Marco and I were walking briskly through Hyde Park in London, arms linked and heads ducked against the wind, when a middle-aged man stopped us with a warm, “buongiorno!”.
He heard us talking in Italian and was thrilled by the beautiful city he was visiting. Though new to the city, his outstretched arms and smile indicated that he was happy with the change. The Italian women at his side said she had lived in London for 30 years and loved it.
Later, huddled in the entrance of a small café, Marco and I were discussing what we wanted to order, or if we wanted to at all. “Scusate,” said a barista who needed to pass us to restock the refrigerator.
We passed enormous school groups taking goofy pictures in front of Buckingham Palace, screaming “cheeeeeeeese” in their best English accents accompanied with loads of Italian curse words.
We passed pizzeria after pizzeria, café after café, Italian waiters and baristas and bus drivers and even businessmen. Though I was looking forward to London as a short break from our daily lives in Italy, it seemed we heard Italian more than any other language, including English!
Actually, it’s possible. According to an October 2014 article in The Telegraph, Britain is now the number one choice for Italians looking to emigrate, surpassing once-preferred Germany.
There are officially 220,000 Italians living in London, but the true figure is likely closer to 500,000 – about the same size of some of the biggest Italian cities. At least 13,000 moved to London last year alone.
The Italian brain drain is no secret, especially among millennials. With an unemployment rate of more about 42 percent for Italians aged 15 – 24 years old, it makes sense that “more than a third of those who left Italy were aged between 18 and 34” according to a report titled ‘Italians in the World 2014’.
I see it every day. I see it in my English lessons as my Italian students practice the language discussing their desire to leave. I see it with friends who are hitting the wall of disillusionment when they realize even they can barely keep up the status quo in a floundering state. Perhaps I see it most notably in Italians’ open surprise when they discover that I chose to live here. Not because they don’t see their own country as beautiful, but because they see all too well the bureaucratic, economic and political problems that are stagnating it.
So Italians are leaving, and they love London. They see London as an example of how a society should run. It’s a cosmopolitan city with a government that works. Most importantly, it has jobs. Plus, compared to the stereotypes of the harsh, cold Germans, the “snobbishness” of the English is easily manageable.
Whatever the case, Italians are taking over London, and they’re doing it well.
Marco and I climbed to the top of the double-decker bus to “drive it,” sitting in the first row on the right hand side. There we began gossiping and cracking jokes in Italian when Marco suddenly nudged me. “Shh, the girl next to us is Italian,” he whispered. I glanced at her. She hadn’t even opened her mouth, but I supposed she did have that aspect. I wondered just how surrounded by Italians we could possible be.
The girl rummaged through her bag searching for her ringing phone. When she found it, she answered with a triumphant, “Ciao mamma!”
I guess I had my answer.