Last week, I think it was, I was asking my class of Italian adults learning English what they thought the most popular free time activities were in Britain, where I come from.
Their guesses included going to the cinema and the theatre, along with exhibitions, and reading of course – that is to say Shakespeare, Dickens, and Agatha Christie – nothing more recent, as Italian perceptions of the British were formed back in the days when we were all gentlemen or ladies (certainly not both), drank tea each afternoon at five, and were terribly polite.
Other suggestions that came up were playing football (that is to say ‘soccer’) in the park, and of course, going to pubs.
So I had fun telling them how people in the UK really spend their free time.
If you’re interested, there’s a graph here that shows how many people do the most popular free time activities, though this is organised by the number of ‘yes, I do that’ responses, not by the actual time spent, or by any measure of importance or significance, so take it with a pinch of salt.
People like gardening, I explained, and asked them if they’d noticed that British people often lived in houses with front and back yards, rather than in condominiums, as in Italy, where the green space is communal and professionally-maintained.
People plant things in their gardens, I told my students, then sit in the middle of them and watch those things grow. When it’s not raining, at least.
And did you notice, I enquired, how old some of the houses are? Like nineteenth century??
British people think old houses are better, which means they’re always having to do maintenance, about which more in a moment.
And when you move into a new house, I explained, to oohs and aahs, you don’t do a ‘ristrutturazione’ like Italians do (pay builders vast sums to spend a year ripping out the old floors, walls, ceilings, pipes, wires, and fittings and replacing it all with fashionable, shiny, but no more functional new stuff.)
For Italians, once they’ve ‘ristrutturato’, will likely live in their new home their whole lives, or at least from marriage to grave (or divorce, whichever comes sooner).
Whereas the Brits will start with a small place, move somewhere larger when they have child one, somewhere else with more space in time for child 2, and to a more fashionable suburb when dad’s career gets going.
Brits, when they buy a new home, will just move in. No builders, thank god! The previous owners didn’t take the fitted kitchen with them when they left, or the curtains, or the carpets (looks of disgust), so you can just have your furniture shipped, and via, you’re living the dream!
But, I explained, but, and it’s a very important but, once you’re actually in, then at that point, your wife will start noticing all the things that could be improved.
And so, one room at a time, D.I.Y. will be attempted, with varying degrees of success.
You may well ask!
It’s Do It Yourself, so painting, putting up wallpaper (why? everyone wants to know), changing the bathroom fittings, knocking down walls to create open plan living areas, and so on.
Hence all those TV programs about moving house, then sprucing up your latest nineteenth-century, barely-insulated, one-bathrooom (Italians insist on at least two) hovel, so it more resembles the happy nest you dreamt of.
So, there you go – gardening, D.I.Y., visiting gardening and DIY superstores on the outside of town, and when the marriage has been shaken to its foundations by decorating disagreements, hubby might go fishing, which means spending the day by the local canal pulling out inedible fish and throwing them back.
And all the while you Italians are swanning around looking fashionable, chatting about the latest exhibition you’ve seen, the newest film, the hottest place to eat out.
That said, I pointed out, if you have a bit of D.I.Y. experience, you don’t have to wait for or pay a professional to fix whatever is ailing at casa tua.
You just trot along to the D.I.Y. superstore, get the bits you need, and fix it yourself, on a Sunday morning, while the roast is in the oven and the kids are making happy noises in the back yard.
An option that middle-class, city-dwelling Italians would likely not have, see?
No D.I.Y. means learning no D.I.Y. skills.
Nor, for that matter, are they likely to be cooking Sunday lunch, which is what restaurants, or mothers, are for.
And – I finally get to the point – nor do they have much interest in teaching themselves anything else. Such as, for instance, foreign languages.
Italians who want to learn English will take a course, which is where I come in.
Brits who want to learn Italian might do the same. But when they conclude that the teacher is useless, the methodology is eighteenth century, and that the other students are all at different levels anyway, well then, perhaps they’ll have a go at Doing It Themselves.
Again, that’s where I come in.
It’s all free.
But having a paintbrush and a pot of paint doesn’t mean the new baby’s bedroom will decorate itself, right?
Don’t forget this week’s launch offer on Colpa della terra, Libro 1, Colpa della terra, the first in a new, five-part series of ‘easy reader’ ebooks about an Italian family that emigrates to the USA at the end of the nineteenth century.
We have Libro 1 this week, and for those who enjoy it, Libro 2 next week.
Libri 3 and 4 are scheduled for publication in May, and the final one in June.
An original Italian easy reader by Francesca Colombo
The first in a series of five ‘easy reader’ ebooks which tells the story of three generations of an Italian family that emigrates to the USA.
Libro 1 begins in 1895, in the village of Siano, Salerno. The narrator is Santo, a father of three who has fallen on hard times. The story opens as Santo welcomes home his childhood friend (and former rival in love), Cristiano, who after nine years has returned from across the ocean with tales of opportunity…
Cristiano sta appoggiato con la schiena a un muro e mastica un paletto. Non è cambiato quasi per nulla fisicamente, ma ha delle occhiaie più profonde, qualche capello grigio e un nuovo taglio, i baffi più sottili e dei vestiti nuovi. Sono contento di vederlo, dopo nove anni che manca dal paese. Mi è quasi preso un infarto quando mio fratello mi ha detto di averlo visto in piazza. “Pensavo che non tornavi più, Cristià!” gli dico correndogli incontro.
- .pdf e-book (+ audio available free online)
- .mobi (Kindle-compatible) and .epub (other ebook readers) available on request at no extra charge – just add a note to the order form or email us
- 8 chapters to read and listen to!
- Comprehension questions to check your understanding
- Italian/English glossary of ‘difficult’ terms for the level
- Suitable for students at intermediate level or above
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
How do I access my ebook?
When your order is ‘completed’ (normally immediately after payment), a download link will be automatically emailed to you. It’s valid for 7 days and 3 download attempts so please save a copy of the .pdf ebook in a safe place. Other versions of the ebook (.mobi/Kindle-compatible, .epub) cannot be downloaded but will be emailed to people who request them.
Tuesday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news is free to read and listen to, as they all are.