This is my 3rd day here without my husband Angelo.
My 3rd day in a land where I am very much a foreigner, with a very meagre grasp on the language. (Angelo, as his name might suggest, has Italian blood and speaks the language).
I say that but I actually understand 90% of what is being said around me. Though noticeably most of it is not directed at me. Maybe this is because my ability to regurgitate the words in any sort of coherent sense leaves just too much to the imagination?
This is not the first time I am a foreigner, a ‘Brit abroad’, an expat.
When I was 7 years old, my family upped and left London (then, under rule of a Thatcher government) to live the good life in the Cevenes of southern France. I was then, as I am now, a stranger – “L’etranger”.
I went to the local school, I learnt French, or more accurately I learnt how to be French.
(I say ‘French’… but this is inaccurate – the word francais, more often than not, is an insult to the Cevenols, or Occitans)
There is a difference between learning a language and learning how to integrate. Learning French in French schools is a cultural experience. The rules (and the exceptions to every rule), come with explanations and a theory of the roots.
We were also taught civic duty – I learnt how to vote, the importance of voting and how the votes are counted. As kids we all vowed to vote green and put considerable pressure on the older generation to do so on our behalf!
(Note that France has a 90% turn out come election time.)
We learnt the metric system and were taught how the metric system was devised. How logical and practical. Water freezes at 0* and boils at 100*. There is exactly 10,000 km from equator to pole. The metric system teaches us about our environment and how we fit into it. And it is all so clean and easy and straightforward, why would anyone question this?
To be taught in France is to be taught how to be French. In every lesson, there is another lesson – how to think.
Just take the concept of masculine and feminine; a table is feminine (a place where food is prepared and eaten) while a desk is masculine (a place designed for the more cerebral activities along with some occasional pen pushing) – can you see a potential stereotype emerging?
The English language has neither masculine nor feminine to assert its roles for the sexes, so if these concepts are to be enforced they need to be done explicitly. While the Latin languages can merrily perpetuate a status quo without even trying.
My girls are attending the local school and they will learn how to be Italian. I want this for them. Not because I necessarily value the Italian culture above my own (what is my culture? French, Cevenol, British…?? – I am a civilian of the world), but because I think understanding different cultures is so valuable.
However, I will not be privy, as I was once to the goings on inside the classroom. The breeding ground of culture and indoctrination.
From what I have read Italian women can expect to earn 35% less than their male counterparts. There are also no female politicians to speak of. Why is this? I wonder if it something that is implicit in the language, in the culture, in the water?
Will my girls feel pressured to give up the feminist upbringing we naturally imparted to them, so they can successfully assimilate?
Or will Italy change?
The world around us is spinning faster than it ever has, and technology with the internet, brings a global culture to every corner of the world. How we choose to accept this, is a personal choice maybe. But Florence is a very open and outward looking corner of said world, and I have hope!