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Monday, 4 May 2009

The Italian Job or "More tea Vittorio?"

Last Sunday I was walking the streets of Nottingham taking a few interesting photos around the Nottingham Playhouse area. The weather was a brightening up and it was about 10am. There weren’t so many people around. As I returned back into the city centre towards the bottom end of Derby Road and the junction where all the new hotels are I bumped into (not literally) two smart looking people asking a girl for directions. You could tell that from their body language. They were a middle-aged couple in expensive looking overcoats and the girl was pointing generally in the direction of the road running down to the Old Market Square. She also looked like she wasn’t quite sure how to help them.

The girl went her own way and I caught up with these strangers and asked them what they were looking for – being the nice friendly person that I am. It turned out that they were from Italy and were on holiday in the UK and were looking for … wait for it …tea! Well, they couldn’t have asked a better person could they? I am the expert on tea shops and coffee shops in Nottingham.

Now this was a Sunday morning and to my knowledge there aren’t that many places open on a Sunday at 10am for tea. Even the general shops and big stores aren’t allowed to start trading until 11am. Anyway we walked and talked for a few minutes and I pointed them in the direction of Caffe Nero, an Italian style coffee shop. I’d been in there before and it always seemed a pleasant place to relax with a coffee and I was sure that they did what this couple wanted …some English tea. I gave them one of my little business cards for this blog, called Moo cards, said ‘farewell’ or should that have been ‘cheery –bye, toodle pip’ if they wanted the full English experience, maybe not. You can go too far you know old chum!

They seemed a nice couple and meeting them led me to ponder what it must be like to be that foreign tourist/visitor to my city of Nottingham or Great Britain. I am very aware of my surroundings where I live and I know places that it perhaps isn’t safe to go late at night but generally I feel safe in Nottingham. I know the verbal language of the inhabitants; I can make sense (generally) of the body language of people around me in a visceral way. Everything is familiar and normal day-to-day living. I can find my way about easily – even if I don’t always know the exact street names.

Sometimes, however, there are surprises and the urban landscape has suddenly changed; a farmers market may have been set up on the Old Market Square; a building has been sealed off by police perhaps; a main thoroughfare has become a narrow thoroughfare through road works. The mind adjusts and one re-arranges one’s route to cope or linger. And all these things are reliant on an unconscious familiarity of one’s environment.

Now imagine that suddenly you are that foreign visitor or tourist with no idea of how big/small the city is; where the bus destinations are on the front of the strange looking buses; how to pay for things; where the nearest place to rest is and perhaps experience a proverbial slice of Englishness or Britishness.

I would love to be in their shiny Italian leather shoes and be them, actually be them for a day or too. In other words, to see my city through their eyes and perspective and to understand what they got out of that experience. If I had said to them “Would you like to visit my village –now- on a bus with me? I can make you a cup of tea at my home.” what would there reaction have been if they had taken up my kind offer? Remember to them I am a total stranger keen to show them a real English village as part of their visit. I am proud of the best aspects of English life and culture. It would look and feel so different from an Italian village. But they don’t know that my offer is meant in the best natured of ways. I could be a right nutcase who lurks around every Sunday ready to fool innocent travellers or worse.

I guess it is the same as when you go on holiday to a foreign city and everything is a heightened experience; different smells, different sounds, different degrees of personal safety and opportunities to acquire knowledge of new and stimulating things.

It is the thrill of being in a strange place that is literally ‘out of the ordinary’ for you. It is the discovery of a different culture and a need to take some of that home in tangible and intangible forms and enjoying perhaps the common currency of a cafĂ© and a drink particular to that country.

And all these thoughts arose because some strangers in town asked where they could get tea in a city in the Midlands on a Sunday morning. I hope it has given you something to think about and I hope the two Italian folk had a great experience of our city. Now if you’d come to my house I could have given you some cake as well and showed the church, the pubs, the…. "more tea Vittorio?"


Gail's Man said...

It's surprising the number of people that ask me for directions. I must have some sort of arrow over my head which says 'travel guide' or something. Fortunately I have a fairly good knowledge of the streets of our city, so am able to direct them. I also try and see the city through visitors eyes, when I'm taking photos for my blog site, so I am able to see things differently.

Marian Barker said...

Excuse me - I didn't get offered cake!!!!

Phil Lowe said...

Gail'sMan: Well done mate for helping to make Nottingham (and Beeston) a friendly place. PS: that arrow on your head does look a bit wierd though - no offense!

Marian: I am sure that I ofered you a madeleinne cake. If not I meant to. Anyway I dragged you round the city in the pouring rain. What more could a woman ask for?

Anonymous said...

Seeing our surroundings through the eyes of a visitor is a great way to appreciate what we take for granted. Your post was lovely.

Ricardo said...

I agree indeed is always nice to see another person's perspective on thing we take for granted really is. :) xx Rico-Recipes

Gail's Man said...

Oh by the way, you wanted to know where I took the photo of the wheel that appeared a few days ago, well the answer is up Derby Road near Canning circus.

Emily said...

Great post. I often get stopped and asked for directions in Birmingham and it gives me a massive smile to know I have helped point people in the right direction. At worst, I don't know where to direct them but still do it with a friendly smile on my face and wish them luck. I want Birmingham to be known as a friendly place

Cheryl said...

I love traveling and the feeling fo being somewhere out of the ordinary. I've met the nicest people that way, people who've let me rooms, made me dinner, etc. Maybe because I'm a little more open when traveling than ordinarily.

French Fancy said...

Isn't it a shame that a kindly friendly stranger offering a person (or a couple) the chance to step inside his home could not be taken up in these devious times of ours. Everyone is suspicious - rightly so I guess - but how reliable is one's gut instincts. I mean if I met you, passed the time of day (if I didn't know you from your blog) I'd like to think I'd see that you weren't a mad axe-murderer and grab the chance to have a cuppa chez toi.

anyway, enough of your Italian tourists - I've commented on your posts that I missed over the last week or so - you might care to check :)

Phil Lowe said...

Ricardo and Dedene: good to hear that there are so many helpful and friendly people out there like yourselves.

Emily: lovely to hear that you want Brum to be a friendly place. I was there last October on a course and went to the Prince of Wales pub behind the Rep and the people in there were very friendly and keen to tell me all about other old pubs and independent brewers in the city and beyond. I also love the way that Birmingham's architecture mixes the older
buildings with the very modern with great grace.

Cheryl: I think travel can bring out the adventurousness in us and we are a little braver than at home. Good for you.

French Fancy: I am that axe murderer but you and Mr FF would always be welcome to have a cup of tea chez moi. Tee hee. I went back and checked your kind comments on my butchery years posts. Thankyou so much.