Jane suggested that I write my recollections of living and working with the Italians. In summary, professional, creative, hardworking, rule breaking, fun and sometimes exhausting. I know many Italians, of course, and trust you will be able to have a smile as you read this. I worked in the south of Milan between 1998 and 2000, living with Jane 15km north, in a village called Lesmo. Some recollections in no order.

Long socks – I was sitting at the lunch table during a company meeting in Florence, wearing my black ankle length socks. A colleague pointed out that it wasn’t appropriate for men to display leg flesh, when wearing a suit.

Alfa Romeo 145 – The tow truck guy on the hard shoulder of the Tangenziale Est told me that occasional breakdowns were just part of owning an Alfa. Good to know. Anyway, great car.

Milano-Roma – Linate airport, dark suits, brown shoes and blue ties, Corriere, cappuccino brioche, Alitalia green, cramped Roman taxi, Espresso, meeting, mangiare, Fiumicino, Alitalia, a domani.

Italian lessons – so much more. My brilliant teacher, Valeria, is the Commercial Director’s sister. Small, but beautiful apartment in the city centre. Spumante, elegance, rules to be obeyed and not, really thorough teaching. Twice a week – thank you Luciano!

Coffee rules – cappuccino before 11am, espresso after. How hard is this to understand, you dumbfuck foreigners?

Pizza and pasta rules – pizza with beer, pasta with wine. How hard is this…..?

Rhythm of the working day – arrival by 09.30, tabs and coffee 11.00, lunch 13.00-14.00, tabs and coffee etc, leave between 19.00 and 20.00, smart, streetwise, creative and competitive colleagues.

The suit – understand this – they think we have no idea – Marco, the mid-level Finance guy, told me what he spends on a suit (wow!).

Da Gianni – local trattoria to Via Noto, because of my experiences here, I am a strong believer in the proper lunch break. Fat, white apron, big smile. Antipasto, primo, secondo, dolce, café – parts 1 and 4 might be skipped. Sharing, politics, gossip, football – essential! No, we’re not lazy and pasta is NOT a main course dish!!

Fitness – we were really impressed by this – running and walking in Monza park, hiking in the Alps and foothills, cross country skiing, not many overweight people.

Bella figura – can write a book on this – it’s about being seen to conduct oneself correctly – it’s about pride, ego and reputation. The opposite is brutta figura, which is doing or wearing something inappropriate. It’s alot about how you are seen, and how your behaviour might impact others in your company or group. I might say the wrong thing and the look, because no more was required, was ‘brutta figura, you bloody idiot’.

Il Gigante and our neighbours – perfectly dressed for the supermarket (Il Gigante), matching handbag, bella figura – unlike the English and Australian peasant neighbours.

Whatever it takes – ever been to a mountain refuge in the Italian Alps? Nothing, nothing gets in the way of what’s important – fantastic food and wine, time to enjoy. Total class!


Author: Andrew Knowlman

I am a 50-year old father of two children, married to Jane. I live in Hertfordshire, UK. I was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in April 2015.

4 thoughts on “Italy”

  1. This was a fun read Andrew! I learned a lot and hope one day I can put it to use (Capuccino before 11 then Expresso., socks..). I’ve been to Italy once, for less than 24 hours for a meeting; so really never!

  2. What about Tiramissu? That should only be eaten in the morning too, apparently 🙂
    Great article, Andrew x

  3. I got the Italy gist! Thanks for all your writing, as you have led such a full and interesting life. Love from us all.

  4. Alex and Damian will remember when we tried to use the post office to post a parcel. We had to go next door to the newsagent and buy a box and string and stamps! every counter bar one was always closed and that counter never did what you needed to do… Apparently you needed to come back!!! I switched and used the post office at IL GIGANTE where the women were exceptionally efficient. Our postman had an afternoon job…I now realise why the post office hours were so short….I’ll never forget the look on my neighbours face when I went out in my village high street in leggings and a t-shirt! I never did it again….
    The local pizzeria and gelataria still rate the best for pizza and ice cream ever. Thanks Italy for opening my eyes to the beauty and fun in life!!! I loved it even though sometimes it was so frustrating.

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