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Italians abroad March 25, 2007

Posted by dorigo in personal, travel.

London is a familiar place to me. I was away for 14 years and still, everything is just like I remembered. The colors, the sounds, the people. The orderly queues of one. And, as usual, far too many italians…  

Long ago, italians abroad used to be even more annoying than italians at home, if anything because their voice used to be louder in the streets, in restaurants, in museums. I used to feel embarassed whenever I could spot italians acting silly, but it has gotten better in the last twenty years, with the increase of travel abroad. Because somehow we have started to learn how to behave. The unification of Europe makes us feel more at home in France, in Germany, in Greece – and even in good ole England, whose renitency to a total embracing of the european community is perceived as a bit childish and useless act in the face of a de facto belonging to the now 50 years old Europe and the widespread acceptance of european currency. 

The result of my compatriots’ behavior is that while 20 years ago when abroad I would desperately try to conceal my nationality, I now feel more comfortable with it. So, when a couple of italians stopped me this afternoon in Cromwell Road to ask for directions to Harrod’s in a fourth grader English which betrayed the latitude and longitude of their home town to within tenths of a degree, I did not even start pretending, and I spoke italian to them, without hesitation. It felt natural, and I felt at home.

Maybe the best sign of the general yielding to the concept that italians are a large chunk of the foreigners traveling to London – and thus they are not to be ignored – is the fact that the Gatwick Express has now elected Italian as one of the languages in which it announces stations and traveling tips. In 1982 trains spoke English, French, German, and Spanish.



1. Kea - March 25, 2007

Ha, so funny! I think I know what you’re talking about. I grew up in Australia, and I continue to be embarrassed by Aussies overseas. I’m very quick to point out that I’m really a Kiwi (which no one ever knows).

2. Carl Brannen - March 26, 2007

Hey, you’re supposed to carry a little of the homeland with you when you travel overseas. I’ve never noticed Italians overseas looking obnoxious or out of place.

I do recall that when me, my cousin, and my grandfather sat down in a cafe in Venice the staff brought us water in the sort of straight sided water glasses one finds in any American restautrant. This seemed perfectly natural until we looked around and saw that tourists from each other country were being served with various types of other glasses.

The US is a big place, one doesn’t notice many tourists here. One exception is the Grand Canyon, where Japanese tourists photograph each other while the Europeans photograph the scenery. It is difficult to informing visitors that the canyon, while scenic, is the unfortunate result of erosion caused by bad farming practices during the Great Depression. Which is just about as good a story as I once heard on an airplane, where a parent (uneducated in geology) told a child that it was dug by glaciers during the ice age.

3. dorigo - March 26, 2007

Hi Kea,
I also am often embarassed by Aussies’ behavior. Lol! Just kidding.

Carl, I am surprised to hear that… Usually the service in Italy is worse than in the US, mainly because waiters aren’t used to heavy tips. Of course, that also depends by the location and the level of the restaurant. How long ago was your visit ?


4. Carl Brannen - March 26, 2007


It was 1972. As long as I’m on the subject, my father spent a good bit of time in the rural parts of France getting photographs for a book about my grandfather’s experience in the Great War. When my dad came back, he had nothing but kind words to say about the French, who have a reputation in the US for being mean to tourists. My suspicion is that the people living in Paris get tired of being for directions to that tower when it is in plain sight.

I remember visiting Boston and asking locals for directions to the pier to see the USS Constitution aka “Old Ironsides”. On two occasions, people insisted not only on directing us, but on walking us a couple of blocks to make sure we were going the right way. Maybe it was the weather, maybe they are just proud of that ship. It is stunningly beautiful and amazingly fierce looking even though it is a sailboat already obsolete 140 years ago.

If I were in the UK, I’d be trying to get over to Portsmouth to see the HMS Victory. It is the ship where Nelson was shot dead in the battle of Trafalgar. She is considerably larger than the Constitution, but she was also a much slower ship. My patriotic impulses suggest that the American ship is the more elegant. Rather than a convenient place to carry cannon, the Constitution was built to outrace anything it could not outgun. They are both amazingly big for wooden ships, and frighteningly old.

As long as I’m on this topic, another warship on my list of “must sees” is the Huascar. Originally Peruvian, it was captured by Chile in the War of the Pacific and is still on display. It is one of the last surviving monitors (built 1865), and one of the very few modern warships captured by boarding.

5. dorigo - March 27, 2007

Thank you for the suggestion, Carl… But I am too busy with the conference and the blogging to consider visiting the neighborhood!


6. paola - November 7, 2008

You shouldn’t be ashamed of your compatriots, you shame yourself, ciccio.
We do not need to behave. Our English may improve – if necessary – but our ways are perfectly fine, even if we seem loud and non-standard in a busy street in London. And yet, variety is the spice of life, is it not?
I’m honestly fed up with Italians complaining about other Italians, just forgetting what their real self comes from. I wish you a good, thorough brain-wash.

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