I’m not legally British. Did you know British citizenship costs £1163 just for admin fees? As an E.U. (Italian) citizen and a U.K. resident I had most of the rights that citizens had, so I never bothered. In addition to this, I never identified as British – despite moving there when I was nine years old and living there most of my life, I’ve always felt like an outsider. ‘Classic Brits, never talking about their feelings because they’re too busy applying their Protestant work ethic!’ – that’s the sort of thing I thought all the time. But since we moved to Italy this summer, I’ve come to realize a number of ways in which I am, in fact, British (In light of Brexit, I’ll be setting up a crowdfunding page to pay for my citizenship…)
1. Spatial awareness
If I say 'excuse me' whilst pushing a double buggy with two babies, I expect the person I’m saying it to to move in such a way that allows enough space for me to get through. I don’t expect them to reluctantly move four inches to the left, waiting for me to describe the patent facts: ‘I can’t get through’, and then to reluctantly move another four inches, repeating this again and again until we’ve reached a multiple of four that matches the width of the buggy.
In Britain, making eye contact with someone you don't know, without smiling or saying anything, is okay for approximately 1.5 seconds before you become arsehole of the year (or are diagnosed with sociopathic disorder). The window of time in Italy is about fourteen seconds north of this.
Italian food is amazing, no question. In fact, one of the many ways I never identified as British while living there, was that I felt British food was borderline inedible (unless you’re wealthy and can afford good quality food, which is considered a luxury – not an attitude I share). But I’ve found that sometimes, when it's 9pm and the kids are finally in bed and I want to mark the occasion with a tiny feast, all I really want is a packet of overpriced hobnobs from the off-licence.
4. ‘Money Talks’
The customer is very much not king here. If it’s the weekend, or August, nobody cares if you’re willing to pay double for something – you’re going to have to wait until they’re available in a few days’ time. Whereas if you’re friends with their cousin, they will drop everything immediately and do it for next to nothing. This is great when you are friends with someone whose cousin has services which you require, which, for a recent immigrant, is approximately 0.5% of the time.
5. Unsolicited advice
I’m not saying nobody offers this in Britain, but I think over half the population agree that it’s generally unwelcome and unhelpful and, basically, the mark of someone who just likes the sound of their own voice (cardinal sin in British society.) This is not so frowned upon in Italy: the average person’s feelings regarding one’s own voice can range from ‘it’s a pleasant bit of background noise to life’ to ‘it’s on a level with Mozart’s greatest masterpiece.’ In a way, this ‘everyone’s entitled to my opinion’ community-centered vibe is a nicer way of living where everyone looks out for each other. But in every other way, it sucks.