Archive | April, 2013

Italianisms: Part 1

19 Apr

This post is dedicated to all the weird and wonderful little things that make Italy Italy and that make the Italians Italian, some of which I find amusing, others which drive me crazy.

I’ve already mentioned several times how Italy suffers from a major case of technophobia, and recently I found out just how deeply ingrained (engrained?) it is within the language itself. One of the first words I ever learnt in Italian is macchina, meaning ‘car’, although it translates more literally as ‘machine’. Ok sure, I’ll accept that, back when cars were first invented I guess they were novelty machines.

I also found out that a camera is called a macchinetta, or ‘little machine’. Maybe pushing it, but I’ll let that one slide. However this extends even further, as I discovered watching the Italian-dubbed version of How It’s Made. While the English track in the background would say something like ‘the dough is transferred from the industrial-sized mixer to the divider using a conveyor’, the Italian version would translate as ‘the dough is transferred from the machine to the machine using the little machine’, as apparently it’s not possible to distinguish between anything that looks remotely mechanical or electricity-based. They all run on witchcraft anyway right?

Next up are a couple of things I’ve noticed both here and in France:

Although the English are known for being conservative prudes, we still manage to say the rather straight-to-the-point ‘oh I’m just going to the toilet’ without any embarrassment. The Italian/French way of doing things just makes me cringe: I have heard university students and grown adults say (in Italian) fare pipì or (in French) faire pipi which literally translate as ‘go for a wee wee’. Come on guys we’re not 5 years old any more.

Secondly, I find it slightly bizarre how often I have heard people say ‘that’s disgusting’. I swear people in the UK hardly ever find things so repulsive that they need to point it out, especially not 3 times a day which is the average amount I hear this phrase. There’s also a scale of disgustingness which translates quite well between the languages, with the use of the handy cover-all verb/noun/adjective ‘fuck’.

Italian : fa schifo                           fa schifoso

French: c’est dégoûtant            c’est dégueulasse

English: that’s disgusting           that’s fucking disgusting

So now if you ever need to complain about something being gross (which apparently EVERYTHING is over here), you’re well-prepared.

Moving on, we’ve had some beautiful weather here this week, with quite a few days averaging 26 degrees. Being the optimistic Brit that I am, I’ve been straight out in the sun in a bikini and shorts getting some vitamin D in me, much to the displeasure of the retirees who live nearby. Having found a field the size of Stoke Park (sorry for the very Guildford-specific reference) I was surprised to find it completely empty.

Italians making the most of a beautiful day

Italians making the most of a beautiful day

I settled down for a couple of hours with some Murakami (definitely give at least one of his books a read) and the whole time saw a grand total of 4 other people, all of whom were walking through the field to get somewhere else rather than relaxing for a bit. A woman in her 60s from Lombardia came over to chat after her chihuahua decided I was its new best friend, and she ended up talking at me for 50 minutes about: problems in Spoleto, problems with living alone, problems with her apartment building, problems with Italian police, problems with immigrants and people from Napoli, the holocaust (?!), and finally her dog’s dietary requirements.

Aside from not going outside to enjoy the weather, people also don’t seem to dress according to temperature, but rather according to season/month. It may be unseasonally warm, but it’s still April, and that means coats/jackets/scarves/boots/trousers. I’ve only seen people in tshirts for the first time in the last couple of days, and the only people I’ve seen in shorts are middle-aged men jogging. I don’t  really own shorts longer than hotpants because I don’t want a weird mid-thigh tan line, but this realllly doesn’t go down well with the locals who openly stare at my naked legs as I walk around.

What makes me laugh even more is how one person even complained to me how they were too hot (while wearing black trousers and a puffa jacket) as if there was just no way of avoiding it. Logical thinking is not Italy’s strong point, and most choices made are based less on ‘what could make me feel more comfortable/happy’ and more on ‘what would be the right thing to do in other people’s eyes’.

Logic also doesn’t make an appearance when it comes to healthcare. Italian’s are hypochondriacs who still subscribe to the belief that you can catch illnesses from cold air, but not just in winter! The dreaded colpo d’aria (blast of air?) can occur any time of year without warning if you are silly enough to leave any area of skin exposed, and you have to make sure you also wear your maglietta di salute (vest of health) to prevent this wind attacking you. Of course I think it’s all bullshit and the nation is just suffering from a widespread case of mass hysteria, but that’s just my opinion.

At dance this week we’ve had longer classes which means everyone leaving red-faced and sweaty and generally gross, but still everyone insists on putting on a couple of jackets and zipping them up to the neck when they leave despite the toasty temperatures outside. When I asked what the hell they were doing, they explained that when you are sweaty and go outside without covering up, the sweat cools down and then you get ill from it…

Hmm. There seems to have been a major breakdown in communication somewhere down the line in understanding the purpose of sweat in the first place. I also find it worrying that educated people my age still believe this kind of stuff. But hey, it’s not my place to say, I will freely walk outside cooling down after exercise while everyone else runs to their cars to avoid the killer Italian air.

My own Nonna has many strong beliefs about what causes illness, and she still has a go at me if I walk around her house without shoes or socks on as it will definitely give me a cold. I love you Nonna, but until you can give me an explanation for how being barefoot makes you ill, I’m not going to change my ways.

Oh and lastly, it’s both difficult and expensive to find tampons in this country. I can only blame Catholicism for this.

Well I think that’s enough for now! I’ve named this part 1 since I’m pretty certain there’s much more I have to say about Italian culture which I’ve forgotten to put in this post, but which I will surely remember as soon as I click ‘Publish’.



16 Apr

On Friday I jumped on an 8.30 train (practically lunchtime compared to the ones I’m used to getting) and headed to Naples to spend the weekend with Jo. I was pretty excited since I’ve never been anywhere south of Rome and wanted to see what the big deal about the ‘north/south’ divide is.

I changed at Rome and got a superfast Frecciarossa to Naples which only took an hour.  I tried to hide my excitement when I found out that we were going 300 km/h, such a novelty to me. After a wait at the main station for Jo’s train to get in, we headed off to the hostel, during which time we found that a) it was far too hot to be wearing jeans but b) we would definitely stand out as pasty British tourists if we put shorts on.

We stayed at Hostel of the Sun, which is probably one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in purely because the staff are awesome. From the moment you check in they remember who you are for your whole stay, and are great for advice on where to visit and when, where to find the best pizza, what type of tram tickets to buy to get to x location, etc. etc.

Friday afternoon was spent exploring the historic centre and the harbour area. What definitely struck me about Naples is that compared to the other Italian cities I have been to, it is definitely more dirty/gritty/proper Italian. There are tiny streets and back alleys squashed between tall apartment buildings where every balcony has laundry hanging from it and everyone rushes around on mopeds.

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We also had some amazing pizza at the popular Di Matteo’s, although we foolishly believed it when we were told it would only be a 10 minute wait, which ended up being more like 40 minutes, but all worth it in the end.

Di Matteo

On Saturday we headed to Herculaneum, one the smaller less famous towns wiped out by Vesuvius’ eruption. We decided to skip Pompeii since it takes pretty much a full day to look round it and we didn’t have that much time. For anyone else spending just a weekend in Naples, you can see Herculaneum in about 2 hours, meaning there is also enough time to go to Sorrento in the same day, which is just what we did.

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Sorrento is beautiful and noticeably cleaner and more well-kept than Naples, but it is also incredibly touristy, and this was only in April. Jo and I played ‘spot the English’ all weekend since they clearly stand out as being the most naked yet palest people on the streets. Other great tourist stereotypes to look out for there are ‘mahogany-toned pensioners who now spend their lives on the decks of cruise ships’ and ‘rich American high-schoolers taking their DSLR on a trip to “Europe” ‘. While there we almost met up with Serena, who was on Erasmus in Bristol last year.

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On Sunday we set off on a walk further west round the harbour, where it seemed pretty much everyone had come outside due to the beautiful weather, still wearing coats and scarves of course (apart from the leathery old men sunbathing in Speedos on the rocks…yum). Trying to take advantage of the sunshine we settled on the grass which is apparently just not the done thing, despite not being against any rules, and led to a lot of confused stares from the locals. After an amazing lunch at Trattoria e Pizzeria Antica Capri, we took the funicolare up to the medieval fortress Castel Sant’Elmo so we could see the whole city. Beautiful.

Teatro di San Carlo – filming location of ‘Ballerini – dietro il sipario’, my fave MTV show here



Castel Sant'Elmo

Castel Sant’Elmo – most fortressy fortress I’ve ever seen

View from the top of Castel Sant’Elmo


Sadly in the afternoon we had to head back to Napoli Centrale to catch our respective trains. I had high hopes for getting back in time for dinner, but since only about 10% of the trains I have taken here have left on time, I shouldn’t have been so optimistic. When I got to Rome my connecting 6pm train to Spoleto just stayed on the departures board without a platform number until 40 minutes after its departure time, when they just took it off the board with no cancellation announcement. This led to 15 minutes of queueing for customer services only to be told the next train would be at 8.

There are also only about 5 chairs in all of Roma Centrale station, and the spare one I did manage to find was in the middle of a group of crackheads arguing over some ‘owed money’. I made a swift departure and decided it would probably be a better idea to just sit on the floor.

When I was finally on the train back the ticket inspector lady apologised for my train cancellation, putting it down as just one of Italy’s many problems, and rather poetically said ‘Amo l’Italia, ma è già morta’ (I am in love with Italy, but it is already dead). There must be something ingrained in all Italians which makes them speak in such a literary way, as the next day one of my students said to me ‘L’amore, che dolore’, meaning ‘Love, what pain’. Life sure is tough when you’re 9.

Sights of the day

Food prices in Naples are insanely low. €3.00 for a margherita??


We found an actual shop selling religious robes and cassocks and habits and whatever else it is the hip modern clergy wears nowadays. It wasn’t just a tourist thing either, there was a real nun looking round inside.


The habit the Italians have of changing English/foreign names into more ‘italianised’ ones has started to get to me recently, starting with when I was teaching about the British royal family and everyone kept talking about some ‘Prince Carlo’. For a long time I thought there was a mystery illegitimate Italian prince within the family who I hadn’t heard about because it had been kept tightly under wraps (maybe Philip’s a bit of a wanderer), but then I realised they were talking about Prince Charles.

Similarly, I don’t think it’s right to change Charles Dickens to Carlo Dickens, or to change Nicolas Nickleby to Nicola Nickleby (in case you were wondering, Nicola is a boy’s name in Italian, they haven’t just switched round the genders in the story for banter).


Seems like a logical pairing to me


Only medics will probably understand the link here, but in Herculaneum there is a faded painting on the wall which is apparently of a man and his ‘giant phallus’ (as my recorded tour guide told me) whose name is in fact Priapus.




5kg of Nutella. I should invest.



5 Apr

Yes I know it’s been a shamefully long time since I’ve done a post but I’ve been busy. Honest. Since I last updated, I’ve been back to England for a lovely Easter holiday which also included my Dad’s birthday and my 21st.

First stop on my trip back was Bristol, to catch up with friends and try and persuade those who are graduating to do a Masters or just hang around Bristol for another year, regardless of whether they’ll actually have somewhere to live or not. I spent the 3 days there soaking up the Englishness, getting in some much-needed creme eggs and Exhibition cider (not together, that’s disgusting) as well as attending a massive birthday party which ended at 5am when the landlady came to physically remove everyone. Cheers Debs.

On Saturday I headed home for my dad’s birthday, followed by a very civilised meal and drinks with friends on Sunday to celebrate my 21st.

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I’m really not as messy an eater as I look, I blame the waiter who made me do a shot hidden in a glass of cream with no hands. You can grow old but you don’t have to grow up.

On my actual birthday (Monday) I went for a lovely meal at The River Café with my family, where I actually got to meet the owner Ruth Rogers as she was working there that night so I got her to sign my menu! If anyone ever has the opportunity to eat there, definitely go for the caramel ice cream. Even if it’s not usually your kinda thing, it’s pretty much the best dessert ever.

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Note my brother looking dapper as ever.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing at home, enjoying the company of my family (plus the free internet and fully-stocked fridge), as well as managing to give blood on the Friday as I hadn’t donated since last May. Shame on all of you sitting around keeping all your blood to yourself, there are other people who need it more than you you know! (*Ahem* mum and dad, you work in healthcare, get on it) Click here to get started.

On Easter Saturday I trekked up to Milton Keynes for another party. Alcohol + freezing temperatures = I think I got frostbite in my toes, but it was worth it. Easter itself was a day of hungover packing, and trying to work out how to get to Spoleto from Perugia airport which isn’t as easy as you think.

I headed back to Italy on Monday, thankfully managing to catch the only train for 4 hours after telling my maniac taxi driver that I had just 15 minutes to get from the airport to the station. This is the only time I will ever be glad for Italian drivers ignoring speed limits/rules of the road.

This week has meant a bit of a change to my timetable as in order to work at all 5 of the schools of the Secondo Circolo I had to do 3 before Easter and the other 2 after, although I will be staying with 1 school all the way through as I need some continuity to write about in some report thing I’ll have to do in June. I got to visit the school in Santa Croce for the first time on Wednesday, which was a pretty weird experience as it only has 16 pupils. Even though it is still in Spoleto, it’s on the outskirts where many Moroccan immigrants live, which answered the first question which popped into my head when I arrived which was ‘Why is everyone here so much more tanned than me??’

I’m not the only one who has questioned the cost-effectiveness of keeping such a small school open, and I’ve been told that some shady dealings involving false applications and the like occur in order to keep it open and save the teachers’ jobs. The nice thing about teaching such small classes (the older one containing just 5 pupils aged 10-12) is that you can have more one-on-one conversation time and you can cover more in one lesson, although there are more awkward silences where no one wants to say anything (basically the same as any tutorial at uni then).

Now you’re all caught up on my recent japes, and hopefully there will be many more to look forward to in the 9 weeks I have left here, starting with a trip to Naples with Jo next weekend!


she's gone away again

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