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Life in the UK: Pepperoni Pizza and Other Surprises

Although I was born and grew up in Italy my mum is English and so, when I moved to the UK for a Masters degree, I did so with all the confidence that speaking the language and being familiar with the culture can give you. As it turned out, despite having spent many summers in England throughout my childhood and adolescence, I didn’t know as much about Britain as I thought. Those summer days in the sheltered environment of my Nan’s home, a lifetime of being exposed to British culture mainly through books and movies, gave me not only a partial knowledge of British culture but, more importantly, an illusion of knowledge. So because I thought I knew about Britain, finding out that I actually didn’t was even more of a shock.

One of the things that stands out in my mind is just a little incident, but I’ll recount it here because it involves one thing I had when I first came to the UK – the conviction of knowing what I was dealing with – and one thing that I’ve probably always had, but which has definitely been accentuated since I came to the UK – the love of (good) food.

It was shortly after I’d moved to Norwich, I was walking around town and I started to feel peckish. It wasn’t meal time so I only really wanted a snack. If you are not into greasy pastries, crisps, or packaged sandwiches, there is not really that much that a town like Norwich has to offer. In Italy I’d be looking to get a piece of focaccia or a piadina or a freshly made sandwich (made with fresh bread!) from a bar. Over here I just stumbled into a ‘Subway’. I’d never been in one before and the sheer variety of ingredients and the mystery of the rules for their combination (I’ve figured out since, there are none!) intimidated me. So I ordered the simplest thing that actually appeared on the menu: a pepperoni pizza toastie. In my absolute naivety I assumed that ‘pepperoni’ had to be a British distortion of the Italian word ‘peperoni’, which means sweet peppers. But instead of a toastie with tomato, cheese and peppers I was given one with tomato cheese and salami (which is a British distortion of the Italian ‘salame’). Now, this is not such a terrible thing. I ate it and it was ok. But the illusion of having recognised what I thought was a familiar Italian word had given me a vague sense of security. The fact that such a word might also be used in England to mean the same thing, was reassuring, as though I had never really moved. In short, the fact that I thought I knew without a doubt what I was getting, made the truth that I actually didn’t slightly more off-putting.

Another conviction I had when I came here was that the food would not be as bad as everyone on the continent thinks it is. Despite having had the chance to develop an aversion for beetroot and half-a-centimeter-thick gammon slices during summers at my Nan’s, I always really loved the bacon, the sausages, the eggs and baked beans on toast, the roasts, the baked potatoes. And Marmite! I love Marmite and you can’t get that in Italy. So although fry-ups after a late night out are amazing, a good Sunday roast is delicious and Marmite is readily available in every supermarket, that is as good as it gets, at least for me. There are certain things even Marmite can’t make up for. Good wine for less than a fiver. Proper tasty oranges. Sweet and juicy peaches. Loquats, if that is even the name – I have never seen them or heard them being mentioned in the UK. Melon. Watermelon. And the hot weather in which they are best savoured.

But not all of it is negative. From other points of view the UK is pretty good. University life has to be a plus. You pay a lot more for it than in Italy but you do get a totally different experience, particularly in the Humanities. In Italy not many universities actually have a campus. Each faculty is in a different place and sometimes even the same faculty is spread out across the city! Often in the Humanities you are not required to attend classes and because you can choose when to do most of your modules you rarely end up sharing classes with the same people and it’s harder to develop friendships with fellow students. The experience of living on a campus which is like a little self-contained city, with shops, pubs, clubs, cafés, a square, a sport spark and a library, is incredible. Even if you don’t know half the people around you there is a feeling of belonging, of being part of a community of people who wear the same colours and sing the same chants at sporting events.

One thing which many of the other foreigners I’ve spoken to have also found, is that British people are particularly polite – sometimes too polite. It is all very pleasant when shop assistants actually say hi and have a short conversation with you as you pay for your items, and call you miss or madam or darling or love. But with people you’ve known for a while you would expect the barrier of formality to come down. And yet it doesn’t and earnest, direct opinions are rarely freely given and even more rarely graciously received.

Britain is also a beautiful country, full of beautiful places. I don’t like to repeat a cliché but, for me, the weather does let it down. I am a solar powered machine, and there is little sunshine in Britain. Sometimes that’s part of the charm. I recently went to a wedding reception which was held at a restaurant by a lake. It was a cold and cloudy day, with the constant threat of rain and a chilly wind. But that actually seemed to increase the charm of the setting. It was – and despite the wedding celebrations I mean this in the literary sense – very romantic. And yet, there is also a charm to the stifling stillness of a scorching August day, when it’s too hot even for time to move forward and it just seems to stop. That is not something you would experience in England. And neither is the constant, majestic and reassuring backdrop of mountains. I grew up in Turin, shoulder to shoulder with the Alps and have always found something comforting about their presence. The uninterrupted flatness of Norfolk is something that gets to me in the long run.

Of course it’s all down to personal taste. People often ask me whether I prefer England or Italy and I really don’t know what to say to them. Some days I prefer the blustery romantic greyness of a British lakeside, others I long for the sparkly blueness of the Mediterranean Sea. Some days I am glad for the formal politeness of the British, others I pine for Italian spontaneity. Some days I cherish the neatness of British roads, were even to change lanes seems a terrible a sin, and others I miss the wild freedom of Italian driving and double-parking. (Un)fortunately my mind seems just as split as my blood, 50% British and 50% Italian.

 

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Lukas's picture

Welcome here, I hope you'll enjoy writing blogs like this one as I like it very much! Smile

I can recognise some of the things from there, e.g. I'd been confused with the same or similar words using in different way too and so on...

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Translation Chronicles's picture

Thanks Lukas!

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