Communication and foreign languages

Why is it so difficult to speak foreign languages? We study years and years a language, but we are afraid to express ourselves in this language. Maybe we think that we pronounce a word badly or we make a gramma error. I have met many students that know English well but are afraid to speak it. At school Swedish was a compulsory foreign language and therefore many, probably, most of the students hated it. The result was that when a Swedish tourist asked something from us in the street, nobody answered and we all knew some Swedish. The same with English, at school we learned a lot of grammar, but spoke during the lessons very little.


Fondo, Trento, Italy

I always try to tell my students that important is to speak. Why we have a language? To communicate. Why do we study a language? Of course, we might need it for studying, for writing mails, but in my humble opinion the communication is the most important function of language. With the communication I mean the ability to express our opinions, feelings orally or in a written form.





Fondo, Trento, Italy

But why we are so afraid to speak a foreign language. Often, we speak our mother tongue without worries and make many mistakes, but we don’t care. One reason moght be that we have learned our mother tongue as a kid and therefore the use of it happens automatically. But one can wonder why we neglect the errors we make in our mother tongue, but are very wary of the possible errors in foreign languages. Therefore, I as a teacher, always encourage my students to speak and tell them not to worry about possible mistakes.



Fondo, Trento, Italy

I have learned Italian as an adult (ok, I took some courses at school, but didn’t learn anything). There were two possibilities to me – be quiet or talk – I chose the latter option. I make mistakes and sometimes I confuse two similar words, but the result is that either the listener corrects me or ignores the mistake. With my own example I hope I can encourage my students to use the foreign language, to relax and not to worry so much about the possible mistakes. I know people that can fall silent in many languages.




A different language is a different vision of life

Federico Fellini

Inverted racism in Italy

Some time ago I wrote in my Finnish blog  how I experience positive racism here in Italy. Several readers argued that racism can never be positive, so maybe I could say that as a Finn I have experienced inverted racism. In urban dictionary I found this definition of the inverted racism:

“Inverted (or reverse) racism means being prejudiced against your own race or valuing other races more than your own.”

With this concept I want to express the feeling that I am treated better than an average Italian just because I arrive from Finland. For some reason many Italians consider Finland as a paradise on earth. Maybe because they don’t know anything about Finland, or they know rally drivers, Räikkönen, excellent schools. How many times I have heard about their trips to Oslo, Finland, but unfortunately Oslo is the capital of Norway not of Finland. But for the Italians all the Nordic countries are the same and it is useless to explain that Finland is not part of Scandinavia. For the Italians Scandinavia includes Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Last summer I caused a traffic accident, and somebody called police and an ambulance there. The police were mostly enchanted about the fact that I was a Finn. He said that he admires the calmness of the Nordic people and how we speak fluently foreign languages. A month later, when I went to pay a fine this same policeman asked me to pass by whenever and we could have a coffee together. Ok, the Italian men have the tendency to flirt with ladies, especially with exotic Finnish ladies. The ambulance drivers also started to tell how they had visited Finland and wanted to know why I live here. This is a very common question, why on earth I want to live in Italy and not in Finland. The Italians get especially confused when I tell them that also my husband is Finnish. Once a couple of Guardia di finanza (financial police) stopped me near the Swiss border. When they figured out that I’m originally Finnish they started to tell about their travel to Finland 20 years ago. Meantime a truck passed them and this customs is not commercial, so they should have stopped it. But instead they looked this truck passing them and instead of stopping it they continued talking about Finland with me.

Many years ago, when my daughter was born with C-section here in Italy the anesthetist said to me “Forza Häkkinen” and nurses told me how happy they were that once there is a patient from European Union and not one of the refugees – I was stunned to hear so open racist comment from nurses. Sometimes I hear comments that here are too many foreigners and then I usually remind the speaker that I´m a foreigner here. The answer is always that the speaker doesn’t mean people like me – white, European and graduated.


The Italian traffic

Immagine correlata

In Italy traffic is mostly chaotic. The further south you go more chaotic traffic is. In fact, I live here in the Northern Italy and in the beginning the local driving style scared me even if the Italians claim that here the traffic is calm and people drive in an organized manner. Sometimes it seems that the road signs are only decorations at the roadside. For example, speed limits, from our village to Como the speed limit of 50 km/h is valid for most of the way. Rarely, however, I drive 50 km/h, the average speed is usually a 60-70 km/h depending on the traffic. Today, it is almost annoying, if someone drives in accordance with the speed limits. Usually, these law-abiding drivers, are older women driving an old Fiat Panda. In many motorways in Italy there is the Safety Tutor  system, i.e. the system measures the average speed of a car within a certain range. With this system, speeds have dropped and rarely nowadays, it happens that in a few seconds a Ferrari blinking lights appears from nowhere behind you.

Immagine correlata

Urban traffic is, let’s say, interesting. In every intersection, there are several cars side by side, regardless of the number of traffic lanes. Generally, as many cars as fit, and then surprisingly these cars proceed their they in harmony in different directions. Traffic circles, have become very popular in recent years and there the Italians have their own rules. The most important is to use indicators so that you indicate “inward”, i.e. in the direction of rotation, as otherwise there is a risk of getting hit by somebody that is entering the traffic circle. I have seen the police forces use the indicators this way. Very rarely I have seen someone using the indicators so that they indicate when leaving the traffic circle. You can stop the car in practice everywhere for a brief time if you put your blinkers on. Once in one of the main roads in Como a car had stopped near the intersection with the blinkers on, as a result traffic got jammed because instead of 4 lanes there were suddenly only three lines available without any warning. But no one used the horn, because this car was obviously stopped only temporarily. The traffic is very flexible and aggressive here.

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Traffic control here is almost non-existent. Only the Safety Tutor system in motorways and in recent years in urban areas several speed control cameras have been installed. As a result, people are speeding, but when there is a speed control camera they drop the speed to 30 km/h (even though the limit is 50 km/h), and immediately after the camera they speed up again. I’ve lived here for 17 years and I have never been test for alcohol. Sometimes in the evening, there are these controls, but I have never been stopped. Here in our small village after the many diverse types of village celebrations the police could catch several drunken drivers, but I have never seen any controls after these celebrations. Old men sit in the mornings at the bar and drink several glasses of white wine and then they drive home for lunch. No police control ever. On the other hand, in Italy, today we have very tough penalties for drunk driving. If a certain limit is exceeded, the driver loses the car to the state and driver’s license is confiscated. In Italy, in the driving license there are a certain number of points, and the various offences reduce this number of these points. If the score will go to zero, you must participate in special “recovery” courses to gain some points.

Risultati immagini per polizia locale

Every now and then I have got stopped and the car papers have been checked. Near the Swiss border there is quite often the Guardia di Finanza (financial police) executing some controls. However, once I was stopped and the police was so excited to find out that I’m Finnish that they didn’t stop a truck that came across the border illegally, because that border is not for commercial traffic. They preferred to talk about Finland and how one of them had been there 20 years ago. Many years ago, local police stopped me twice within a week. The second time I was in a hurry to pick up the children from school, so I said that he stopped me a week ago and still I was the same Finnish lady, but now I was in hurry to pick up the children. He kindly told me to continue the journey and stopped the traffic so that I could continue my way immediately. In Italy, there is always a human aspect, also in traffic control.


What has happened to the Italian public sector?

Traditionally every Italian thinks that the public sector is a pure disaster. Therefore, every time I’m prepared to get a nervous breakdown when I must deal with the public sector. I was extremely surprised when I noticed that in several occasions I got very good service from public servants. This is exceptional, because the Italian public servants think that they are something divine and can act like small dictators.


Finally, we decided to change our Finnish driver’s licenses to the Italian ones. First, we went to the local office to ask what we must do. There was a very friendly man that explained everything and then in the end asked if we were doctors. He said that he thought all the Finns here are doctors. After we had purchased all the possible documents and took them back to this same office again there was another friendly man. He checked everything and then said how long it will take to get the new ones. After about one month I tried to call the number he gave, but no answer. Then I found his work e-mail and thought that I can always send a mail, but as usual he won’t answer. In less than two hours he answered that our new driver’s licenses were not ready yet. Then I mailed again after a couple of weeks and again he answered almost immediately and this time he said that we can come and pick our new driver’s licenses.


Another experience I had with my son. He was supposed to have a medical check-up and I knew that for these specific check-ups there are long queues. But this time I acted like an Italian. I knew that there works a doctor to do these check-ups that I know, not very well. When I phoned to get an appointment, I mentioned that I would like this specific doctor to do the check-up. Immediately the lady was extremely friendly and I got the appointment for the next day. When the doctor asked one certificate and I had to make another appointment. I sent an email, because I didn’t have time to try to call ten times. This time the lady called me to make an appointment. Extremely good service according to me.


Here in Italy there have been some meningitis cases. I sent an e-mail to ask if my kids need a vaccination. They answered the next day and said that they will contact me later to make an appointment. The queue is about 3 months, so now I’m waiting for an appointment.



Culture shock


I was talking with some of my son’s teachers. For my great surprise some teachers made me some really weird questions, like “Why did you move to Italy?” Actually this question didn’t bother me, just a silly question according to me, because it is none of their business why our family decided to move here. Anyway, then they asked why we chose the previous school and why we changed the school. My son went to a private school still last year, but this year we moved him to a public school for personal reasons. This question together with some other comments opened my eyes.

surprised.pngIn the public schools there are teachers that consider private schools as a places where rich parents put their kids to pass the school without studying. This is the problem here in Italy. I have always thought (before time here in Italy) that private schools offer excellent education and that students are followed more personally, because parents pay usually quite high sums for those schools. This is probably the situation in other countries, but not here in Italy. Here many, not all, private schools let students pass the exams very easily and the preparation is often below standard.

scuola.jpegAs a result some of the new teachers thought that my son is one of those lazy, rich students that has never studied, because he came from the private school. I explained very clearly that unfortunately there are no this kind of public school near us, so that I could have sent my son. Now my son is big and in the mornings I take him to the train station and he takes the train. But 5 years ago I didn’t feel letting him take a train, because some mornings train might be late one hour or doesn’t come at all. Now you wonder why I take a big boy to the station, the answer is that there are no buses going to the station from our village. Once he came home with train and bus, it took 2 hours. Therefore I’m working as a mamataxi also this year.

cultureshock.jpgYears ago we foreigners made a decision about the school without knowing the reputation of private schools in this country. Now after all these years I pop in to these attitudes and somehow I feel that the teachers can never understand that we didn’t choose the private school for the same reasons as many Italians do. There will always be kind of cultural gap between me and the Italians. I act as I have learned and been socialized to do, but it is not always the same way the Italians do. Still I’m judged based on the Italian way of doing things.

ita-fin.pngPerhaps the hardest thing being a foreigner in any country is that you will always be a foreigner – your way of thinking, acting is the foreign way, not the local.

ADSL not working – an eternal battle

I have lived in Italy over 15 years and during these years I have had some really annoying experiences with Internet providers. Recently I’m loosing my temper with Telecom Italy, because my Internet doesn’t work despite I signal this problem several times every week during the last three months.

IMG_3633.JPGFirst in the end of June a lightning hit somewhere near and our modem was damaged. Already earlier the Internet was very slow and unsteady. After this thunderstorm naturally we didn’t have any connection. This time Telecom sent a technician after several reminders and this technician installed a new modem and I thought, yes, now we have a working Internet. Only in my dreams. I contacted Telecom and I got very interesting answers for my complaints, like: “Your neighbor has a modem that disturbs your modem” or “You have at home something that disturbs your modem” or “You have to many devices connected to the modem so that the signal gets weaker”. Only once they admitted that the problem was in their lines.

IMG_3284.JPGNow we are in the end of September and still we have serious problems with the Internet connection. Only three days ago I called Telecom’s call center and informed them that we have no Internet. They noticed that the problem was in their central and promised to repair it next day. Well, now we have Internet connection every now and then – not all the time. Mostly we are without any connection.

IMG_3601.JPGI asked in the FB from some other persons that live in this area if they know what the best provider is. Everybody said that Telecom is the worst, just doesn’t work. But the problem is that actually only one provider was mentioned as excellent, but they offer the connection via satellite antenna, so I’m not interested. The problem is that we live in the countryside and probably Telecom doesn’t have enough capacity, but they will never admit it.

Now you probably wonder why Telecom doesn’t do anything and why I don’t change the provider. The answer to the latter question is given above. Then why Telecom is so passive –  because it used to be a state owned company and still even after the privatization their organization culture is like in a public organization, i.e. very bureaucratic, inefficient and arrogant.


Italy.jpgI know that in Italy things don’t work always, but I guess it is difficult to exceed the inefficiency of an Italian school. In the mid July I contacted the new school of my son and asked for a certification of enrollment. They told me to send an email and that they would call after a couple of days when the certificate would be ready. I waited a week and called the school. They hadn’t seen the email –  they obviously don’t use email. During the call this lady at school found the mail and told me that they would call me when the certificate is ready.

segreteria.jpgI called the school again after a week of silence. Unfortunately the person I had talked earlier was on vacation and the other lady couldn’t do anything. Again I was asked to call when the other lady returns to work. Just a couple of days before we left for vacation I called the school. The lady in question didn’t know anything. So, I decided I will call again in the end of August when the school might be open again.

segreteria2.jpgLast week I called once again the school. The lady couldn’t do anything because the other lady was on vacation and strangely the other lady happened to be the person in charge of these kind of services. Therefore I called this morning again. I had to spell the last name 4 times, explain 3 times that my son didn’t go that school last year. The result was that the lady couldn’t find the papers of my son and asked me to call again tomorrow. So, tomorrow I will again call the school.

surprised.pngI just can’t understand what the problem is. I’m sure they have ready modules to fill in and just print them. They have all the information of students there – or at least I hope so. I just have to think about this incident as a new experience in a country that always surprises me – in a positive or in a negative way. However, I have to admit that today I had big problems to stay calm and friendly. Let’s see what happens tomorrow. Unfortunately these kind of experiences are not rare in Italy. Either everything happens smoothly or like in this case things just get stuck and don’t proceed. As an individual you can’t do anything, you just have to be patient and pray that something happens in future and you get your problem solved.