While the more youthful among you were frantically grappling with the ins and outs of Oxford ‘culture’ (hopefully becoming less and less bewildered every day by regular references to Bridge, Battels, and, perhaps most mystifyingly of all, Banter) – indeed, while the more experienced among you were busy recovering from the transition between three months of sitting around scratching your arses to the seemingly endless barrage of tutorials and regretful bop choices – you may not even have noticed the absence of your temporarily wayward comrade: the Third Year Linguist.
As many of their fully-fledged Finalist friends back in Oxford fret about which soul-crushing jobs they would apply for in the coming months, the Third Year Linguists have arguably bigger fish to fry: dealing with the practicalities of upping sticks and finding yourself, albeit temporarily, an ‘ex-pat’. And not even, bizarrely enough, to avoid seeing David Cameron’s face on TV or, on a quite different side of the moral spectrum, paying taxes.
In short, just over a month or so I squeezed all my home comforts into a 20kg bag (Easyjet’s generosity knows no bounds) and moved in to a flat, shared with real life Italians, in Rome. I had always considered myself cosmopolitan, a true internationalist. After all, I already speak Italian as well as an eighteen-month-old native, I make a mean spag bol, and, as a first generation Welsh immigrant, I have first-hand experience of struggling with, and slaying, the proverbial dragon of integrating into a foreign culture. This was going to be simple.
Well, au contraire, as my modern linguist friends a bit further north would say. Surely enough, ‘culture shock’, that phenomenon rah-ed on about by every floppy-haired Sloane who has ever taken a year-long glorified holiday to Bangkok, reared its head. Thanks in no small part to Oxford’s practically-minded educational approach, I knew plenty of Petrarchan sonnets by rote, but I would have shrugged like a true local if you were to ask me to pinpoint when ‘good afternoon’ stops and ‘good evening’ begins (jury still out). Also, on the first week, I melted the handle of the espresso-making-thing and it basically exploded. “It’s like a bomb,” a flatmate helpfully added.
Still, I’m making progress. The once-scowling lady at the counter in the bakery opposite my apartment says ‘ciao’ when I leave now, and the café near work has reduced its previously astronomical prices. By the time I eat my tea, Oxford’s dining halls have been long-closed, and I am gradually making the transition from Earl Grey to a tiny tiny cup of coffee. Sometimes, I don’t even burn the espresso-majig. Last Friday night, on my way home from work, I found myself masking the din of Rome’s yappiest dogs by whistling. Whistling, like a true Italian. ‘I’m doing it! I’ve done it! I’ve integrated, I’m a Roman now!’ I proudly thought. As my tune drew to an end, I became aware of the lyrics that normally accompanied the tune I was trying to make. “Til we have built Je-ruuuu-sa-lem, In England’s green and pleasant laaaaaand.” Then it struck me: I’ve got a long way to go yet.