Words by Pat Eggleton
Alex Roe is an Englishman who is trying to understand Italy. He came on the first leg of a world trip but then he met Cristina and stayed. On “Blog from Italy” he blogs from Milan about the news , politics, culture, food and wine.
Alex, we know from your profile that you met your other half, Cristina, in Italy but we don’t know why you came. Can you tell us?
Well, Italy was supposed to be the first leg in a work myself around the work trip. To be honest, I'd grown bored with my life and work in the UK and wanted to change countries and learn another language – without studying it formally – to see if it could be done. At first, to keep myself going in Italy I taught English, and that is how I met my Italian other half, Cristina. She was working as a secretary at one of the English schools I worked with. We now have a 7- year-old boy.
And you began your blog as a way of “coming to terms” with Italy?
Yes, I wanted, and still want, to understand Italy: to find out what makes it tick, and why it is the way it is. I thought that by writing about my own experiences I could share them with others, and gain their insight too. This has happened to an extent. As for my coming to terms with Italy, I'm not there yet.
While Italy is a fabulous place, its resistance to change is frustrating. Needless complexity is abundant, but nobody does much about it.
So you find Italy exasperating at times?
Yes. I believe Italians do not understand the full potential of their country, which is huge. And I feel very sad for Italy's younger generations who are finding it difficult to gain a foothold and prepare for their futures.
Would you say you experienced culture shock?
I did not suffer from culture shock too much at first. I shared houses with other English speakers, and so was broken into Italian culture quite slowly.
My first real experience of culture shock happened with the arrival of our little one! I found Italian in-laws far too invasive for my liking, and was not at all keen on the wee one being sent to bed well after nine. I also find that Italian kids lack discipline and are allowed to run wild to a great extent, which goes against the way I was brought up. While my son gets away with a lot, having an English dad, he's not allowed to get away with some of the things one hundred percent of Italian kids get away with.
Having said the above, once Italians do know you, and if they decide they like you, they will treat you with an enormous amount of respect and not a little kindness.
Does your son understand English and Italian? What about the pooch, Atman? Which language does he respond to?
Since my son arrived on the scene in 2003, I have spoken to him in English. He understands a lot, as one might expect, but is still reluctant to speak English. We don't get back to the UK too often, which means his exposure to English is via me, and films. His comprehension is very high, but I really don't know whether he will turn out to be bilingual. This should put him in a good position for his future.
As for Atman the dog (my, but you are well informed!) he gets spoken to in English by me, and will 'sit', but, poor little pooch, everybody else speaks to him in Italian!
Tell us a little about Milan as you see it.
Milan is a sort of mini-version of London: Cosmopolitan, with lots going on, and for Italy, it works well. It's a deceptive city. When I first came to Milan, over ten years ago, I thought it was a huge metropolis, but I soon discovered that it's not. You can walk across the central area in ten minutes. Try doing that in London!
What do you blog about and what do you hope readers can gain from your blog?
I blog about everything and anything to do with Italy. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
BlogfromItaly.com is not a travel blog, just in case some are wondering. No, it covers all aspects of Italy. From news to culture, food and wine, and, I admit it, when I do go places, I photograph and write about them, so there is some travel content.
As a result of reading my posts, and those of BlogfromItaly's other contributors, I hope that readers end up with a more balanced view of Italy.
Can you tell us a little about how you see Italian politics and the direction in which you think Italy is going?
Italian politics is a mess. Levels of corruption are sky-rocketing, and not a fat lot is being done. I had high hopes for Berlusconi, as I thought a business mentality might be what Italy needed to pull its socks up. Alas, the Berlusconi mentality, which revolves around incestuous friendships, calling in favours, and pulling strings is not what Italy needs – Italy has been this way for many years, and the results are not positive. Italy will not become a serious country until it has some decent politicians.
Have any of your tastes - culinary or cultural - changed since you came to live in Italy?
I love the variety of Italian cuisine, and how there is always something to be discovered. Even in towns which are only a few miles away from Milan, there is often something different to try. Italy's culinary heritage is incredible, and the food is, by and large, very healthy and natural. While I generally love Italian food, I do miss good English sausages. Through the years I have discovered that there are lots of Italian wines which are superb, and as someone who likes a drop of good wine now and again, Italy is a wonderful country to be in.
From a cultural point of view, I have changed to an extent, I suppose. In what ways, though, I'm not sure. But I still feel moderately English.
What advice would you give someone about to move to Italy?
Read up on the country before you come. Even better, read up on the area of Italy in which you are likely to find yourself. The north is more organised and efficient, and has better schooling and health care than Italy's extreme southern regions.
Do your homework and expect unnecessary complexity, as well as a concept of honesty which may well differ from that of people from the UK and US.
Before you come here to live, contact a few bloggers. People, like me, who have lived here for a while, and ask them a few questions. I'm sure many will be happy to help.
Lastly, dress well. Italians judge people by their dress sense!
All your blog posts are interesting but can you recommend one or two especially for Italy Magazine readers?
I've always quite liked this post of mine: Italian temperatures and Umbrellas
An Interesting Italian Word: Furbo - it provides one with an idea of the Italian mindset.
Happy blogging, Alex and thank you for talking to Italy Magazine.
Many thanks to Italy Magazine for having decided that I merit the Blogger of the Week accolade!