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Travel The World, But Never Denigrate Your Roots Like I Did

A story about avoiding fellow nationals when living abroad

Me and Christian
Me (on the left) and Christian, New Zealand, 2016

It’s 2016.

I’m walking the streets of Auckland with my friend Christian. I’m in New Zealand. I’ve been working here as an English teacher for the past two years and Christian is one of the two Italian friends I’ve got.

He’s telling me that every Thursday evening he plays football with a group of Italians and he invites me to join them.

I finally have the chance to play my favourite sport with a group of people from my country — people who can speak my language and understand my dirty Italian jokes. Finally, I can meet up with guys who would never kill pizza by adding pineapple to it.

That’s why when Christian asks me to join the team, I say no.

I’m Italian, but I don’t want to be around Italians. In fact, I want to disconnect from them. I left Italy years ago and lived in London, then Australia and I’m now here. Living in multicultural countries made me discover how arrogant and close-minded Italians are.

Italians decide whether to trust you or not based on your choice of pizza toppings. When they’re abroad, they compare every single thing with what they have back in Italy, and nine times out of ten what they have in Italy is better.

Go back to where you came from, my mind shouts when I hear them complain.

So for me, the idea of hanging out with them is as exciting as doing the dishes after dinner.

Christian doesn’t look very pleased though. This is the third time that I’ve turned down his invitation and kind of feel guilty.

“All right! I’ll come!”

Meeting Loud People

On a Thursday evening I go to the sports centre with Christian and meet the whole Italian gang.

They’re all exactly how I pictured them in my head: they’re loud, they keep insulting each other and use swear words in every sentence. I try to avoid speaking to them as much as possible and quickly get onto the pitch.

The game starts.

I’m the slowest man on the field and I run out of breath quickly. I’m 29 but it’s clear I’ve been leading the lifestyle of a grandfather. I don’t care though. I don’t care if I’m the worst player in the team because this team won’t see me again.

After the game we go for dinner.

Now, we’re all living in New Zealand, one of the most multicultural nations in the world where you can find all sorts of restaurants: Asian, European, Indian, South American.

But, no, they want to go to an Italian pizza place of course.

As soon as we get in, an Italian man in his 60s is already shouting. His name is Ciro. He’s the owner of the place.

When you think of an Italian pizza maker, you think of this man. He fits all the stereotypes perfectly: he’s from Naples, he speaks his own rare variety of broken English, and can’t express himself without shouting and waving his hands like a cartoon character.

Ciro's pizza
Ciro’s pizza

At Ciro’s place I get to know these guys a little more. They’re all expats so we share stories about how we ended up down here.

A couple of hours, a couple of hundred beers and it’s then time to go home.

Will You Join Us Again?

I jump into Christian’s car. I’m exhausted. I have aches and pains all over my body. My left knee is swollen and I’m worried because it’s 11 p.m. and I don’t have time to do my lesson plans. I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do with my students tomorrow morning. I would have none of these problems if I had said no to Christian.

He looks at me and asks, “So, how did it go? Will you join us again next week?”

I knew he was going to ask me this question — I knew it! My body is screaming, “Maaan! Say nooo!”

But of course I say yes.

I missed hanging out with a group of loud Italian men who love playing football, eating and drinking for hours while talking about life. This is what I used to do back in Italy.

This is who I am.

Thursday, My Favourite Day of The Week

The following Thursday I join the Pro Secco team again. It’s football and Ciro’s pizza. And the following week I join them again and then again.

Thursday becomes my favourite day of the week.

I come to realise how arrogant I was to refuse Christian’s invitations, thinking that I was smarter or somehow better than these guys. I realise how close-minded I was to make broad generalisations about my country and its people.

I’ve never been a patriot and I didn’t fly to the other side of the world to hang out with Italians.

But I’m so glad I did.

Those Thursday evenings in New Zealand — the furthest place from my native country — taught me that no matter where I live or go on this planet, I should never forget where I’m from.

I should never forget who I am.

Italians eating pizza
The Italians I didn’t want to meet. Ciro is the man waving his hands. How could he not? I’m not in the photo. New Zealand, 2016

Thanks for reading. I hope you can relate to this story. If you’re wondering where I am now, I’m the land of pineapple-free pizza. I came back in 2017 and never lived anywhere else ever since.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.