Monday, 30 September 2013

Culture Shock round II

Is it even still possibile to get culture shock after being in a country for four-ish years? To my surprise, I think it is!

Til now I've been working in quite international English speaking environments but I recently started a new job in a school in the city. The work's very interesting and providing lots of personal and professional growth, but... it's just so so different from the schools I went to in England.

Firstly, like in most private educational establishments in Italy there are nuns. Before I came to Italy I always imagined peaceful saintly beings showering the world and everyone in it with Jesus's love. So I was quite disappointed when I arrived at my first nun-run school to do a cover lesson. The nun at the door was not happy to see me and told me off for being 10 minutes too early!


To be fair a couple of the nuns at this school are smilingly serene, but mostly they can silence a room of children, or even teachers, with one glance. I'm still getting into trouble regularly :)

Secondly, I spent four hours in meetings on Friday afternoon and by the end of it I was SO CONFUSED. It's not totally the fault of not speaking Italian well enough. It's mostly that the concepts and terminology are totally foreign. A 'settimana bianca' is apparently a ski trip and I've still not figured out what 'laboratori' are, but they're starting next week. Also it doesn't help that all the teachers are either talking over the top of each other or shhhing everyone like mad depending on whether it's their turn to speak or not. For my part I can't yet get my sentences out without hesitating and so get constantly interrupted. Maddening!

Church services and prayers are also a disaster. I can't understand what's going on at all and I can't do the Catholic sign of the cross thing, so I can't even make a pretence of following.

Thirdly I have well over 200 students' names to learn and Italian parents really like the names Giulia, Giovanni, Beatrice and Leonardo. So far I've only learnt the naughty ones. Only about 170 more to go then!

They all sit in rows.

On the plus, although things seem to be organised at the last minute or even thirty minutes after the last minute, the staff seem to be pretty friendly, and very flexible and good at what they do.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Get thyself to the Dolomites

Chewing the Cud

The Three Peaks and the Three Men

High up on the border grow flowers

Follow the red and white lines

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Lago Di Braies

It's back to school already, and although we've only been back a few days the holidays are already receding into the past as we (I and 200 new faces) discuss notebooks, write names on everything and tweak seating plans. At break time the noise almost rises to a jungle like cacophony and I wonder if I will ever get used to it. The Lago di Braies has never felt so far away!

Lago di Braies

This lake is at 1500m up in the Alto Adige or Sud Tirol as you may know it. Another series of Un Passo Dal Cielo with Terrence Hill was filmed there this summer and it's always popular with tourists. We were able to walk there in the evenings though and the place had a magical feeling to it. Absolutely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I can totally recommend it if you are ever in the area on holiday or on your way to Austria (it's very near the border) or Bavaria.

The Boat House

The holiday was great. I've always wanted to see these Dolomites and they didn't disapoint.  We went hiking everyday and got quite tanned, but by the end of the week we were starting to feel like maybe we needed another holiday we did so much.

Instead of course, I got to start a new job, but I think all the climbing was worth it because there are a lot of stairs at the new school and I'm constantly going up and down them looking for things like classrooms, soap and paper. Oh man, I can't wait to know where stuff is!

Competition Entry

Thursday, 12 September 2013

How to dress like the Milanese

Where I come from clothes are practical items for keeping you warm and dry. People may spend half the year in wellie boots or more than that if the weather is bad as the countryside turns into a sea of mud with a few tarmac interludes. Umbrellas are useless out of town when you are exposed to the wind so people use waterproof raincoats and even waterproof hats and trousers. Since things are casual, getting dressed up is seen as something to be savoured and so happens when you go to the pub in the evening, to church on Sunday or out for dinner.

For men, this means you either do jeans-black shirt-black shoes, or chinos-blue shirt-brown shoes. I once saw my neighbours in negotiation on the drive because all three brothers had opted for the second choice and someone needed to go and change.

For women, on the other hand, this means jeans-sparkly top-probably heels or little dress- probably heels. Both  are accompanied with more makeup than usual.

In short there is a clear distinction between normal clothes and 'going out' clothes.

The Sartorialist's blog is a good place to go if you want to feel inadequately dressed or like an inadequate photographer.

Here in city centre of Milan it couldn't really be more different. Casual Friday has been embraced by quite a lot of companies, but as far as I can tell involves looking very smart without a tie. Even in the non ultra smart work places people seem to spend most of their time in a state of perpetual smart casual. Going out in the evening people seem to actually dress down if they have time to change, though still it's hardly dressing down by English standards.

The consequence of this is that I always feel shabby, except in August when the place is full of tourists and people are back from their holidays and drop their standards a bit because they want to flash some suntanned flesh. Even in July in 35c and more girls will go out in jeans rather than wear more casual summer wear.

Can you guess where this was taken? Find out here.

Here are a few observations and things I've learnt since moving to Milan about getting dressed, but be warned, emulating Milanese style can be quite exhausting and expensive! The attention to detail is endless.

You still want to know how to dress like the Milanese? Well ok, the first thing you need is a full length mirror....

1. Check your shoes. Are they clean? Are they immaculately polished? Have you carefully maintained your trainers' brand new white?

2. Oh, it's Summer, so you're wearing sandals. I hope you cut your nails (seriously, I have witnessed people comment on this and seen it written into a contract). Also, flip flops are for the swimming pool or home. Men don't wear sandals all together and neither do they wear shorts in town.

3. Your legs. Are they tanned? Then it's ok to get them out, but probably only from July- early September. Oh and they must be perfectly hairless. Some of my students, male and female, also wax their arms!

4. Your clothes need to be spotlessly clean. Not even a tiny grease spot or toothpaste splash is permitted.

5. Iron your clothes. All of them. Starch your shirts. (Pay someone else to do it if you want to be really Milanese).

6. Natural fabrics too. Silk ties, gentlemen. In winter it's all about 100% wool (preferably cashmere and most certainly bobble-free) and in summer it's all about 100% cotton or linen. Leather shoes and bags only, unless it is Luis Vuitton in which case that is apparently OK.

7. I've talked about weather appropriate dressing vs calendar dressing before, here, and ever changing fashion trends, here and here, which are always useful to bear in mind, but up to a point because if you take a coat you have to wear it and not throw it over your bag or tie it round your waist and the past years have seen everyone wearing shiny bin bag puffa jackets which are hideous, proving that even the Italians can get it wrong wrong wrong.

8. Now check the whole ensemble. The type of neutral palette you choose depends on the season but remember don't mix black leather with brown. A refuses to wear black socks with brown shoes even and wouldn't be seen dead with the mismatching belt at work. He also feels uncomfortable wearing his black leather gloves when he's wearing brown shoes and prefers to have cold hands. For women, bags also need to be matched to the outfit (I try to get round this by using an orange bag which doesn't go with anything and I hope therefore makes it a statement piece!) Oh and do carry a handbag no matter how heavy it is. Someone told me that they felt duty bound to inform a new foreign colleague with a rucksack that "ladies carry purses."

On a side note men should only fasten 1 button on their jacket and 3 buttons on their jacket cuffs leaving the fourth undone to subtly prove to the world that their suit is bespoke.

9. Also your hair. When I came here I just assumed the women had superior follicles but then my hair dresser told me some women never wash it themselves and always pay for it to be blowdried professionally. This means that unless you wish to spend a lot of money you will never quite cut the mustard.

10. Are your labels tucked in? You have a loose thread, fetch the scissors! Ok now you may go, but I can't guarantee that you won't fail someone else's scrutinous gaze.