One of the joys of foreign travel is conversations with people from different cultures and perspectives – locals and other travellers. However, we were a bit apprehensive about inevitable Brexit discussions as we travelled down the Italian peninsular and made a decision to leave Rome before the EU 60 yr. anniversary celebrations (as much for our own mental health as anything).
We have had a few Brexit discussions including a supermarket checkout man who asked if we were going to have another referendum. When we explained that was unlikely an Italian customer in the queue blurted out, with a mixture of exasperation and pity, “Well good luck to you then!’
Fellow Brits told us that on a bus journey some Germans had told them they were ‘mad’ – before beginning an argument amongst themselves in front of us about the impact of immigration on life in England.
American tourists, whilst happy to ask about Brexit have their own issues, one telling us that the focus now had to be on next year’s congressional elections. Her partner mentioned Angela Merkel’s recent visit to the States and how comforting it had been to have a normal ‘adult’ politician around for a bit. However, when she was preparing to leave there was a real sense of ‘Please don’t go and leave us alone with this man!’
Not surprisingly Fr. Merkel doesn’t get a uniformly positive press in Italy. Sue had a fairly standard conversation with an Italian man, both agreeing that it was better to work together than split into separate countries before he remarked ‘but it’s not right that Angela Merkel keeps telling everyone what to do!’
It was with a degree of resignation that I watched a spritely older man approaching us just as we were about to sink the first coffee of the day as we sat in the sun outside a café in Ravello perched high above the Amalfi coast.
‘English’ – it was more an assertion than a question.
When we assented he continued ‘I knew you were English, English people are always smiling.’
He had lived and worked in England as a taxi driver in Luton in the 50s and 60s before returning to Italy in retirement. His son had married an English woman and they lived in England.
We then played a little game of guess his age with Sue dutifully underestimating the figure by a good 20 years. He was in fact 85, but a more honest guess would not have put him older than 75.
Pleasant though all this was I have to admit a growing anxiety about our cooling coffees and whether it would be politic to invite him to join us for one when he moved the conversation on to a subject close to my heart – or chin to be precise.
He told us how important beards are, acknowledging mine with his hand and then fingering his own clean shaven chin (admittedly below a fine luxuriant moustache ) with an air of regret.
‘I shaved mine off because the woman who looks after me didn’t like it’, he paused before delivering his parting remark, ‘my wife used to say, a kiss without a beard is like eating vegetables without salt.’