In this whirlwind of life as an Italian immigrant in the UK, while I try to adapt and camouflage myself as much as I can, there are a few things from my motherland to which I'm holding onto tightly. Some are essentials, others are mere guilty pleasures I cannot live without:
1) Pocket Coffee and '' La Settimana Enigmistica''
These are my guilty pleasures. The latter (its name in English would be ‘’Weekly Puzzles’’) is a weekly publication of crosswords, original and unique in its own way, very peculiar and clever. It's not just a classic crosswords booklet, there are empty crossword schemes, very tricky, framed crossword with concentric frames, riddles, caricatures and loads of clever jokes. It's so rich that a week is actually not enough to finish it. My granddad usually managed to! .
He introduced me to the Settimana Enigmistica, it was his favorite pastime and he taught me tricks and passed this passion onto me. I love to work on it at the beach, it's my favourite summer hobby, relaxing and engaging at the same time. But I enjoy it randomly throughout the year too, because every time someone comes to visit me, they know that they HAVE to bring me the latest edition! And they make my day (or, I'd better say, my week!!).
''Pocket coffee'' is the other item I order to Italians coming this way of the world. It's basically a thin chocolate filled with one shot of pure espresso. Heaven in a mouthful. Mono portions, to carry with you everywhere! Not that they last long, because for me they are like cherries, I have one after the other!! I haven't found them anywhere else but Italy (on Amazon you can find the, but the price is ridicule!), so I stock them! The tricky part is that they are produced and sold only from October till late April, they don't keep them in stores in the hot months as they would be spoiled by the heat. So in the summer period I'm really really craving for them!
2) Medical examinations:
This is a serious one. As much as I am grateful to have the NHS and a private health insurance, I don’t like nor trust doctors in the UK. Certainly there must be competent ones, but I haven’t met many, most of them don’t have a clue. They tend to search with google (in front of me!!!!) the specific things I am asking them and they usually have one single remedy for every problem: paracetamol for grown-ups and Calpol for children. They don’t try very hard. There are no pediatricians for children, the GP visits them, unless there is a peculiar issue and the child is referred to a children specialist…..Not to mention prevention.
The smear test (cervical screening) is scheduled every 3 years, because the NHS statistics report that cervical cancer tends to develops in that window of time…. So if you are one of the unlucky ones who doesn’t follow the statistics patterns, in 3 year time you won’t be able to attend your smear test: by then you’ll be gone for good! Not to mention the lack of check-ups for the breasts: mammogram screening starts around the age of 50 and is carried out every 3 years!! If you want to pay for it and have it done privately, the costs are unbelievably high! You don’t get a blood test unless you have some very specific problem and beg the GP to have it done….If you manage to be listened by the GP, he himself takes the blood sample and will let you know the results only if there are irregularities.. without giving you a copy of it. Women go to the gynecologist only if they have a problem, but not for regular annual check ups. So, once I year, I spend a whole week in Italy vising all sort of specialist for myself and my children, doing all the proper check-ups privately at very very reasonable prices. And my question is: why can a private doctor in Italy charge 50 euro for a breast scan, whereas in the UK a private doctor charges me more than 250£ for the very same examination???? And also, isn't prevention cheaper than curing serious conditions? This enrages me so much that I’d rather stop writing about it…
3) Social relations
It might sound as a stereotype but, as far as I am concerned, it’s pretty true: in the UK you can meet a lot of people and chat with a lot of people but proper socializing and building real friendships is a terribly hard and long process. The British are very reserved and need time to open up. And it seems to me that a proper attentive analysis of the social positions is carried out, just to make sure to be on the very same level before letting new people in their lives. All this makes things pretty difficult and slow!
In Italy everything is more straightforward, direct, and simple. For example, when people suggest to meet for a coffee, they mean it, it’s not just an empty polite sentence. When they ask how you are doing, they mean it, while here it’s more another way of saying ‘’hello’, they don't actually expect you to go into details about your present circumstances nor they really want to meet up for a coffee with you... (First hand experiences! I hadn't realized all this at the beginning! I went on and on talking about my week, my engagements, or hinting at the mentioned coffee morning together, while they were probably thinking how dumb I was!!)
I also noticed another manifestation of this different social approach: in the UK men don’t look at women very much, not directly anyway. If they do it’s always in a very subtle discreet way. Somehow it can be liberating, to be honest, because in Italy things can be annoying at time, (when girls walk past a construction site, they make you wanna start singing: ''I am no hollaback girl, I am no hollaback girl''!)! But on the other hand it feels weird too. And it makes me think that they are just faking it, because when they are at the pub, after a few pints, they open up and say all they have to say and that they were concealing while they were sober!
I think I like the Italian way better, it's more spontaneous and friendly and there is no need to use alcohol as a social ice breaker!!
4) Salumi (cured meats)
Cured meats are the main reason why I cannot become a vegetarian. Speck (smoked raw ham), pancetta (a kind of bacon), prosciutto crudo (Parma ham), prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), mortadella, bresaola, cima (Genoese speciality), lonza (cured pork neck), salame are my true addiction, I cannot stop eating them. You can find some of them in UK stores, but it's not the same experience, the same flavour as when bought in Italian deli shops, freshly cut for you, just out of the slicer, wrapped in a paper cone!
They never stay long in that paper cone once out of the shop.... They are the first thing I go and buy when I arrive in Italy and stuff my face with them till I have had enough!
5) Beaches (Italian and Mediterranean)
I was born in a seaside town and the sea is what I miss the most. I missed it when I lived in Rome and even more so now that I am in Surrey. So, whenever I can, I plan a short daily trip to the beach or to towns on the coast.
I need to smell the sea, inhale the iodine! English beaches and coastlines are very scenic and beautiful, I like them a lot and I find them very fascinating, exotic, in their own way. However, deep down I am very Mediterranean and these Channel beaches are never fully satisfying. The heat is not enough, they are always very very very windy, in August I constantly need to wear a jumper and a scarf, it’s nearly impossible to swim in the sea unless you want to get pneumonia and there is something slightly melancholic about their piers and waterfronts.
The only answer to my longing is one: the Mediterranean Sea! At least once a year I need to spend a week or two by the sea, sweat on the sand, sunbathe, swim in a warm nice blue sea, inhale the typical smells of sun creams, watermelon, fish, listen to catchy summery musics in the background, entangle my feet in seaweeds: I embrace the whole experience and store it in my mind till the following summer!