Like most people, in the days leading up to my departure, the anxiety grew. I would be living in Italy for one year! What do you pack for a full year? I watch so many packing tips to fit as much as I could in my bag.
Where would I be living? What was it like? This kept running through my mind, keeping me awake and kept me dropping the little orange man, on google maps, to see the street view and walk myself around the town.
In all honesty, I had never really seen an old town in Italy before, especially one that has probably never seen a tourist and was pretty much completely residential. So, walking my little orange man around the tiny little streets made me worried that nothing was there and in the picture it did seem a little scary!
Now, I must add here that the google maps photographers haven’t done many roads much justice but I didn't know that at the time, so knowing that this would be the street I would be working on, worried me a little bit. I was told to arrive at a little language school that I couldn’t see on the street at all.
One thing to note about windows and doors in Italy they have shutters galore! They roll down shutters, close other shutters over them and some of them have a side order of giant, metal bars over the doors. Now, for the Italians this is normal and once the shutters are opened, beautiful entrances and shop windows spring to light. However, for those first timers in Italy like me, this seems like the ultimate crime prevention and I would prefer to be able to see the pretty windows even when they are closed.
Even the houses have them! Just your normal everyday house has shutters upon shutters and I don’t mean blinds! Full on metal that covers the window! They close them at night and for their siestas! Giuseppe asked me what we do in the UK when we want to have our naps in the afternoon, after lunch. We have our lunch and get back to work, Giuseppe! No need for them.
The Journey Over There
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, well things seemed to be going far too smoothly and that isn’t the usual case in my life. Wouldn’t make for a good story, would it? Arriving at the Manchester airport, all proud because the videos that I had watched on youtube had enabled me to pack everything except the kitchen sink, I dragged my bag along the floor, as if one of my friends had asked: “oh take me with you in your suitcase” (like they all do) and I had said “yeah, sure! Hop in!”.
I shoved my bag onto the weighing bit at the check-in desk. The lady took my passport, smiled, tippy-tapped away at her keyboard, then she turned to me and said: “That will be £120 pounds please”. I know what you are thinking! “What that F?” Well, it turns out I had been really smart and booked a bag but I hadn’t booked any kilograms to go with the bag! Yep, you got it, this meant I paid per kilogram! Well, just brilliant! Great start.
When landing in Bari Palese airport, I was really lucky to have an old friend there to accompany me to my new home, Casamassima. Erika picked me up and, after trying to get in on the wrong side of the car, she ushered me to the side of the car where the steering wheel should be. Being a passenger for the first time on the other side of the road freaks you out!
Arriving in Casamassima at the school, I met the director, Maria, she was so lovely! The second I entered, as tense as I could be, I must have looked like how the Terminator moved in the first film. For those who haven’t seen the film, he moves slowly and stiff. I don’t think I had crazy eyes like him though. Just the movement. Anyway, The second I saw her lovely, curly hair, friendly smile and I heard her gentle Italian accent, my nerves relaxed.
She took me to my apartment.
The perks of my new job were that I got a lovely, little apartment and a work car which I could also use to get around outside of work. I can say now, that poor car saw some interesting driving. It experienced being towed away, acquired a few mysterious scratches and it was stopped a fair few times for the police to question me whilst try to understand the English on my driving licence.
My first experience driving the car taught me something very important that I must share with you if you don’t want to die when driving in Italy. When you are at a junction in the UK, you usually wait for a gap, but sometimes there are those wonderfully courteous people that take some time, out of their busy day, to slow down, flash their light and give you some space to pop out of the junction and drive off into the sunset.
In Italy, NOT THE CASE! I was on my first drive and there I was, sat at a junction waiting for that gap. Then there it was, a British person’s dream, the car coming up the road flashed his lights and off I went to pop into that gap when I heard the mighty roar of screeching tires, in harmony with his horn, and quite a few unknown Italian words in a raised voice. I think, now I speak the language, I could guess his choice of words. It turns out, flashing your lights in Italian means, "please do not come out of your junction. Stay there until I have passed you". Good to note, it also works for the motorway; the UK = "Please feel free to come over into this lane." Italy = "DON'T YOU DARE MOVE I AM COMING THROUGH!"
It Was Stressful!
The first 6 months were so stressful. I remember receiving a text from my dad saying “it will be hard at first, I am not going to lie. But crack on and it will get better”. I am very glad I listened! No one spoke English in the town that I chose to live I. I found it so hard to express myself. You don’t realise just how much you take your own language for granted, even to crack a silly joke or say sorry when you bump into someone.
I remember in my first week, I had forgotten to bring an adaptor that changed the UK plug into a European plug. My plan of action was to go to a computer shop and walk down every aisle until I found one. This needed no knowledge of the language and when got to the cash desk to pay, I would say “Grazie, Ciao!” and leave.
I walked up and down two shops with no success. So, the moment of truth came. I had to communicate with a staff member. I thought "this is nothing a little slow English and expressive dance couldn’t fix." Turns out that the art of dance doesn’t translate into to "Adaptor" in Italian. I ended up drawing a picture and they said “AHHHHHH ADATTATORE!!!!!”. Well, I couldn’t help my self, I replied “really? That is the exact same word!” This fell on deaf ears but, we had success! The lady ran off into the store so pleased with herself having understood the English person. Needless to say, she came back, it was the wrong one and they didn’t have the UK to the European one. This is going to be a long year!
Lots of stories from Italy for one post, stay tuned for part two!
See you there!