Sunday, October 22, 2006


Upon landing in Britain I realised I had over an hour to spare before catching the Cardiff coach so, as it was lunch time, decided to go and have something British and stodgy in the airport pub. This is one of those establishments that only the British could dream up, in which you have to find a table, note its number, then go and order your food at the bar. This is rather a difficult process if you are on your own as while you are ordering, someone else could come along and sit at the table, and of course you can't leave any items at the table as they would either get stolen or taken away by security! So I was cheered to see a notice, prominently displayed on the bar, saying, "TRAVELLING ALONE? TAKE ONE OF THESE RESERVED SIGNS, PUT IT ON YOUR CHOSEN TABLE, THEN COME AND ORDER YOUR FOOD AT THE BAR". But where on earth were these signs? "Oh, we ain't got any", said the barman unhelpfully. "Why have you displayed that notice, then?" I asked. "Oh, well, luv, we only ever 'ad about three signs anyway. It'll be all right if you've got somebody to mind your case while you order." [Not a single "Sorry", you will note, during this conversation.] "But I haven't - that's the point", I replied, at which he just shrugged. "Yeh, right... Welcome to Britain", thought I. No Italian barista would ever be so off-hand with a customer or, if they were, they wouldn't be a barista for long!
On the Cardiff coach I noticed, anew, how selfish we British are in our travel habits, never moving our bags and coats from the empty seat next to us unless we absolutely have to. Indeed, I see from the National Express website that you can now reserve the seat next to you as well on some routes, even if you are travelling alone! What madness is this? Are they going to run twice as many coaches to make up for these "taken" seats?
Then I cried again as we came to the bridge and crossed the murky old Severn into Wales. Cardiff seemed surprisingly unchanged as the coach drove through and later in the week, walking around it and doing things I had always done there, I found myself having a "reality check" every now and then: "I'm here and I'm doing this but I am not part of it any more." Weird.
The one thing that would strike anyone coming to Britain from France or Italy [and, I would guess, also Spain and the USA] is how expensive it can be to eat well there. I did enjoy some glorious breakfasts but on the Saturday ordered a Caesar salad at lunch time in a café which is usually OK: on this occasion the lettuce was limp, the croutons were soggy and the parmesan shavings looked yellow and stale to me. [I appreciate that this last was probably because I have been spoiled by the quality of the stuff here.] In Cheltenham my friend laughed at me as at 1pm I was straight out of the Festival and into the Italian restaurant opposite - one place where you can eat well, though, as I've said, you have to be prepared to pay a lot for it. On the Saturday night I did enjoy a fantastic Chinese meal with friends in Cardiff Bay for a reasonable price.
As I looked around that packed restaurant, it occurred to me that our group comprised the only people over forty in it and that was a surprise. When I told my friends that here young and not so young single people accompany their parents out to dine on a Saturday night, they stared at me in disbelief. An Istat poll I read about before I left Italy [link not working but it's the Italian National Statistics Office] reports that 47% of young Italian adults live with their parents until they are 34 [partly, but not wholly, for economic reasons] and even when they do leave home they live as near as possible to them. In Britain your offspring can't wait to get away from you! The other difference in the restaurant was that there were no children at all in it. [Italians just take the kids along with them.]
Shopping for clothes in Britain was a pleasure and a relief, mostly because they are displayed so well inside the shops and you are left free to browse. And I know M of myhearthurts will appreciate this: oh, the joy of just picking up underwear from the shelves! However, I couldn't help noticing that, even in quite prestigious stores, some sales assistants could hardly drag themselves away from their conversations with colleagues to serve you, or showed their reluctance at doing so. And the way they can't be bothered to say "goodbye" got to me! In Italy you get a string of salutations - "thank you, goodbye, have a good day, enjoy your lunch, always at your service" - all in the same breath and it does make you feel that your custom is appreciated. Food shopping, on the other hand, was a disappointment [except for again finding the large range of foreign spices available in Britain], as the fruit and vegetables looked tired and past their best; but again, in that respect I've been spoiled in Sicily! It's funny, though, how when you are away you have memories of certain shops in your own country, then when you go back and visit them you realise that they were nothing special anyway.
For the bibliophiles among you, my enormous book collection is now the richer by about twenty more tomes, some of which I posted to myself here to save on the weight of the case coming back. I must admit, at Bath Post Office, I got served then nearly stood in the line all over again , just for the pleasure of being in a post office queue which moves!
I noticed, too, British reticence: no one is really interested in where you have come from and if they are not friends, they rarely ask you a follow-up question. This is so unlike the Italians, who want to know all about you and will even ask you how much you earn and how much rent you pay [taboo subjects in Britain]. Maybe I've opened up and become a bit more Italian in this respect.
When you read about what is going on in Britain from over here, you get the impression that it is now a very polarised society. This is not the fault of the Italian media; it is, rather, that you read all the negative things because these are what get reported everywhere but what you read is not balanced by what you see and do when you live in Britain. So I was pleased and relieved, in Cardiff, to see people of all cultures going peaceably about their everyday business together just as they always had. I did receive the impression, talking to some of my compatriots, though, that British tolerance is at breaking point. This is sad because I do think the British are the most tolerant people in the world of difference, whilst Italians are more tolerant than we are of noise, children and inefficiency. Don't lose that precious tolerance, Britain; you will be the poorer for it if you do. Having said that, a sensible and open debate on some issues has to be had and I think this is beginning in Britain.
So now I am back on my "other island" and as the plane came in to land upon Italian soil, I thought, "I'm in trouble if I don't cry now as well". And of course I did. I was "home" in the "land of lands", a land I had longed for and dreamed of living in for so long. And the next day, as I walked down the street and was greeted and welcomed back by neighbours and shopkeepers alike, and as I smelled again the aromas of Italy - vanilla on freshly baked dolci, tomatoes on bruschette, cotolette being cooked in apartments - I was glad to be here. Little streets, little houses, carpets, fast-filling bathtubs and breakfasts - these are things I will miss - but I have my compensations. And I miss my British friends, of course, but I have been incredibly lucky in having wonderful friends in Sicily, too.
"And for those of you who stayed to the end", as my online friend Ballpoint Wren would say, and for those of you who are also dog-lovers, I am glad to report that Simi is fine: on Thursday night she was brought back, rushed in, rolled in turn upon my bed, her bed, the settee and her floor cushion, decided, "That's all right, then" and snuggled up to me to watch TV. And so we are home, dear readers.


Anonymous said...

It's true what you say about selfish travellers, I see it all the time on the train to London, commuters feel they have a right to place their bags and coats on a free seat next to them.
Tell me, out of interest, would an Italian man give up a seat to a woman passenger?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Ellee.
Probably not automatically, but here in Sicily, certainly a man would give up his seat to a woman if she seemed to be laden with bags, tired or elderly - and young people often give up their seats to older people.

Maria said...

First let me apologise for not being able to read this right away! Was I ever humbled to see my name there in your entry!

If I ever was in LOVE with the idea of living in Sicily before this has now solidified that feeling! It is going to have to be a must. I'll just have to shop for an immense amount of knickers *(lol)* before I move!

WOW! As italians we are warm and friendly. It is what I lvoe about us. Here in New York the city is cold and barren compared to your Sicily. It truly lacks.

Not only that but I know we *(here in NYC) we can't compare in the vistass either. As for the post office, let me just say this. I live in the USA as you well know. I have lived in my current place for the last 4 years. It's a three family house. The postman, well if I ever see him I might just have to kill him. *(well at least shake him violently) You see he delivers the mail to whichever apartment he feels like walking to that day. Mind you I do not live on an estate. The house isn't tiny but far from immense and no matter how many times I go to complain... I am still ignored.

The postal service sucks! lol

I'm glad your well and you are back home. ~M
PS. What books did you pick up? I can't wait to find out. I love books!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, M. It's really interesting to learn about your postman. I'm glad I've inspired you to want to come to Sicily, too. Now hold on to your hat! - Here's the book list:
John Simpson: Days from a Different World
Melanie Phillips: Londonistan
Paul Ruseabagina: An Ordinary Man
Barry Unsworth: The Ruby in her Navel
Bernard Cornwell: The Pale Horseman
Robert Harris: Imperium
Chris Stewart: The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society
Charles Higham: Mrs Simpson
Maeve Binchy: Whitethorn Woods
There are others, too, but they are still winging their way to me in the post and I can't remember what they were!

Maria said...

OH WOW ... that's some book list. I love Mave Binchy.. I am not sure of the other ones but Ill check them out too! Thanks! ~M


View My Stats