The funny side of being a foreigner
Carlo and I have been living in London for 9 years now, and we felt home here from the very beginning.
Sure, London is not the sunshine state, however, we are immensely grateful to this city because it is where our life really started, not only as photographers, but as better human beings.
Carlo and I have very different personalities. He is the doer of the family and I am the eternal planner. That means that Carlo just gets on with things, gets things done efficiently, and learns from the mistakes made mainly from lack of planning.
I get stuck in my own world of abstraction making very few mistakes because I act very little instead. The combination of the two of us makes it a fabulous team, because together we can make fantastic progress, both in life and in business.
Our different approaches were evident also when we moved to London and changed life. While I was the one organising and maintaining things under control before the big move, once in London I did not know what to do. Everything was new. New language, new culture, new places. Everything was bigger, faster, exciting and scary at the same time.
Despite having a good sense of humour, ten years ago I was a much more rigid person than I am today. I was so obsessed with my personal – and very unrealistic – idea of perfection, that new ventures or projects were a pain to start for me.
Carlo, on the other hand has always been the exact opposite, and if he could, he would jump right in the middle of the action. I love him for this and many other different reasons. His unique attitude towards life pushes my boundaries and my comfort zone to a totally new level. And despite cursing under my breath at first, I always think that is a fantastic blessing in the end. Actually, thank goodness for that.
The Fuck page
After many CVs sent and a couple of interviews, Carlo was offered a job in a young and vibrant IT company, so we decided to move to London.
Of course, Carlo was already quite fluent in English, however, it is a very different thing to talk in another language every day with everybody and in pressurising situations from which your career depends on.
Carlo started his new job, and for a couple of weeks he came home completely knackered. We tend to underestimate how much attention and energy takes learning and communicating in a different language, until you actually do it.
Weeks were going by, and Carlo had a big meeting with his boss and a client to discuss their requirements for the new website Carlo was creating. While they talked together about setting up a webpage with answers and questions for their customers, Carlo, to check he understood the client correctly suddenly comments “So, what you need is a Fuck page”. A shocked silence, accompanied by some pretty embarrassed faces, fell on the meeting room. You can imagine, right?
Carlo understood immediately that the problem was not his lack of understating of the client’s requirements, but how he pronounced the F. A. Q. page bit.
In Italian, we do not pronounce acronyms letter by letter as in English, but we read it as a whole word instead… Thank goodness, Carlo recovered from that embarrassing moment with a smile and a tentative explanation of the reason why he said what he said. Everybody started laughing in the end, and that embarrassing moment remained as a long standing joke in the office.
That was one of the funniest – and awkward – moments in Carlo’s life in London. And thank goodness for the British’s sense of humour.
The shit spreading
While Carlo was working, reality hit and we realised that London was incredibly expensive. For the first months we ate in plastic bowls because even a trip to Ikea was a luxury, but after several weeks of attending an intensive English class, it came to a point I had to find myself a job, or we would not have survived.
I had no particular experience, a very scholastic English and no clue on what to do. My dream was to work in fashion, but I would not dare to ask for it.
I was lucky enough to be called by one of those big recruitment agencies for an interview and various assessment tests. The interview went great, my English skills proved to be good enough, so a week after the agency called me for an interview at Gucci Group. When I heard the name of the company, I almost had an accident in my pants. I had to ask the agency to send me an e-mail to confirm that I heard the name right.
Me? There? I still remember the hall of the beautiful building Gucci Group had in Grafton Street with the name of the brand projected on the wall. I felt like the protagonist of Pretty Woman. It felt like a dream, and for most of it, it really was.
I had the fortune to meet with what then became a fabulous friend.
She believed in me, I got the job, I started the day after and the turmoil of the rush hour, travelling, and the glamorous whirlwind of working for such a renown fashion company.
Weeks go by, and I am invited to a big meeting with the HR Director and many of the big executives to discuss numbers for staff’s bonuses and salaries. I was all prepared – and completely anxious – so I look at the HR Director and I announce that I was going to take my “spread shit”.
You can imagine the giggles…and the looks.
I was worrying so hard to say it right, that, of course, I blurted it out wrong. The HR Director, a wonderfully smart woman, looked at me and said “Well, in a way you are right, it is some of that we have to spread right”.
I still smile about it, because her fantastic attitude towards such an embarrassing moment made me feel one of them, not a foreigner.
There are some amazing people I met in my time here in London and none of them made fun of my strange accent or my silly mistakes. I never felt a foreigner here because nobody treated me that way.
Being a foreigner, you can easily make the fool of yourself, however, it is your attitude that changes how you feel about yourself.
Both Carlo and I still think of those embarrassing situations and laugh with our friends about it, but man, it was worth it.
And again, thank goodness for the British’s humour.
And what is your experience as a foreigner? What was the most embarrassing moment speaking a different language?
Let us know by leaving a comment below.