Little Big Differences between Italy and the United Kingdom

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Europe » United Kingdom » England » London
November 12th 2007
Published: January 2nd 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

London is one of those places where a friendly sofa always awaits the traveller. It’s a city that has maybe lost its role, held for so long, of the European economic capital, but has also ended up acquiring the undisputed status of socio-cultural navel of the world, becoming today what Paris was in the thirties. Nowadays, everybody goes to London. Whether it's to learn English, to be where the artistic heart pulses, to check out what people say about Buckingham Palace guards truly immobility: everyone has his good reason and sooner or later ends up accepting the ever-present "visit me in London, you can stay at my place" invitation pronounced by some friend.

The hosts in my case where called Sandro, an old comrade in arms of mine (so to speak, we were civil servants) and Monika, his beautiful Slovakian girlfriend. In this case London was for me was the crossroads to wash off months of African dusts and organize further travels. A quiet stage. Sometimes one feels the need for it. There was, however, another era when this country was my base and, to the traveller, to return to a place once called "home" always produces a peculiar effect. It suggests reflections and comparisons. So, in days of long urban walks the idea of this blog about differences and similarities between the United Kingdom and Italy was born. A game of parallelisms sorted per daily life aspects of the two countries.

Food: To fully appreciate the relationship between the Brits and food, a short stroll among the shelves of a supermarket is enough. In an Italian supermarket, 9 aisles out of 10 are dedicated to what we could call "food", that is, products that with a minimum of work and spices will become gastronomy, victuals. Only the last hall (usually the ones closest to the tills) exposes tasteless but ready to use “junk food”, McDonald’s style. In the UK the proportion is reversed. I recall as an unwholesome nightmare of aisles totally monopolized by plastic thematic stuff sold as food: Thai, Indian, Chinese, Italian. All ready. Once, I bought "4 cheese penne" for microwave. After tasting it, I reached the conclusion that it might have been slightly tastier if only had I cooked it without first removing if from its pack. A tiny area of the supermarket actually sells quality products, but prices are so hefty you would be forced to sell a kidney, a lung or -at least- substantial amounts of illegal herbal medicines to live on them.

Alcohol: Working in Gran Canaria in close contact with the British crowd, I had developed the idea that their perception of a successful night out was strictly linked to the amount of vomit ejected. "How was last night?" "Great. I threw up five times and I don’t remember anything at all." Now, I don’t want to sound like a bigot or pharisee, I’ve reached that condition myself too, but I would never go out with the firm goal of being sick. There lies the difference: Brits drink to get drunk, whereas Italians only get drunk when miscalculate their alcohol tolerance.

Driving: Easy, easy, easy: the United Kingdom is a civilized country where drivers stop at traffic lights, respect speed limits, do not park in banned areas and -unheard of in Italy- give way to pedestrians on zebra crossings. In Italy, roads seem to be a place chosen as the arena where to reduce the world overpopulation. And we do it fine. We are so good at it that the EU has decided to officially slap our hand because of it. A shame.

Politics: If you thought that last chapter was the all round least meritorious of the Italian way of life you were mistaken. Worse than our driving conduct is our political class (and our attitude towards it). Brits have had their fair share of political scandals in recent decades and, probably worse, they have been forced to endure something like Margaret Thatcher for years. Still, they are capable to punish the ruling party that has fallen short of their expectations, or to vote in parliament against a renegade prime minister. Italy "enjoys" a pseudo-feudale situation where those mammoths that are in power will remain there until -at their hundred and twentieth birthday- the oxygen machine is disconnected.

Media: Here the choice is between the least worst between a rapist and a terrorist! In Italy, half of the media belong to Mr.Berlusconi, while the other half is shared according to well marked political ideologies. The consequence is that to get a vague idea of how things are, you need to read the same story on two different newspapers and then apply the mathematical average to the equation so to finally know that in reality you

Photo: Alessandro Fenu
know less than you did before. In the UK, the media are not so shamelessly allocated (or, at least, the owner of the country's biggest newspapers doesn’t become Prime Minister), but newsagents are filled with that unbearable, typical English product: the tabloid. The big boobed blonde chick on page 3 is usually the only part in these journalism junkyard worthy of a look. However, much better a big boobed blonde chick than Berlusconi.

Weather: British climate is summarized in this very autochthonous English joke: "Thank God this year summer was on Sunday." There is a legend according to which Britain is a very rainy country. Yet, pluvial figures in hand, London receives in one given year 200 mms of rainfall less than Rome. The truth is that it doesn’t always rain there: only constantly threatens to do so. They are neither those continental autumn rains, quiet and steady, nor those violent tropical storms that leave you only a few seconds to find shelter before a cascade of water hits you. It is rather a constantly grey sky and a very thin rain: insidious and intermittent. It goes on like this from New Year's Eve to December 31st. Italian’s three months of summer corresponds in the UK to a crazy gardener who waters the land from the sky with his sprinkler. Italian’s winters of white snow and blue, freezing skies corresponds in the UK… well, to that same crazy gardener.

Sports: To the Brits the merit of having invented nearly all current most popular sports: football, rugby, tennis. They’d win this point hands down if not for… cricket! A sport, only a mind of a person under the hallucinogen effects of amphetamines may have given birth to. Cricket is somehow like those very hated, compulsory visits to relatives in that transitional period between childhood and adolescence: a conviction. With a difference: cricket doesn’t disappear with the end of puberty. A cricket match begins on Thursday or Friday and goes on -apart from tea breaks at 5pm- until sunset on Sunday. Three or four days when two teams, both dressed in cream white as if just arriving from a first communion, alternate bowling and batting a ball the size of a baseball one. After endless efforts to understand it, the only thing I realized (guessing) is that one’s goal is to hit the poles located behind the batsman, while he
With Sandro at Camden LockWith Sandro at Camden LockWith Sandro at Camden Lock

Photo: Alessandro Fenu
tries to prevent it. From time to time, half of the players cheer and rejoice. That’s the best time to understand, at least, who is playing with whom. It goes on like this until there is light, day after day until Sunday when the score is several hundred points each. As for tennis, the game is suspended in case of rain. Therefore, it’s to be hoped, every time a TV channel is hostage to this divine punishment, that the crazy gardener mentioned above will strike. But cricket’s weekend always end up being the sunniest in the history of British meteorology. To synthesize it with Bill Bryson's words: "The only sport where spectators sweat more than players do".

Humour: The classical British joke is the one that one might not immediately understand but that once fully assimilated literally bends you in halves with laughter. And laughter reappears again and again with same intensity every time you recall it. Certainly, for a foreigner that’s a risk. I mean, not every moment is indicated for dislocate your jaw with laughter and a “late effect” joke fully understood during class or when in front of your boss may create embarrassing situations. English humour, contrary to what happens with the Italian -and more generally with the "international" one- is less physical and more surreal, more cerebral. Monty Python’s are perhaps its best example. It’s not a genre that produces indifference: either you love it or despise it. I love it. Beside, I’ve never met a Brit who doesn’t know at least a good joke. Even those rare times when they’re sober!

La versione italiana di questo blog la trovi sul sito
Link: Piccole Grandi Differenze fra il Regno Unito e l'Italia


3rd January 2008

Recibe un gran abrazo desde Málaga. Ya veo que te sigue llendo bien por esos mundos de Diós... ¡¡¡ que grande eres !!! FELIZ AÑO NUEVO
4th January 2008

Another well-written entry...hopefully this is, as you say, just a rest stop and not an end to your journies and entries.
17th August 2008

Excellent blog
Very perceptive blog - Seeing Brits on holiday in groups is not advisable, but thankfully many Brits can be a little more sophisticated. Hopefully booze culture and lads mags won't be with us forever! I loved your comment about the Canadian in the previous Blog - I've seen that sort of thing many times travelling. Good luck

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