Some of you may know that I recently finished my University studies in Scotland, meaning that I had nothing left to do in the country. After four years away from home, I then decided to make my way back to Italy and try to integrate myself back in the Italian routines, whilst figuring out what my next step is going to be. As I wrote a blog post about British culture shocks not too long ago, I thought it would be fun to list out the things that – four years down the line – actually made less sense in my own country than they did when I was growing up.
You knew this was coming. I am pretty sure every Italian expat – especially after moving to a painfully polite country as the UK – has been extremely vocal about this issue, arrogantly criticising the barbaric habit as if suddenly thrown into a cage of wild animals (‘why do you guys do that?’ ‘This is just unacceptable’ ‘Ahem – why are these people not queueing??’ – as if ANYONE ever queued in the history of Italian public transport). So I am totally guilty of this. But, to my defence, it is a REALLY UNFAIR SYSTEM. And if you are an Italian travelling to the UK, beware of the queue or people will stone you.
You have been warned.
Who said money makes you happy? I can for sure testify that, when a £3 ‘coffee’ in the UK used to make me hold my nose as I drank so I wouldn’t feel the taste, this is simply a flat out lie.
Although the introduction stated that I would list things that made ‘less sense’ after repatriating, here I am cheating as I think this makes A LOT more sense in a way. What is the actual cost of making a coffee? I always found the UK (and other European countries for that matter) to be extremely absurd with their coffee prices, especially considering the downright poor quality of their service. Because of this though, I also do find it a bit strange that a country which actually makes GOOD coffee would be the one with the cheaper prices. It really is true that not all heroes wear capes.
This might just be something to do with my own city, who knows. Point is, it happens and I absolutely hate it. People wobble, change sides, or simply keep walking without the smallest attempt to move out of your way. And this is made worse by the fact that I always accused French people of being like that – until I came back and realised my own nation behaved the same way. The horror.
To face this issue, I have started doing the exact same and not even trying to move out of people’s way. So you’re coming my way with no intention of moving slight to the left? Well me neither pal. So we’re walking in opposite directions and we both have an umbrella? Tough luck. Gone are the days where I played the British tourist and moved out of people’s way after apologising profusely. You wanna walk into me? I DARE YOU TO.
In all honesty, I admit I have been starting to consider this might have just been everyone’s response to the problem, creating the most classic vicious circle ever. But what can we do?
Nothing works. When I was in the UK and I needed something, the biggest worry was that I might have to queue to get it. I never considered the idea that the staff could be unhelpful or that they would refuse my request or that they would start an endless circle of referrals where I keep hopping from office to office until I cease trying simply out of exhaustion. If you’re ready for that though, welcome to Italy my friend. The land where time stands still.
To illustrate my point, I’m going to tell you the story of my University career in Italy. But you studied in Scotland, you might say. What you don’t know though, is that before that I was an official Architecture student at the University of Genova. So what happened, you ask. Essentially, it so happens that once you enrol into Uni, the University office is supposed to give you a badge with your name, your pretty face and your matriculation number on it. As I paid the full fee when I passed my entry test, I naturally had to have this thing at all costs (pun intended). It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to attend the course – I paid hundreds of bucks to get in and I wanted some sort of proof that I had made it, even if it didn’t actually serve any purpose.
However, the University people had a different thing in mind. After sending me from office to office for MONTHS (basically, each time I went back to Italy I tried), I finally got to my fifth appointment to be told that ‘it was too late to retrieve my University badge’ and ‘I should have come earlier’. Are you kidding me.
Italy and the UK present a fundamental difference: timeframes. Whereas in the UK shops open at 9am and usually close around 5pm, Italy is a totally different (and happier) story. Perhaps conscious of the fact that no working people would otherwise ever be able to shop during the week, Italian shops close much closer than British ones, usually staying open until varying hours which go from 6pm to 9pm. Similarly, Italy has ‘bars’ – kinda like British cafe’s but definitely more rustic and less curated – which have much longer opening hours, offering a warm breakfast from 5/6am, and which stay open until later into the night, serving a good old coffee when you most need it.
Altogether, these practices make days feel much longer, as everything starts earlier and shuts later. Similarly, going out is definitely a more relaxed activity and, at least in my hometown, the earlier people hang out is 10pm – although the wait can protract until 11pm or even midnight before people actually venture out of their homes. The result is a night out where you actually spend the NIGHT out, instead of starting ‘pre-drinks’ at about 8pm, being smashed by 10pm and crawling home around 2/3am.
Personally, I prefer this lifestyle because I find that I achieve so much more in Italy. I could do 10 things in the morning and still have the rest of the day to dedicate to other activities, go for a coffee with a friend (in a place that doesn’t shut at 5pm) or go shopping without having to rush.
Italian hospitality is a re-known stereotype. And do not worry – I am not here to heartlessly step over that myth. However, I do want to specify the parameters within which such hospitality can be received and where, on the other hand, the line is drawn.
Because the truth is, Italians don’t like to make new friends. Sure, we love to introduce people to our culture, welcome our friends’ friends into our homes and exchange stories with perfect strangers.. just as long as we remain exactly that. Which is why whenever you go abroad, you will find most Italians sticking with other Italians, commenting food and comparing it to our own, looking at places as tourists rather than explorers in most cases. Back home, this is made worse by the fact that whereas in the UK you could literally talk to a wall and it would talk back, Italians like to stick to their own groups and, especially if you’re an outsider, you are going to find it extremely difficult to get to know the locals on a deeper level (although this might be true in my city more than others).
Italians are close-minded, which I explained in this previous blog post about acceptance and love. Despite our system being downright fucked, Italians take immense pride in their culture and, to most of them, nothing will ever be better than their home country. ‘If things just worked a bit better, we’d be the best’ is their favourite motto. Followed by ‘we’ve got all the cards to play it well’ and the occasional nationalistic, anti-European, anti-globalism comment putting the blame on anything outside of Italy for our disastrous economic situation. .. All right then.
So these are the main culture shocks I had when I got back, although the list could go on forever pointing out all the small details that make Italy such a different place compared to the UK. To validate my points, I do want to say that I absolutely love Italy and that… if just things worked a bit better. 😉 The Italian culture, food, artistic scene are absolutely incredible and there isn’t a day where I regret having been born and growing up in this beautiful patch of land. But this does not in any way mean that Italy is perfect and there is much to be worked on, just like in any other place. And vice versa, the list is in no way universal and I can gladly testify that not everybody is like that – especially so people who have been abroad.
After living in both UK and Italy, I can safely say no place is perfect, and we all are bound to simply find somewhere where we feel more at home than others and settle there. That shouldn’t stop us from venturing out there, exploring and discovering new places, being open-minded and sometimes having a little fun comparing different realities. Because the glass can either be half full or half empty, but as my British comrades would say, at the end of the day… it’s the drunk ones that have the more fun.
With that said, I hope you are having a lovely week and I will see you at the next post!
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After spending 7 years in Germany I decided to move back to Italy to work there and experience, first hand, if everything people said was true. I have to sadly admit that on ‘system’ and ‘individualism’ I share the same experience.
I also read your other article on the story with the Nigerian guy on the train. Needless to say that I share all your concerns in that regard too… There might be love and hospitality on the surface but I have the feeling that the resentment layer is growing and becoming dominant. And Italians are not capable of admitting their responsibility for it.
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Hi Matteo! Apologies for the late reply. Glad (and somehow sad at the same time) to know I am not alone here. Italians are very much immersed in their own nationalistic ideology, so much that it becomes to difficult to extract yourself from a whole cultural upbringing. I think Italy has often been portrayed even in history books as a warrior who often becomes victim of the circumstances. I feel like this is the overall vibe going on here! Many people complain and see an enemy in everybody, when in fact I would argue collaboration and compassion may help us even more. Hopefully the future will see some change in mentality.