Monday, April 30, 2012


Italy has eleven national public holidays, compared to the eight in Wales and England. There are also public holidays that celebrate the patron saint of each city, for example Milan's has a holiday on the 7th of December for the feast day of saint Ambrose (Sant Ambrosio in Italian). Tomorrow is the festa dei lavoratori or festa del lavoro, International Worker's Day. But for many today has also been a holiday. My part of Milan has been deserted. There's little traffic and few people around, and a lot of shops and businesses are closed.

What a lot of Italians do when they can is called a ponte, or a bridge. When a holiday falls in the middle of the week, especially on Tuesdays or Thursdays, they then make a bridge which goes from the weekend to the holiday, getting an extra day or even two out of the bank holiday. In tomorrow's case the bridge away from work goes from the weekend that's just been, with people then returning to work on Wednesday. The 25th was also a public holiday last week, which celebrates the liberation of Italy from Fascist rule in 1945. Some people I know also took Thursday and Friday off work to make a long ponte that lasted until the weekend. I've even heard of some who managed to blag a ponte lasting from last Wednesday to this Wednesday, covering both holidays and all the weekdays inbetween!

Unlike British bank holidays, almost all Italian bank holidays (the only exception is Easter Monday) are on certain dates, unlike the British holidays which are very nearly all on Mondays or Fridays. It does mean that some holidays can land on weekends, for example this year June 2nd's Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day, which celebrates the establishment of the Italian republic following a referendum in 1946) is on a Saturday. Last year Italy had two holidays in one day, with Easter Monday falling on the 25th of April. Don't feel too bad for the Italians missing out on holidays though, they more than make up for them with their various bridges!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock - Again

Sunday I celebrated three and a half years in Italy. The previous four days I'd spent in London or travelling to/from there. It was the first time I'd gone back to the UK since Christmas, and the first time in London for over two years. And for pretty much the whole time I was there I couldn't stop making comparisons with Milan and the Italian lifestyle.

I'd written about reverse culture shock a couple of years ago but those few days in London made me think about it again. I must admit that I felt completely like a fish out of water for a few hours after landing in Gatwick. It was the coach journey that did it I think, it was one and a half hours of a completely unfamiliar journey. I'd never even landed in Gatwick before, and the hour and a half coach journey to Victoria station felt very long. Everything I was seeing and hearing was completely different to Milan, and to the countryside where I grew up in. If it weren't for being able to understand everything I could read outside the bus window it would have felt like being in a foreign country.

It was the fifth time that I'd been to London, and only two of those times had been before I'd moved to Italy; when I was in primary school. So it was a constant case of familiarity and the unknown. Familiarity such as making a beeline to Boots after landing at Gatwick, knowing that I'd be able to buy lunch there (including a bottle of wonderful Ribena!) and the not so familiar such as the London underground, which I'd only done a couple of journeys on unaccompanied before (but I actually dealt with surprisingly well in the end). It was constantly a strange sensation of knowing that I was back in Britain, but still being a tourist and not feeling like I fitted in.

I kept making constant comparisions to how things were back in Milan. On Friday morning during a shopping trip we stopped for a mid-morning coffee and I laughed at the size of the 'small' cappuccino I'd ordered. It was at least twice the size of one that you'd get anywhere in Italy, and I struggled to finish it. There was a coffee shop on almost every corner, and everywhere I went I saw people clutching plastic cups of coffee. It was the complete opposite to the Italian coffee culture of gulping down your espresso at the bar first thing in the morning. I couldn't even watch TV or listen to the radio without thinking how things were back in Milan. I watched Britain's Got Talent for the first time, after having watched two series of Italia's Got Talent, and was amazed at how many adverts there were. Even Radio 1 which I pratically grew up with seemed so foreign, the format's completely different to my beloved Radio Deejay, and I hadn't even thought about the differences before.

But even with all this I still had a great time. I did some serious shopping, buying things such as jeans and pyjamas which cost much more in Italy. Oh, how I'd missed Primark! I ate some lovely food too, every single meal was amazing. Even that chicken and bacon sandwich I'd bought for lunch at the airport was amazing!

It's left me thinking about a lot of things though. A week after arriving there I still haven't got over that shock, and I think it'll stay in my mind for a long time too. It was very unsettling to feel like a foreigner in my home country. After a few days in the chaos of London, Milan felt like a small plan when I arrived back on Saturday afternoon. But it was coming back home, somewhere familiar, a place I felt like I belonged.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Song of The Week

This has been going round in my head all day. It's Giorgia's new song Tu mi porti su, which features Jovanotti, who also also co-wrote the song.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Le parolacce - swear words

No, before anyone asks, I'm not teaching anyone Italian swear words.

Yes, I know it's always the first thing that you pick up when you go and live in another country, I'm still not doing it.

However I will put my hands up and admit that not only do I swear more in Italian, but since I've been living here I've started swearing more in the other languages I speak too. I know, it's not a good look; but it reflects a lot about how swearing is used in Italy. I'm not saying it's acceptable, but it's certainly more acceptable than it is in the UK.

Whilst the UK has the watershed, the Italian tv and radio equivalent is the fascia protetta, the protected time slot of 4pm-7pm when programmes directed towards children and teenagers are shown. Then after 10.30pm programmes suitable for over 14s can be shown. There is also the bollino system to indicate if programmes are suitable for children. The word bollino translates literally as 'stamp' or 'sticker'; but in this case it's a symbol or icon, often round and on or next to the channel's logo, indicating a colour. Green is for programmes that are suitable for all, yellow indicating that children should be accompanied by adults, and red for programmes that are not suitable for minors.

As a native English speaker I've been shocked at seeing uncensored episodes of American reality tv shows (Jersey Shore being the one that springs to mind most) at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. The Italian subtitles would be censored, but in the original language they'd be effing and blinding all over the place, after warnings at the beginning of the show of offensive language. It isn't necessarily going to mean much to the Italian adolescents watching the programme, but I still don't like the idea that they could pick up that language and think it's acceptable.

But what's shocked me the most over the years is the radio. I've always been pretty much surgically attached to the radio given half a chance; and after years of British radio and absolutely no swearing on pain of very high fines, I used to find it a shocking to hear the vaffa bomb being dropped at around 2 in the afternoon. Of course, as in normal situations it isn't everyone, and not on every radio station, but for the station I listen to it seems to be completely normal to hear a couple of mild swear words per show outside the fascia protetta, after over 3 years here I have to admit that I hardly even notice it anymore.

It's just another way that Italy's a country of contradictions I guess!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Italy Roundtable 1st Anniversary - Comfort Food

A new country and a new culture obviously means new food and changing your eating habits. I remember the desperation at the beginning of my Erasmus year in Urbino when we didn't have a kettle in the flat. No kettle meant making tea became a bit of a misson. And a Brit not being able to have a cuppa tea is not a good look. It was just one of the many little things I had to get used to.

Even though I have a very sweet tooth my ultimate comfort food at home was chicken soup. Proper thick chicken soup with a couple of slices of white bread and a chunk of Cheddar cheese. Perfect for those dark winter nights. It was also at the beginning of my Erasmus year that I discovered that I was going to have to do without my beloved chicken soup. Every time I felt like making some soup - being the lazy student that I was - I had to put up with watery broth-like substances that more often than not contained varying types of pasta. I wasn't overly impressed. In a big international city like Milan British food isn't difficult to come by, but it comes at a price. The last time I saw a can of Heinz chicken soup it cost 2 euro, and I decided to leave it where it was on the shelf.

Photo by Wordridden

The idea of comfort food is something that you grow up with, maybe something your mum makes when you're feeling ill for example; but when you transplant yourself into a different culture, you might not necessarily have someone around you to suggest comforting food. For around the first year and a half after my arrival in Italy I lived in a house that had a very different concept of food to the one I grew up with. There wasn't much in the way of comfort food, or even anything remotely unhealthy - bar the occasional pugliese fried meal - but one thing I loved was pasta e fagioli, pasta and beans. Perfect stodgy winter food. With the cold and rainy weather we've been having recently I've been making it this week.

A delicious piece of stracchino cheese!

I've also discovered that some unusual food has crept into my 'comfort food' category during my time here. For example there's stracchino, a very soft cows' milk cheese. I'm not sure what's so comforting about cheese, but this is. With some nice fresh bread, or with some vegetables, it's brilliant. My ultimate comfort food however is lasagna. I never used to eat it that much before moving to Italy, it certainly wasn't anything that was ever cooked at home, but I can't get enough of it. Any other kind of pasta, even if it has all the ragù on it that I want, just doesn't come close. Stick a portion of lasagna in front of me and I instantly become a happier person.

I've written this post as the ladies of the Italian Roundtable have extended an invitation to bloggers in Italy to write about one of the topics they've covered during the past year to celebrate their first anniversary. Auguri ragazze!

This month the ladies are writing about invitations:

Sunday Classic

This is another song from my Erasmus year that was used for an excercise in language class. It's La gatta by Gino Paoli from 1960, the story of a cat who used to live by the sea.

In his recently released album S.C.O.T.CH, Daniele Silvestri has done his take on the song, but the cat becomes an online chat, la chatta.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Song of The Week

Samuele Bersani's new single Psyco is one of the two new songs featured on his Psyco - 20 anni di canzoni collection which contains his songs from the last 20 years. The other previously unreleased song was Un pallone, which was his entry at this year's Sanremo competition.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Italian accent...

... is a bit of a disaster.

I often describe it as having sponge-like qualities, in the sense that it absorbes other accents that I hear on a day-to-day basis.

Same as with my English one really. When I speak English I don't have the Welsh accent that I should have and that the rest of my family does. When I was around 7/8 years old I decided that I didn't like it and somehow - and I WISH I knew how because in my current situation it would be very useful - I ended up with a neutral English accent. Fellow Brits can never tell I'm Welsh just from how I speak. But my English accent's changed a lot, since moving to Italy it's been veering towards the stereotypical 'international' accent, influenced by American pronounciation (which also happened during my Erasmus year). At uni in England I picked up all sorts of accents, and mine changed often. Mostly it was a mix of my old neutral accent, generic Northern with a London-ish twang.

I can't remember what my Italian accent was like at university. For the first few weeks I was speaking it with a Welsh accent, but even without consciously trying to it disappeared. Even after returning from Urbino I doubt it was very marchigiano, due to the fact that none of my friends were actually from that region. When I was studying in Pisa I consciously tried to pick up a pisano accent, to try and fit in more I guess. It didn't last very long after arriving back in the UK though. My lecturers were both Italian and British, so I was exposed to all sorts of accents, and not one more than another.

I'd like to think that my accent's more milanese than anything else; obviously, after having lived here for over three years now. I guess one word to describe the Milanese accent would be 'drawl'. I don't mean that in a derogative way, but compared to many other accents the vowels are broader and seem dragged out. I think a bit of Tuscan's survived somehow from my time in Pisa, maybe partly because I like Tuscan accents so much (my personal favourite region when it comes to accents). A fairly recent addition is Roman, with its softer 'c' and 'sc' sounds; which, as daft as it may sound, I've picked up from listening to Romans on the radio. I love Roman accents, just as long as they're not too strong! I keep thinking that if I had wound up in Rome instead of Milan that I'd have the most amazing Italian accent.

I guess the reason I think about it so much is that it's also a question of identity, how much of your roots do you want to show when you speak? I'm a bit fed up of the stares I can get when I speak Italian - some people at the Post Office down the street from work are the worst culprits - but many people I know think a foreign accent is very cool and that I shouldn't try to lose it. I think the right balance for me would be that people could tell that I was foreign, but also that I lived in Milan, and I think it's going to take a lot of work to get to that point!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Nerys's Guide to Italian Music: Negrita

Negrita formed in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany, at the beginning of the 90s. Their first album, Negrita, was released in 1994.

The first song of theirs that I ever heard was Rotolando verso sud ('Rolling towards the south'), which was released in 2005, but was still being played on radio when I arrived in Urbino for my Erasmus year in the following September.

I can't choose just one song of theirs that I like the most, it's between two, that are also two of my all-time favourite Italian songs. The first one to be released of the two was Che rumore fa la felicità? ('What sound does happiness make?') in September 2008, around a month before my arrival in Italy.

The other one is Gioia infinita ('Infinite joy') which is from summer 2009, also taken from their HELLdorado album. There was also a bilingual version of this, featuring Colombian singer Juanes.

Their latest single, which is currently being played on radio, is the title track from their album Dannato Vivere, their first album since 2008's HELLdorado.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunday Classic

People outside Italy will probably be more familiar with the English version of this song, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, but it was Pino Donaggio's Italian Io che non vivo (senza te) that was written first. It was an entry in 1965's Sanremo festival, and came in 7th place.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Buona Pasqua!

One good thing about having a birthday around Easter every year is that when people come over to celebrate it you always end up with a stash of Eastery goodies from the Motherland!

Pasqua in Italian is 'Easter', and strangely enough Good Friday, or Venerdì Santo, isn't a public holiday here! Luckily for me though I'll be home tomorrow, so buona Pasqua a tutti!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Day Trips from Milan: Peschiera del Garda

Peschiera del Garda is one of the main towns on (you guessed it...) Lake Garda, to the east of Milan. It's more tranquil than nearby Desenzano del Garda, which is known for its nightlife, but still very popular with both Italians and tourists alike, especially German speaking visitors considering the lake's vicinity to the border with Austria.

Peschiera is on the Milan-Venice line, and you can get a regional train once an hour from Milano Centrale or Milano Lambrate. One-way second class tickets cost 9.60 euro and it takes 1 hour and 37 minutes to arrive. Journeys on the more expensive Frecciabianca cost 19.50 euro for a full-price second class ticket, and will get you there half an hour faster. When you arrive at the train station in Peschiera walk down the hill and follow the signs for the centro, walking through Porta Verona, one of the gates in the fortress surrounding the city.

In the centre of town there are many shops selling affordable clothes and shoes, places to eat (I can recommend L'osteria on Via Cavallotti, lovely food and service) or have an ice cream and shops selling souvenirs. But the nicest thing about Peschiera is the long path going around the lake. In the summer the pebbled beaches are set up with umbrellas and deckchairs, but at this time of year they're empty, and you can go right up to the lakeside - and watch the wildlife!