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Language and personality 

I’ve just returned from two wonderful weeks in Italy. One of the striking things about returning to London is how I return to my English-speaking personality.

Years ago, I worked in Italy for a year. I learned a lot in that time (particularly about enhanced respect for the currently derided Anglo-Saxon business culture) but perhaps most valuable was good fluency in Italian. I’m unsure whether it’s the language or the culture of Italy that in small but important ways changes my personality when I’m there.

Each morning in Italy, I took a morning constitutional through our villa’s vineyard to the local village. There I bought the bread for breakfast and La Repubblica, my newspaper of choice in Italy.

As is proper, I greeted both the baker and the newsagent. (There’s just about no insult in Italian worse than being described as maleducato, which translates as badly educated, but has the deeper sense of ill-mannered and rude. The bella figura is about more than looks.) With the newsagent in particular I had a daily conversation about the area, the weather, whatever. One of the first things I did when we returned to London on Saturday was go to my local newsagent to buy the papers. I’ve known my newsagent here for seven years, but I’ve never exchanged more than a few words with him.

It’s my fault, I’m sure. But in English I’m closed and private; in Italian I’m open and (comparatively) garrulous. Like so many people who visit an extraordinarily beautiful part of the world, my wife and I have had loose chats about what it would be like to live in Italy — or other non-English places. There are pluses and minuses, but I think the daily experience of a different personality would be a big positive.

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