What’s parsnip in Italian? Parsnipetto? 

Nice try love, but it’s pastinaca.

…if only more people knew…

Welcome to Britalian, a confession in instalments to talk myself into integration in Britain. 

So, we all agree I don’t sound British. Regardless of my accent though, maybe to become more British I need to delve deeper into the language itself.

Apparently language informs the way you see the world, so much that I can feel a slightly different personality in English. For a start, I am more sweary. I can’t say bad words in Italian, that’s well known and my friends take the mickey out of me for that. Cr**, is this my British identity?

Integration comes first through language. After all, I’ve been learning English since I was 8. Eight! Still, to get to the heart of a nation you need the emotional vocabulary: famous ads, poems, tongue twisters, children rimes, idioms, regional words…

Ambrogio, avrei un languorino/La nebbia agl’irti colli piovigginando sale e…/trentatrè trentini/Quarantaquattro gatti in fila per sei col resto di due…

There are still so many wonders of the English language that are beyond my reach. Words that wake up emotions and feelings, that are shortcuts to that part of me where I store memories and tears and pure joy.

My boyfriend is a linguist, so English classes are order of the day. He is trying to learn some Italian as well. He’s got quite a language sensitivity, and he makes up for words he cannot remember by coining new terms. That’s how teneroso came around.

Tenderoso [adj]: tender and sweet

There are some Italian words that I am fond of, that express concepts and ideas that I can’t translate in English in any other way. It’s so frustrating when you can’t express exactly what you need to-the only thins I can do then is to keep using Italian.

Spaìso [adjective]: when you wake up all scruffy and scrunched up. 

Descantabaùchi [noun]: it’s the thing that teaches you a lesson and turns you into a wiser, more clever or just a more timely person, like the time I lost a flight because I didn’t turn up early enough. That’s a descantabaùco.

Brasa cuèrta [noun]: a naughty guy disguised as an angel.

Ti voglio bene [verb]: oh, this is delicate to translate. It’s not as generic as I love you, it’s not as strong as “ti amo”, it’s not as bland as “you’re dear to me”. You can use it for you close friends, for the members of your family, but it definitely comes from the heart. 

Fare bella figura [idiom]: here’s one expression in particular that my boyfriend had to learn quickly. It goes beyond “keeping up appearance”, it’s respect for your guest, because your guest might judge. I had to become less judgmental myself, as Britain is all but judgemental. My boyfriend really doesn’t care about “bella figura”. He doesn’t mind wearing whatever is at hand even though I frown upon it, just because I have this engrained thing of “we must fare una bella figura”. But what matters the most is to avoid fare una brutta figura. When I buzz around the flat for a last second tidy up before guests arrive, it’s not about keeping up appearances, but about making my guest less uncomfortable. When I fuss about a shirt that’s not ironed or tucked in the trousers, it’s not about fashion, but honouring others and keeping respectable. When I cross out the price on a present with a sharpie, “but they can guess or check the value online”. Why is it so hard to come across? This is one of the longest cultural bridge we had to cross, and it took some time before I ventured beyond my side of the bridge.

Stammi bene [verb]: this is one of the translations I miss the most. There’s nothing in English that conveys all the warmth, care and closeness of stammi bene. Warm regards? Nah, sounds like yeh yeh I love you but keep off. Love? Would you waste such a meaningful word, “love”, when you sign off the same way with everybody? Cheers? No, we’re not drinking. Stammi bene. Make sure to keep well for me.  

So it’s been a long journey in Britain, and something tells me I’m only at the start.  

There is still so much more I will find out about my elective folk, and so much I will find out about the Italian me. I feel I’ve made a good job of letting the two sides sit next to each other. They bicker at times, they don’t blend as much as I thought (on the occasion my national pride comes out), but they drive me through my British life without pulling me back all the time. One can choose their own national identity.

This is the last episode for now. Whoop, I managed to talk for 9 episodes and avoid Britain’s favourite topic, the weather!

Mh, does it mean that I am not British enough?

Oh no, I need to start all over again!