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Italy vs. Britain - The other side of the coin

Novembre 2016
Non ci sono solo differenze tra italiani e britannici, anzi. Con gli amici d’Oltremanica abbiamo più cose in comune di quanto pensiamo. Un esempio? La tendenza a lamentarsi! Loro del governo, noi... di noi stessi.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

The title of this article is a response to those readers who have contacted me saying, “Just a minute! We Italians aren’t all bad!” Of course Italians are not bad. If they were, thousands of British people would not choose to make their home here. Most Brits love Italy and its people, however every culture has its own software and there are a few things about life in Italy that British people just aren’t programmed for. Obviously, the opposite is also true. Although many Italians move to the UK, there will always be some things about British culture they find hard to digest, even after many years.

the germans!

I can illustrate this by describing something that British people DON’T have a problem with. A few months ago I was on the Milan metro when I met an elderly German lady I knew vaguely. She was angry because she had been in the city centre and found most of it closed because some important foreign politicians were visiting. This event had disrupted the public transport service and the German lady was very indignant.
“What disorganization!” she shouted. “Italians are hopeless! They can’t organize anything. Can you imagine disrupting an entire city, just because some foreign dignitaries have come to visit?” Actually, I could. I come from a town near London, and I’m quite used to disruption!


I felt very embarrassed by the woman’s words, especially as everyone on the metro was staring at us. Desperately, I tried to signal with my eyes to the other passengers that I did not share the elderly lady’s opinion or anger. However, I do understand why she was angry. Firstly, she was elderly and the lack of public transport had probably caused her some discomfort. Secondly, she was German.
I lived in Germany years ago and I can guarantee that having things running like clockwork is a cultural value that Germans absolutely take for granted. They not only value good organization, they cannot imagine a world where it doesn’t exist. I can remember people being scandalized if the bus arrived two minutes late.

common ground

If you have any German acquaintances, try giving them a German-made electrical device or tool as a gift. Then sit back and observe their delighted smile as they sigh with relief and say, “Ah, a German brand!” This, for them is synonymous with reliability and good performance.
You won’t get the same reaction from a British person. Apart from the fact that we don’t produce very much in the UK these days, the average Brit would probably not place a huge amount of trust in a British product. One of the reasons for this is that Brits and Italians share the same national sport: complaining about the way things are. There are subtle differences: British people love to moan about the government, whereas Italians, sadly, seem to spend more time criticizing themselves.


“Don’t be surprised if things don’t work; we’re in Italy,” my Italian friends say to me. “The country’s going to the dogs,” my British friends and family say. “This government’s an absolute nightmare!”
Although we are deeply confused by the lengthy bureaucratic procedures that exist in Italy, British expatriates are unlikely to complain about any disorganization. They wouldn’t dare. I have worked in several English schools and organizations in Italy and in my experience the local Italian staff do heroic work trying to organize the Brits, who, because they are so individualistic, always want to do things their own way. Similarly, every time I examine Italian students and hear them complain about public transport in their home towns, I want to tell them to google “Southern Rail” so that they can read all about the railway chaos in the south-east of England.


The things that trouble us about other countries are invariably linked to our own cultural values, and, as I said, this is also true for Italians living in the UK. I’ve talked about food, but there is so much more. Now it’s time for the other side of the coin. I’ll discuss drinking habits, the fact that British people seem unable or unwilling to understand foreigners and, excuse me, where’s the bidet? If Brits get on your nerves for some reasons let me know. I’ll try to explain their cultural origins and give you some survival tips.

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