When I first found out that the Champions League final was going be held in Wales, my initial reaction was ‘Italy is going to be so confused’. That might sound harsh, but for many years I lived in a country that uses England (Inghilterra) and United Kingdom (Regno Unito) interchangeably, often in the same sentence or paragraph. And for a Welsh speaker who’d grown up in a Welsh speaking family, it was a, let’s just say, very trying experience.
I could count the amount of people I met during my time there who genuinely understood that being Welsh was different to being English on one hand. Outside of work (where the team I worked with was mostly British), it was like my cultural identity had been erased. I was no longer Welsh, but English, no matter how many times I tried to explain. Very few people understood where I was really from, or that my first language wasn’t actually English. It’s honestly something I’m still coming to terms with, the erasure of my Welsh identity, and the difficulties that Italy in general has with British geography.
I lost count of the amount of times that people told me ‘It’s the same to us’, or ‘When we say England we mean the UK, it’s just a question of semantics’ or ‘But you’re from up there, aren’t you?’. It wasn’t malicious, they were good people, they had just never had an explanation of how and why the nations that make up the (by now not very) United Kingdom were different. My reply of ‘But I’m Welsh!’ became somewhat of a joke with some, as they anticipated that same protest when they called the UK ‘Inghilterra’ out of habit. ‘Yes, we know you’re Welsh. I meant the UK, it’s the same thing’.
I’ll never forget that time when I was watching the RAI 2 lunchtime news one day, when I heard them say that Cardiff, the capital of Wales, was in England. That was a couple of years ago by now; but when even the state broadcaster can’t get it right, can you really expect the general population to?
Even now, listening to an Italian radio show every weekend, I hear the UK referred to as England by a collaborator on the show. She’s been corrected by the presenter (who I had the pleasure of meeting many times over my years in Italy) several times, but still inevitably returns to Inghilterra, even seconds later. In this case I’ve learned not to waste my breath any further. There are some people who, no matter how many times I’ve tried to explain it, can’t or don’t want to understand.
Not being in Italy anymore, it’s difficult to judge exactly what effect Juventus reaching the Champions League final has had increasing awareness of my country’s existence. Twitter has been mostly positive, from what I’ve seen. Surprisingly so, I have to say. Some people finally realising that yes, Wales isn’t England, and actually correcting others on it. There have, of course, been some insensitive comments. Such as this one which I retweeted – ‘So Wales is useful for something’. I can see that maybe it came from a desire to be sarcastic, but I don’t think Italy would take very kindly to me tweeting that I was eating a plate of pasta, saying that at least Italy was useful for something. There was one tweet last night which claimed that we have the ‘England [sic] £’ in Wales; and there was the classic ‘But then, where the hell is Cardiff?’ tweet. Highly amusing, I’m sure. I’ve seen blog posts covering how to reach Cardiff, the information might not be 100% accurate (someone claimed that there are no direct flights to Wales from Italy, which is no longer true), but it’s a strong start. The issue at the moment is that between the Champions League final, and the Euros last year, the awareness of the existence of Wales is restricted to the world of football. Which is sad in itself, for a country with such a rich cultural identity and traditions. But that will take time, a lot of time from my experience. The good thing now is that the ball’s rolling. It’s a start, which is much better than nothing.