OUR STORIES: Lynda
It happened in Pescara ...
First of all, Lynda, when were you in Italy last?
The last time I visited Italy was in 1988. That was to stay with a family that I first met there as a student in 1980.
What was your first trip like?
We took the train to Italy. We spent two nights on the train and went through Switzerland. Obviously, we were very tired when we got there. One thing I hated was that we had to wear our school uniforms for the trip!
Where does your interest for Italy and Italian culture derive from?
At school the teachers felt that I had a gift for languages and at that point I was also learning French and German. Unfortunately, I did not get the grade I wanted in French for my A level and, when the University of Warwick offered me a degree in English and Italian instead, I went for it.
Was there any other reason for you to choose Italian other than that of obtaining a university degree?
Yes, I was intrigued by Italy and Italian culture, which seemed more an artistic curiosity than anything else.
But when you went back there two years later you were on your own and your experience was quite different then, wasn't it?
Oh yes, it was. We were really thrown into the deep end that time. I was sent to Perugia at the University for Foreign Students. I did not enjoy it much because so many men hassled me. To be fair it wasn't just Italians: there were Nigerians and Arabs especially who were really out of order. And of course, with all these young and vulnerable foreign girls there... basically, I almost wished for the over - protected attitude of my school back. This aspect of the Italian culture really pissed me off! Also the Italians in Perugia for the most part were fairly standoffish... I got to know more Germans than Italians when I was there.
Did you at least enjoy the food and the sites?
Well, the sites were fine but the walking was a bit much. I remember that my shoes that year were not very practical and, yes, I did like the food, especially the ice creams. Unfortunately, I had very little money and so I could not sample much of it. On the way back I caught the wrong train and ended up spending the night in Milan, with nowhere to go.
That's where you had the worst experience, right?
Yes, because when I approached the police for help, it turned out the guy wanted to take me back to his place, and when I complained to his sergeant, he asked me why I did not want to make love to him and if I was a lesbian. So, I ended up sleeping in the phone box where I was safe.
I wouldn't want to discourage anybody from visiting Italy: there are lots of things I liked about Italy and probably many things have changed in the last 20 years. If the Italian Tourist Board wants the custom of foreign tourists and travellers, then I think that female travellers do deserve a little respect. There is a tendency for Latin males, I believe, to assume that all foreign girls are easy. That's not true, particularly not of most students. However, I think the University of Warwick has a certain amount to answer for, too. As an adult I did not expect to be mollycoddled; however, at 19 I was still very young, certainly, and I understand that other students of my age were being sent to accommodation addresses which turned out to be next to brothels and so on.
Despite these experiences, was there anything that you enjoyed about being in Italy?
Yes, indeed. The following year my Pescara contact found me a family with an 11 year old girl who wanted to learn a little English. These people had a lovely apartment overlooking the seafront and when I went there we seemed to hit it off. They were an unusual family, because their father was separated and there was a baby sitter living in, but the baby-sitter was good company for me. They had a great sense of humour and liked my art-work. We spent most days going to the beach, very decadent. One thing I like about Pescara is that you don't get those stupid men in quite the same way.
The little girl was quite demanding, but she enjoyed the games I taught her and her friends, and I think it encouraged her to learn more about English culture.
At that time my pronunciation wasn't perfect and I once mispronounced the word 'spettàcolo' as 'spettacùlo', which has quite a different meaning (the 4 letters ending the word mean 'arse' !).
One day we were out in a boat and the girls' uncle who was with us fell off and unfortunately his swimming trunks came off, too!
So, when I said: "Che spettacùlo!", it caused quite a few laughs! This family wasn't too bad about making me eat.
I have noticed an unfortunate tendency amongst certain Italian housewives to feed you up and, being somewhat skinny, this seemed to bring out the worst in them from that point of view!
The problem here was the little girl: she wanted to cook me traditional English breakfast.
The trouble is that I got hauled out of bed at a somewhat unearthly hour each morning to eat raw eggs.
Unfortunately, I did not have the heart to tell her that this was not how we do it. However, they liked the roast beef I cooked them as a typical English meal, I hope!
Interviewed by E. Granese
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