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.