Thursday, 8 May 2014

Wales & stereotypes

When coming back from a trip it always takes a while to get readjusted to reality.
And when the trip happens to be in my most beloved country, it takes a double effort ;)

I've landed back in Turin on Monday evening, with a mix of emotions consisting of longing already the awesome places I've just left behind and of treasruing the beautiful memories collected there, willing to finally sit here and write about them, sharing with you my stories about the places we visited and the beauty we gathered.
Yesterday I've returned straight to work, and it has been a long and hectic day, catching up with all the tasks left behind and the new issues emerged during my absence. So when I finally got back home, I didn't really feel like turning on the pc - my headache was begging for mercy...
But tonight here I am.
I've just booked the flights for two more upcoming trips in July and August - this year there is definitely a lot going on; so now it's high time to start catching up with my Welsh adventures :)

But what do you think when you hear Wales?
I think about wild and beautiful nature, sheeps, castles, gorses and incredibly green meadows - so green that the Welsh have even a word, hiraeth, to define the feeling of longing for it, for the power and beauty of nature that it represents.

And I think about Celtic legends, about the red dragon, King Arthur & Merlin - about a land whose charme is also mystical.
We will talk about all these things in the next days.
These were the things that were first coming to my mind hearing the word Wales even before visiting it; and my trip there confirmed their relevance and weigth in defining the charachter of this land.
But I'm spoiled - because I've always felt attracted by this country (the whole United Kingdom, I mean), always. Even since I were a little kid: my father was buying me books of stories and my favourite ones were those based on Celtic folklore.
So within the years I've got to know a lot about this area, and moreover I love it - so it's obvious that the first things that come to my mind when thinking about it are its most charming features.

But of course not for everyone has to be like this.
When talking with other people, exp. Italians, about my love for the UK, a lot of them perceive this country mainly through its most common stereotypes - which of course it's what we all do when we don't know something well.
Ok, stereotypes usually hide a certain portion of truth, and surely each one of us has his own preferences, so not everyone might love the UK anyway...
But I'd say this trip has been particularly lucky, and it can represent a good chance to deny at least some of the most common negative concepts about this country.

"Oh, you must have caught a lot of rain, haven't you??"
In 9 days we just caught a few tiny sparkles lasting less than 10' while in Betwsy Y Coed, in the Snowdonia area.
Sky was sometimes cloudy and gloomy (oh, but in my opinion it has to be! Sometimes it's just pleasant, as it somehow enhance the kind of charme of this land); but we also got a lot of sun.

I've even got kind of tanned...
Well, "tanned" is always a big word for me - I've never been what you objectively defined "tanned" in my whole life and I guess my body wouldn't even be able to produce enough melanine to achieve it. Let's say that my white milk skin complexion has turned into some kind of "milk with one drop (just one drop!) of coffee" colour.
And the most funny thing has been that, while we were enjoying the sunny Wales, in Italy it was raining cats and dogs! All the time. Any given day.
I know I'm wicked, but I just can't help to find it quite amusing ;)

"Wales? Aren't there just mine caves there?"
Surely the mining of coal has had a main role in Welsh economy during 19th and 20th century; but nowadays the country has reconverted to be mainly post-industrial and most of cave mines have been dismissed today.
Some are used as touristical/educational attraction, like the one in Llandudno - which we didn't visit, though.
Anyway the predominant role of the coal industry hasn't had a heavy impact on the landscape: I haven't seen any grey and dull villages, made just with cement and townhouses all equal to each other. On the contrary, the villages are all cosy and nice, with small trellis houses, flowers and pastel colours.

And, as already said, a lot of green.
Nothing really grey.

"But what do you mean by seaside resort?? People don't go to the sea there... do they?"
Ah, well. This is a typical Italian misconception.
"Going to the sea" for us involves having 30°C or more - we are just not able to conceive taking a bath in the ocean with the temperatures they usually have in Britain or in any other country around those latitudes.
But obviously a lot of people actually do.

Llandudno, which is the lovely town we chose as our base, is actually a quite popular seaside resort among the Welshs, but also among the Englishs.
I bet it's one of the places that has the highest percentage of hotels and B&Bs per capita.
Now, at the end of April, the holiday-makers were mostly elderly people, of course; but, judging from the kind of attractions and passtimes laying on the pier, it must be quite popular among families as well.
I haven't seen anyone bathing, except dogs, but, alas, at the end of April you don't do that in either most of Italian seaside resorts.

Anyway, whenever I travel North (which actually means... always), I always notice that we Italians must be rather feeble of constitution: I was wearing my winter jacket and the cat hat while being surrounded by people in short sleeves, for instance.
But what admire the most is when they can walk in the rain, getting all soaked, but with no risk to get a flu! I'd love to be able to do that, as I find umbrellas pretty much annoying. So I'm training my immunitary system to achieve this, but so far I just keep on catching colds.

"Did you drive on the left? It must be so annoying!"
Challenging myself to drive on the left side is on my bucket list, but so far I haven't dared to do it yet.
Actually it's not the idea of driving on the left side that scares me, but the idea in general of driving in places I don't know. I get lost too easily and I freak out even more easily.
I know that there are GPS, but I manage to miss my route even with a GPS.
And, moreover, I've never really felt the need to challenge myself to do this, because the UK has the most efficient network of public transport I've ever experienced so far.

I've always wandered along the whole country just using public transport, and I really can't complain about it.
Of course having a car would provide more freedom and would probably allow you to see more, to be more efficient at organizing your itinerary - but buses can provide quite scenic routes as well, and their plus might be that you can dip yourself more in the local reality, getting closer to people and to their habits.
Well, actually this time the meetings have just been memorable because of some guys who had lost touch with soap; but you might be luckier and get some more interesting encounter.
I've chosen Llandudno as a base because it is well connected with most of the remarkable places in the North Wales, so from there we managed to do some interesting day trips just using buses.
Arriva Wales covers most of the routes in this region, and with £5 you get a ticket you can use for the whole day, catching any of their buses any times you want. With £6.50 you get a Red Rover ticket which covers also the routes operated by the other companies and the railway.
From there we went to Snowdonia, Conwy, Bodnant, Colwyn Bay, and we would have gone also to Caernafon, Bangor and the Anglesey Island, if we had a few more days. 
You can buy the tickets when getting on the bus, and when getting off, remember to say goodbye and thank you to the bus driver, because he will do the same.
This is one small thing that I have really appreciated, because in Italy it is so rare, in general, to find a polite and kind approach to people from those who work in the public service, and from everyone in general, that, even if by now I already know that in the UK it's a common cultural factor, it never ends to surprise me positively and I can't help to enjoy it much!

"But the food there is horrible, isn't it??"
WRONG (as for me)
In my opinion this is probably the most misleading stereotype about the UK, even more than the one about the weather: I've happened to find quite some rainy days during my trips there; but I've almost never found really bad food.
Taste for food is something totally subjective, and it also depends on what you are used to in your country - then, most of Italians tend to think that anywhere else in the world there is horrible food, and you can eat well in Italy only.
As you might have gathered, I'm not really the typical Italian, not even for what concerns food. You will never find me complaining about how much I miss my spaghetti when abroad: I like pasta & pizza, of course, but honestly I'm not even that huge fan of them, and I have them rather rarely even at home, so I simply don't miss them when I travel. Until some years ago I still had some form of dependency on my espresso after meals, but now I've managed to overcome this as well. I already drink "long" coffee for breakfast at home (the kind of coffee that any Italian would define "wishy-washy"), so I have no troubles at switching to it anytime.
The only thing that I'm still not used to is the so-called English Breakfast. I'm much into eggs and sausages in general, so the idea of having them early in the morning feels even less appealing.
British cuisine is perhaps certainly very demanding for your bowels and not exactly "light", but I really cannot say it is not tasty and savoury. I do enjoy its strong and rich flavours combinations, and the deliciousness of their soft and mouthwatering sweets.

I guess that when British food is being mentioned, everybody think about fish & chips - but, for as much unbelievable as it might sound, I had never tasted one during all these years of visits there.
Until this time.
I just had to.
I had always somehow avoided it because my stomach is not too keen on fried things and swallowing takes forever; but I must say that, even if the piece of cod they gave me was enormous, I didn't really had any problems.
I usually often have a lot of Indian food when there, as Indian restaurants are pretty much common, for a matter of colonial history, they are usually rather cheap and serve generous portions of food (compared to what they do in Italy). 
Then I like their pies with meat, any luxurious thing with cheese, and one simple thing that I actually enjoy a lot are their sandwiches.

UK is where sandwiches were born (as a cunning invention of the Earl of Sandwich) - and they are really masters at them.
Italian sandwiches are usually very simple, just with one ingredient or two, or, when sold at supermarkets, they are so overloaded with mayo that you cannot even taste any other flavour.
In the UK you can find a huge variety of them everywhere, with rich and original combinations, and even the bread is softer and more tasty. Our sandwiches bread usually have an unpleasant chemical aftertaste.

And the sweets...
well, they do deserve a chapter apart!

"They are all so mannered and politically correct"
Absolutely true. But really, I totally cannot see anything negative in this.
I guess that in the rest of the Western world good manners and politeness somehow feel old fashioned nowadays - or at least they are not given too much importance.
I deeply believe that a kind word can make the difference, and that the world could turn into a bit better place if we all could use a bit more of politeness in all our everyday interactions. Actually I admit I sometimes don't do this myself: I guess it's a cultural matter, as certain forms of courtesy have somehow become quite rare here that they just don't come spontaneous. 
Sure, they would do no harm if applied anyway; but you are sometimes a bit put off by the surroundings.

I'm talking on a general level, of course, I don't mean that Italians are (all) grumpy and uneducated, but surely there is a remarkable difference with the general behaviour you can averagely meet in the UK.
As soon as I've stepped back on the Italian soil, for example, I've got a striking evidence of this - with the passport officer not even saying a word and not even answering to my "goodbye" and "thank you". A sort of reverse cultural shock, I'd say.

Another impressive thing of the British culture is their deep and sincere respect for elderly people. 
UK is a granny-friendly country indeed. Everything is set in order to make the elderly ones more comfortable, including the attitude of people - who seem to be always keen on helping and respecting them.
And this makes old people more active and more propense to enjoy life. We always had quite some fellow senior travellers together with us in our commutings, many of them with walking troubles - but this wasn't stopping them to go around and enjoy things and places.
I deeply admired them - and I hope I will be able to be like this at their age.
Well... and perhaps to be living in the UK then! Also because, as for now, things would be somehow more difficult in Italy. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds lovely! I never knew Wales for mine caves to be honest but just for the landscapes. We got the same stereotype about rain when going to Scotland, but in two weeks, we just had 1 week of rain, which we considered quite OK. Happy to hear you've had a good time!