It’s fairly obvious that there are many differences between England and Italy, but some of them definitely surprised me more than others. I have been living in Italy for the past year and a half – initially in Abruzzo and now here in Milan – so now I am well used to life here, but back in 2016 I was absolutely not!
I think I spent the first two weeks of my life in Italy running around supermarkets and restaurants exclaiming ‘look at how cheap this pasta is!’ ‘have you seen the price of this wine?!’. Food and drink in the UK are extremely expensive compared to Italy – the cheapest bottle of wine in a supermarket usually costs around £7 (€8.35) and is often very acidic and of poor quality. We also primarily use screw-caps instead of corks, which is far less elegant in my opinion. Additionally, if you want a coffee in England you pay around £4 for a small Starbucks – whereas the best coffee in the world is here for only €1!
For a lot of people, one of the first things we think about when someone mentions ‘Italy’ is the noise. When visiting Naples, for example, I was overwhelmed with the amount of car horns and shouting – not to mention the fact that I was almost run over several times! It took me some time to get used to the shouting and general noise in public, but now when I go back to England the buses and trains are eerily quiet. If I ever want a quiet hour to myself in Milan, I usually go to the nearest library or a nice small café.
Saying hello and goodbye in Italy is an event in itself. I think I’ve discovered the secret as to why Italians are always late – because every time you leave somewhere it takes an extra half an hour just to say goodbye! When leaving an event or party in England, we say goodbye once to everyone at the same time and leave pretty swiftly. Here, however, there’s a flurry of hugs and kisses, and the word ‘ciao’ repeated a hundred times over. I think people considered me quite rude for the first month of my time here, as I wasn’t quite used to the Italian way, but now I make sure I don’t leave without saying goodbye to every single person!
One of my favourite differences between Italy and the UK is that Italy has so many public holidays! It seems like every month there is something new to celebrate, and the mood of the country reflects that. Unfortunately, in the UK Carnival does not exist, but we do have pancake day instead! Apart from the fantastic day or two off work, one of the best things about these holidays (Easter, Carnival, Christmas etc.) is the food that comes with them, which brings me to my next point…
It would be impossible to talk about Italian culture without at least mentioning the food! I think the UK is pretty well-known for its terrible cuisine (fish & chips for example), so one of the first things I noticed when I moved here was not just the new dishes, but the quality of the food itself. Everything is so fresh and so well-prepared; even a simple pasta dish with 3 ingredients tastes incredible! Sometimes I miss the more international dishes we have in the UK, like Indian curry or Mexican burritos, but they are relatively easy to find here in Milan and I wouldn’t give up Italian food for anything.
I wouldn’t be British if I didn’t mention this! Coming from England, it was a big shock to me that people here do not queue – and if they do then someone always ends up cutting the line anyway. Another big surprise was that cars tend not to stop at the zebra crossing (crosswalk). In England this is illegal, and we take it very seriously, but nobody here seems to care! The category of etiquette also applies to the issue of personal space. It took me months and months to get used to people standing so close to me when in line at the supermarket or stood on the metro, and I’m still terrified when people walk straight towards me on the street, but they always move at the last second! Finally, an honourable mention goes to customer service. This definitely exists in Italy, but as there is no tipping culture, it sometimes tends to slip; it’s definitely not a priority here!
Many people in the UK tend to leave the house looking like they just woke up (this includes going out with wet hair!), but one of the most impressive things to me about Italian culture is that everyone always looks extremely presentable and put-together. Even at 8am on the metro, there isn’t a hair out of place and you’ll not find one person with dirty shoes. Cleanliness is a huge priority for Italian people; this includes both personal hygiene and tidiness in general. Long gone are the days of standing on a crowded, sweaty London tube – everyone here smells great!
I wouldn’t say that either way of life is better or worse than the other, just that there are many differences and many things to get used to when moving to a different country. Although the next time I go back to the UK, I’ll make sure to bring some pasta, coffee, and wine with me!