Every time I take a trip back to the UK my sister or mum are always the first to point out some of the ‘Italian’ things I’ve pick up since living in Verona. One is how much I use my hands when I talk. Now, I’m sure this is not just down to the over-exposure of Italian gestures, but also due to teaching English as a foreign language. As much as I try to stop myself, I can’t seem to have a conversation with anyone in English these days without pointing ahead of me as I ask what they’re doing next week or doing a ‘come here’ motion over my right shoulder as I ask when the last time they went to the cinema was. A staff dinner can seem like a ridiculous game of charades to the casual onlooker.
Apart from this slightly ‘Italian’ quirk, there are a few others. Greeting everyone I meet with a quick peck on each cheek, going to a restaurant for a meal at 9pm or later is normal, always expecting my drink to be accompanied by a snack, and understanding that there are rules about which pasta goes with which sauce.
As well as these small ‘Italianisations’ I am also very aware of how ‘British’ I am in others, or at the very least ‘not Italian’. For example, as soon as there is any sign of sun or warmth over 15 degrees, the boots are off and the ballerinas are on. On a bright sunny day in early March I’ll be more than happy to parade around the centre of Verona in a light jacket while the Italians are sweating in their ‘piumini’ (duvet coats) because technically it’s ‘still Winter’.
I asked my housemate today if there is anything VERY British that I do. Expecting a tidal wave of Britishisms, she said, “You wash your face with a flannel.” Hmm.
But there is one thing that never fails to make me feel less Italian. Saying ‘Good bye’. I don’t know if it is a British thing or just something I do, but when it is time for me to leave a meal, a party, a friend’s house, etc – I get up, say ‘bye’ and leave. Now, to me this seemed like the normal thing to do, when you have to go – you go (no jokes please). But I’ve become aware that I’ve been committing a bit of a faux pas.
There was one time I was at my friend’s house with some other girls who I’d only recently met. We had been chatting for a while and were getting on really well when I looked at my watch, realised I needed to go – as I was meeting some other people that night, stood up, gathered my things, said ‘bye’ to everyone and left. My new friends rather perplexed turned to my friend Kailey (an American) and asked if I was angry with them because I left in such a hurry. She said no, it was just what I did – “She’s English” she said, “It’s what they do”.
You see, the Italian way is like this. You meet up with your friends at said place and greet everyone with a kiss. When everyone has kissed/been kissed/greeted by everyone else you can begin your evening. You spend ‘X’ amount of time together, having a wonderful time, and then when the general consensus of the group is to leave, you all stand up, pay, leave the restaurant/bar. THEN you spend 10/15/20+ standing OUTSIDE the restaurant/bar saying ‘bye’. This is what I don’t get. How does it take this long to say ‘bye’. Usually, what happens is that someone in the group will remember something they needed to tell everyone which leads to more conversation and chatting. Ok, I love hanging out with my friends – but WHY don’t we just move to another bar or something and chat more over a drink (maybe this is the Britishness sneaking in). I don’t get the whole (especially in Winter) ‘let’s stand outside in a circle, in the freezing cold and chat EVEN more about stuff we could have talked about INSIDE. IN THE WARM’.
In these situations I (very politely) give me nicest smile, wave to everyone and leave. It’s become a bit of a running joke with some of my friends. And while they may laugh at this – some of them have been known to give me a nudge and whisper ‘fai come gli inglesi’ just to get them out of the spiral of Italian ‘good-byes’ in order to get home.
There are some things about the Italian culture that I’m sure I will adapt to and even adopt – but these long good-byes… it isn’t going to be one of them. Sorry guys.