can’t speak great Italian and you have quite a loud voice and a habit of finding everything funny: DO NOT DO THIS. There might be a woman on the train who is unusually averse to the smell of alcohol, who will pull really over-dramatic and remonstrative faces at you and your friends. She might also have exceptionally good hearing and speak really great English so that when you laughingly whisper to your friend “I don’t think she is very pleased with us” she might hear you and proceed to have a mega go at you, in annoyingly fluent English. She might then tell you that not even the teenagers here behave like that (lies) and that should you desire to behave in such a manner it might be better to go back to England. This, of course, is totally hypothetical. I’m just trying to make you aware of the theoretical dangers out there, you guys.

Now, I have never been a patriotic Brit. Who has? We’re a very self-conscious nation as a whole, embarrassed of ourselves in pretty much every way but BY JINGO when, I mean, if someone were to tell me off for drinking on the metro and tell me I didn’t belong in any other country but England I would…be really embarrassed and not drink for a while and feel really chastised and bad for not respecting someone else’s culture. (N.B – the other hypothetical people on the hypothetical train, when hypothetically apologised to were not, hypothetically, bothered in the slightest by the drinking of the prosecco) That’s a given, if you’re not an unfeeling moron. After that though, something else sets in. Could it be, is it, patriotism? No, probably not. More likely it’s a feeling that even if you are a Brit who doesn’t drink an exceptional amount, you will always look like the booze hound when in a country of people who savour one drink for around an hour, instead of ordering two – one to neck and one to actually taste. Who let their children drink wine with a meal from a relatively young age,so that they don’t all go mental upon turning 18. Who will order a glass of prosecco at 11.30am and think nothing of it, nobody will bat an eyelid and what’s more –  it looks cool because, let’s face it, it’s a glass of wine, not a tinny and also they’re Italian. It is cool.

So, the moral of this tale is this: yes, we should respect other people’s drinking cultures when abroad. We’re a progressive, intelligent nation. We have no excuse for acting like complete ignorant divvies when visiting other countries, but my advice is this – don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad for liking a tipple. It’s bloody hard work doing all that queueing and having proper, functional systems for things. It’s exhausting being so polite all the bastard time too, so if you want to get a bit liberal with your booze intake on a weekend then you bloody well do it. Raise your pint/wine/vodka glasses high and drink them with pride (once lowered again, drinking them from a raised position would be messy). It’s what Saints George, Andrew, Patrick and whatever the Welsh guy is called would want. Probably.

DRINK ON! YOU BEAUTIFUL, RAUCOUS BASTARDS! I salute you with my glass of red that I ordered two hours ago.

 

 

*Love you, Piggy. You skinny, gorgeous, glowing example of why we should all switch to tap water.