Archive for the ‘Cultural differences’ Category

Whooping it up alla Italiana


Tired Old Tales for Thursdays

Status Viatoris

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I didn’t have many birthday parties when I was a child, in fact I can only really recall one. And before you breathe a collective Aaaaaahhhhhh and get the violins out, let me reassure you that the lack of festivities was entirely my own doing.

As an only child growing up in a tiny hamlet where for a long time I formed 50% of the under thirties, I was always far more at ease in the company of adults. In fact it is only now, at the ripe old age of 33, that I finally feel comfortable with my peers.

An afternoon spent in the boisterous company of other children, children who had learnt to play, squabble and communicate alongside siblings, extended family and other neighbourhood youngsters, was never easy for me.

And if the auspicious nature of…

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Down Wiv Skool


Weary Wanderings for Wednesdays!

Status Viatoris

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I loathed school, I mean really really loathed it. Even now – seventeen years after my torture schooling ended (bloody hell that makes me feel old :-() – when I find myself on the wrong side of the gates, my heart beats wildly and I struggle to catch my breath until freedom has been safely regained.

Knowing that I would have to spend several days traipsing the hallowed halls, filled me with not a little trepidation.

So as a panic-reducing displacement activity, I attempted to distract myself by studying the idiosyncrasies of Italian school life…

Most noticeable is that Italian children talk A LOT. The noise levels in the classroom, in the dining hall, in the playground, and indeed anywhere where there is more than one bimbo italiano are excruciating.

They also find sitting still for longer than…

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Adventures in Mummying



I am now two years and seven months into this mothering lark.

There are moments when I really cannot recall what my life was like without my daughter, and moments I am so exhausted and Mummyyyyyyyyyyyyyyed! out that I feel like she has been here forever (which I am aware is not quite the same thing…).

Then there are those other moments I whip round in surprise at the sound of a squeaky little voice summoning her Mumma, and wonder how it is she seems so confident of who I am and all I am apparently able to deliver when most of the time I still feel as clueless as if the stork dropped her off the day before – although, given that young children are in a state of constant change, I cannot be alone in feeling that I never quite manage to get my mothering shit together or that bringing up a child is substantially more blindfolded white-rapid ride than it is guided amble round a park.

20160430_105953Of course the internet offers a myriad of foolproof parenting methods, playgrounds always contain at least one mother fortunate enough to know everything and bookshops bulge with tomes by parenting experts; all of which give the impression that it really could be a guided amble round a park, if we would just follow their 5-point plan to: Getting the child sleeping through from conception! Getting the child feeding on a schedule from the moment he crowns! Don’t put the child down for the first six months! Wash the birth gunk off, and don’t pick the child up ever again in case she gets used to it! Pretend you can’t hear him crying, he only wants attention! Anticipate your child’s needs the day before so she never has to cry!

It’s a confusing minefield with no possible winners (other than that know-it-all-mother’s ego and the royalties enjoyed by the aforementioned parenting “experts”): no two children are exactly the same, no parents are exactly the same, no families are exactly the same and no lifestyles are exactly the same. Parenting is an ongoing exercise in intuition, compromise, guesswork, consistency, patience and bluff.

One lesson I have learnt is that people who do not have children should not form an opinion on child-rearing, much less voice it. That intense emotional bond with the child you are raising colours every situation you are likely to face from the first moment you hold him in your arms. And your intuitive understanding of that child dictates how you decide to deal with those situations. There are very few OSFA solutions to parenting quandaries, and those on the outside looking in only ever have part of the story.


Before Maya was even born, I wrote a condescending piece referencing Attachment Parenting (or at least what I assumed it to be). I feel particularly silly about it now because without even really being aware of it, I seem to have ended up practising many of the AP principles. I read somewhere that a child who has all emotional (as well as physical) needs met, is more likely to grow into a well-rounded and confident adult. And not only does that make perfect sense to me; it also fits very nicely thank you with the way I have always instinctively wanted to respond to my daughter.

But in my pre-motherhood ignorance, I confused nurturing with controlling – something I have witnessed quite a bit here in Italy, where meaningful communication with children often seems to be eschewed in favour of endless commands to: Get up of that floor, you’ll get dirty! Get down off there, you’ll fall! Don’t go up there, you’ll hurt yourself! Get your finger out of your mouth, it’s dirty! Do your coat up, there’s a draft! Don’t run, you’ll fall over! Do that again and I’ll smack you!

20160713_175919 (2)In the playgrounds and piazze of my Italian existence, the gentlest of tumbles frequently results in a flurry of panic, surfaces are treated as terrifying germ-coated threats to fallen snacks (and toys and fingers), potential death-traps are seen everywhere, children are bundled up against dangerous breezes about nine months of the year and empty threats of corporal punishment appear to be considered an acceptable parenting tool more often than I care to notice.

It has an uncomfortable edge of negativity to it. I suspect children who are not offered rational explanations for things might have a harder time making good judgement calls, and children not permitted to play freely may struggle to safely discover their own physical limitations. Admittedly the inculcation of a fear of dirt, weather and theoretical parental slaps is not much worse than pointless, but what of the loud proof that these parents have absolutely no faith in their offspring’s fledgling abilities to get themselves safely from A to B? I can’t envisage that being an ingredient for either confidence or independence.

The bizarre bedfellow of the above is the Italian child-worship phenomenon (perhaps partially a result of ever-decreasing family size?) that grandparents, waiters and random passers-by indulge in. This mainly involves a Willy Wonkaesque deluge of sugar in all its most tooth-rotting forms, and a willingness to humour every cappriccio thrown up by the object of their worship.

IMG-20160704-WA0001So is there an absolute right way? I doubt it – there are simply too many variables, but who really knows. All I know is that I have no desire to shout all day, I don’t care about dirt or weather, I think Maya is more likely to learn respect if she is shown it, I encourage her to climb and jump and run as much as she wants and if she falls I comfort her then release her back into play, and although I did slap my child’s bottom once – she slapped me right back AND I WAS PLEASED!

The result so far is a joyous little girl, with a wonderful sense of humour but also a very strong sense of self: woe betide anyone, family or not, who tries to pet her or assist her without being expressly invited. She has strong opinions about what she wants, but gives in reasonably gracefully when told why she can’t have it. She is independent and adventurous, as long as she knows one of us is close by if required. She doesn’t try to dominate other children, but is slowly getting the hang of standing up for herself. She’s endlessly communicative and she’s kind.

On the other hand: she doesn’t sleep well, she has been known to deface the occasional wall with her wax crayons, she’s a bit Mummy and Mummy Milk-obsessed, she cries every single time she wakes up from a nap for no apparent reason, she’s stubborn, she pees in the bidet, farts like her father, is frequently reluctant to do whatever she has been kindly requested to do, and she is far too fond of the television (Blaze and the Monster Machines in particular).

20160522_105702But as a blindly obedient paragon of “virtue” is the last thing I want to unleash on the world, I am extremely content with progress so far as well as being increasingly more besotted with every passing day.

That said, I am also exhausted, wrung-out and in dire need of some time alone with my thoughts: time to write, time to read, time to walk, time to complete work calmly without the stress of trying to squeeze translations in her all-too-brief nap times. So from the 14th of September a new chapter begins for both of us – nursery school! And I don’t know who is more excited…

On Second Thoughts, I’ll Take The Treno


And it’s Flashback Friday once again!

Status Viatoris

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Some very helpful instructions from the boss, designed to help a nervous Canadian colleague make the transition to Italian driving.


1. Be constantly alert, you cannot relax your guard for an instant.

2. Being a considerate driver in Italy is highly dangerous, Italian road users are not used to it and may react in a myriad of unexpected ways.

3. Italian drivers are always right. In an event of an accident call the Polizia Locale to decide who is a fault. If necessary, they will then call an ambulance.

4. Be prepared for the fact that Italian drivers park anywhere, even in the middle of the road. You, however, must only park in the designated parking areas. Check up and down the street for small complicated signs explaining why you shouldn’t park there before you park.


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Noshing Across the Cultural Divide


Tired old tales for Thursdays – originally posted on 07/05/2010

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Tonight, I had the first of what I hope will be many ‘aperitivi’ in my new village.

Being a girl often on her lonesome own-some, going out and about in the evening has never been the easiest of things in any of the Mediterranean countries I have lived in. Although a solitary visit to a restaurant terrace in the touristy coastal towns would be perfectly acceptable, venturing into any of the village bars or eateries on my tod would get me the sort of attention that I could well do without.

Thus far, my only night-time excursion had been to the local pizza restaurant safe in the company of some French friends who had trekked over the border for the  simple pleasure of my company.

It was an interesting experience that got off to a cracking start with ‘Les Français’ being two hours late due to work issues.

I was then moaned at because my directions hadn’t been accurate enough.

Then there were the snide  asides about what a monied area I must live in because of all the large villas they had passed (either the pitch darkness or a little too much pre-dinner vin had obviously  been at work, for I travel that road at least twice a day and have yet to find myself nez à nez with a millionaire).

I was then treated to a bout of Gallic snootiness because there was no wine list (one just orders a caraffa of rosso, bianco or rosato – which are usually pretty faultless as well as costing less than a round of soft drinks).

To top it off, most of the group persisted in speaking to the bemused waiter all night in French.

I have often noticed that Italians who trot over the border to France, even if it’s just to visit the supermarket for a bit of variety, manage to communicate perfectly well in French. The French journeying in the opposite direction, however, can barely even seem to manage a ‘grazie’, when ironically a large percentage in the south-east of France carry Italian surnames due to the historical overlap between the two countries.

Anyway, although a laugh and a reminisce were had, and some indecently delicious pizza was guzzled, by the end of the evening I was reassured that the path I have chosen is the right one for me. Viva Italia!

(that said, I still get a real thrill from revisiting my old French haunts every few weeks and feeling just as home there as I am starting to feel in my new host country – I acknowledge that I am an extremely fortunate girl who has no reasons for complaint!)

So this afternoon, my colleague/friend and I decided to push the boat out and have a couple of drinks while we were waiting for her daughter to get back from a school trip.

We chose a bar with a terrace alongside the main thoroughfare, and settled back to enjoy our wine and nibbles. Italy is delightfully like Spain in that respect; with each drink, an array of goodies is spread out for you to feast on. For a measly five euros we had two drinks each, 1 bowl of crisps, 1 bowl of tacos, 1 bowl of peanuts, 1 plate of pizza chunks and 2 plates of cheese and ham piadina sections. (Piadine are hot or cold sandwiches made with a special unleavened bread from the Emilia Romagna region). And that was supper taken care of, although if we had had the inclination to continue boozing, the offerings would have become more and more expansive.

Whilst we were scoffing and chatting, a small lorry pulled up in front of us so that the driver could chat to a friend. After a few seconds everyone in the vicinity was made very aware of its cargo, as the smell of manure wafted fragrantly over the tables to mingle with the aroma of the delicacies on our plates.

And on he chatted, and on and on, whilst all around him people heaved, and gagged, and reeled. Eventually a similarly sized lorry, this time with a more acceptable cargo of strawberries, drew up alongside and pointed out that he was causing a Mexican wave of retching up and down the high street. With much guffawing and not a word of apology for the olfactory rape he had just subjected us all to, he drove off.

(and only my revolting Pooch was sad to see him go)

This is Status Viatoris, still chuckling to herself – “Only in Italy!”.

How to Gesticulate, Nomad Style.


And for today’s Tired Old Tales for Tuesdays, we have this old chestnut…

Status Viatoris

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I was pondering recently, whilst watching my hands flounder about in front of my face as I spoke, on those gestures that are specific to each country. One ponder led to another, and I decided to make a list of all the ‘sign language’ I have picked up over the years and incorporated into my own body language.

Each sign comes with instructions. Remember, us Anglo Saxons are used to only very basic hand signals; to avoid injury to yourselves or others begin in slow motion, you can then gradually work up to continental speed.


“Your girlfriend/boyfriend/Wife/Husband is not taking the whole fidelity issue quite as seriously as you might wish.” Clasp your ring and middle fingers to your palm with your thumb, and point your fist, with index finger and pinky outstretched towards the unfortunate cuckold…

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Italianitis. Is There a Cure?


And a little something for the weekend, let’s call it Flashbacks for Fridays…

Status Viatoris

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

So why the fascination with Italy?

When I’ve asked fellow ex-pats living in Spain or France why they are there, the weather almost always has pride of place at the top of the list. Snapping at its sunny heels come the less stressful pace of life, and the comparatively low cost of living (although with the recent and graceless swan dive executed by the British pound, it is doubtful that the latter is still a factor). Only then do we get into comments about the cultural qualities of the country itself.

Italy, however, seems to exert an almost hypnotic influence on many of us foreigners; reeling us inexorably in with its colourful history, its art, its architecture, its sublime cuisine, and its joie de vivre. We come in droves, despite knowing full well that by stepping into its…

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It has EVERYTHING to do with religion


Brussels, Iraq, Bangladesh, Turkey, Orlando, Syria, Libya, Nice… and these are just a handful of the places to have suffered grave and unimaginable losses due to terrorism so far in 2016.

And we can shout “Terrorism has no religion!” until our throats are dry, but it is a lie.

Because all those lives have been lost not just to terrorism, but to ISLAMIC terrorism. I reiterate again, that although most Muslims are not extremist terrorists, most extremist terrorists are Muslim. And they ARE Muslim. It is dangerously naive to declare otherwise. Islam, like all Abrahamic religions, can be interpreted pretty much any way suits an adherent’s lifestyle. An extremist Muslim is just as much a Muslim as a moderate Muslim, they just take different messages from their holy book. And as long as Allah continues to resist making a personal appearance in order to mediate and clarify, that will remain the case.

It is not ‘racist’, it is not ‘discriminatory’, it is not ‘Islamophobia’. It is simply fact.

Most of those Muslims carrying out attacks in the West were born and brought up in the countries they appear to hate so very much, by parents who (I imagine) moved here for a better life. In order to try and stem the advance of this carnage, and the divisive social and political disintegration it causes, we need to stop coming out with both excuses and blanket condemnations, and start concentrating our efforts on finding out why these people hate with such vehemence.

We need to find out how they could become so radicalised against the relatively mild background of democratic Western Europe.

Is it disaffected youth, whose apparent inability to find a sense of purpose in their everyday lives made them the ideal target for some particularly amoral puppet masters?

Is it the ease with which religion can be interpreted to justify even the most heinous actions?

Is it the ease with which religion feeds into the innate and divisive human trait of seeking a righteous “us” versus an immoral “them”?

We need to find out whether their families, friends and communities simply fail to notice this radicalisation process taking place, whether their sense of kinship is stronger than their compassion for the innocent men women and children of their host countries, or whether the numbers of the complicit are higher than we dare imagine.

Most importantly , we must ensure that within our message of democratic freedom, a very clear emphasis is put on a secular Freedom of Religion. Not the freedom to do whatever you please in the name of religion, but the freedom for everyone to believe whatever they please and to live as they please, providing it is not detrimental to others and whilst understanding that religion is a personal choice, not a political or a moral framework.

And for all those who feel that the only trigger for these attacks is clumsy Western intervention in the Middle East, what about those Muslims who kill other Muslims for being the wrong sort of Muslim? What about those Muslims who kill ex-Muslims simply because they no longer believe in Allah? What about those Muslims who kill other Muslims simply because they have dared questioned some of the tenets of Islam?

I have no solutions to the sickness currently affecting Islam, but pretending it is not there is the height of stupidity.

Nice wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last – that much is certain. And whilst we should not play into the Jihadists’ hands with unjustifiable hatred towards all Muslims (another ‘Holy War’ – Islam against the world, is exactly what they are hoping for), we owe it to ourselves and to the innocent lives lost to be brutally honest about the causes, because only then have we any hope at all of tackling them.

So think about Brussels, Iraq, Bangladesh, Turkey, Orlando, Syria, Libya and Nice, cry for them and mourn with them, just don’t pray for them, for more religion is the last thing they need.

Status Viatoris

Je suis Charlie 

Twelve people dead, just to assuage the hurt feelings of some truly pathetic human beings. It is heartbreaking, terrifying and infinitely absurd.

And predictably, the apologist protestations have already begun: the terrorists are not “true” Muslims. These acts of terrorism are not religiously motivated. None of this has anything to do with Islam. None of this has anything to do with religion.

Poor, poor, poor misunderstood religion; the hardships it has to endure.

But unfortunately for religion, the deities who, several thousand years ago, so kindly dictated their respective rules, threats and petulant demands for blind obedience to willing scribes, neglected one rather important detail: clarity.

Hence why there are 300-odd Christian denominations, for example, and why some Muslims think Islam is the religion of peace whilst other Muslims think murdering their detractors in cold blood is a perfectly acceptable way to behave. Some religiously-motivated behaviour happens to comply with the laws of whichever land the adherent lives…

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Small Crises of Identity


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I have a very boring surname; a single-syllabled yawn-inducer of a surname.

In fact over the years, one of the most exciting aspects of potential matrimony has been the thought that I would be presented with a perfectly legitimate reason to change it.

And yet here I am; spliced, ringed-up and officially wed, but without a single appellatory-alteration to show for it.

But, why? You might ask – as I myself do on a semi-regular basis…

Perhaps I should start with the why nots.

Well, it’s certainly not in any way because I’m a feminist (although I am, in the men-and-women-are-equals way), in fact it makes perfect sense when creating a family to give them the same surname, whoever’s it may be.

Having carried a child for nine months, squeezed it painfully out through a hole that is patently too small for such a purpose, fed it, worried about it, and taken marginally good care of it; I certainly don’t want to misplace it in the fresh produce aisle only to realise that the sole links the authorities may find to connect me to my offspring are our shared knock-knee affliction or the results of a long-winded DNA test.

I also can’t blame the lack of name change on a desire to keep the family surname alive – I am about as clannish as I am patriotic.

Could it be because the mere thought of the bureaucracy involved in changing my surname in a country where it is not the cultural practice chills me to my very vitals?

That plays a part, certainly; but in fact the primary reason I can’t seem to bring myself to alter my nominal identity is far more basic than any of the prior options:

It is simply the blinding realisation that having been plain old “me” for an entire thirty-six years, I find myself in no way inclined to get used to being someone different, even if it is solely in name.

So the very boring surname stays.

And the offspring – already facing confusion by being born to a British mother and a Romanian father, in Italy – will add to its international credentials by following the Hispanic habit of carrying its father’s surname, followed by its mother’s very boring one.

Poor creature.

This is Status Viatoris, finding out new things about herself every single day (none of them especially interesting, I might add) in Italy.

Ding Dong the Bells are going to Chime


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Sometime towards the end of 2012, discussions turned to the state of my ovaries.

Given the apparently serious nature of our love affair, and the possibly decrepit state of my reproductive organs, I thought it prudent to point out to Tigger that should he envisage a family with me, sooner rather than later might be the key to thwarting the wear and tear that was invariably being wrought by Old Father Time.

To be honest it was merely an observation – I had long ago made peace with the possibility of a childless future (Life seems to me to be filled with plenty of other goals to strive for and hidden corners to explore).

Anyway, it transpired that a family is exactly what Tigger had envisaged with me, which is how I now find myself engaged to be married.

The Rock

Less of a rock and more of a chiefly calcium carbonate deposit formed around a grain of sand or other foreign matter in the shells of certain molluscs… But still very pretty.

And I simply cannot wait to be the wife of such a kind, loving, funny, supportive, intelligent, and wonderful man – although preferably via a registry office wedding involving no more than two guests and which I can attend in my trainers… oh yes, I am the last of the great romantics.

On paper we  are undoubtedly a very odd match.

I am a thirty-five year old English girl (not sure what it takes to be a woman, but I don’t feel I’m quite there yet…), he is a twenty-six year old Romanian of Hungarian origin.

I am an atheist, an only child and a bookworm; he is Catholic, the fourth child of six and has never picked up a book in his life.

I am an antisocial over-thinker; he is gregarious and happy-go-lucky.

I write stuff, translate stuff, teach stuff and sell stuff; he does stuff with iron, and has been known also to do stuff with wood and bricks and cement too.

I am messy, he is neat. I am fanciful, he is practical.

I have moved to Spain then France then Italy in a self-indulgent quest for a more exciting life, he has moved to Spain then Cyprus then Italy out of necessity – a necessity for reliably paid employment.

I have been through a fairly impressive roll call of partners in my attempt to track down “The One”, he never saw the point of having a girlfriend until he met me.

In fact about the only thing we have in common is that we love each other, and very much. A warm yet exciting, comforting yet heart-pounding kind of love that makes me go “oh! so that’s what everyone meant…!” for up till now I had assumed that people in relationships just made do.

No More.

No Less.

And into this already pretty cushy bargain, I also get the benefit of a lovely family. One that already boasts an Ecuadorian brother-in-law, thus relieving me of the burden of being the only foreigner; as well an extraordinarily special little Ecuadorian/Romanian nephew who had already melted my heart long before I had even made his uncle’s acquaintance.

Thus a whole new chapter of my life opens up, and in a direction that I really had not counted on.  Will it still be possible to be a Modern-Day Nomad with her head in the clouds and her fingers on the keyboard as well as a wife, and possibly also one day a mother?

I sincerely hope so. And I think that this partnership – for it most decidedly is a partnership, as opposed to two independent humans sharing merely bed and board as in previous relationships – has the necessary ingredients to make it possible.

I was already fairly sure of that six months ago but when my lovely strong cheerful man broke down and cried like a baby at the prospect of losing my beloved dog; then I knew it for certain.

This is Status Viatoris, who has enjoyed a few days off from An English Fandango, but who will be cracking on with “Marbella” from Monday.

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