interviews

Language, art and culture. Saloni Gandhi explains us the passion for Italian.

Saloni Gandhi

The first thing I thought when I first met Saloni was: she's so young! And I wondered how much experience she had as a language learner. I was a little skeptical but I was wrong. She is a very special young woman. Not only she speaks Italian very well but sha has also a lot to say. This is the reason why this interview is so long.  Enjoy it and if you want to know more about Saloni visit her blog.   

I know you are graduated in French and Italian language.  Why did you choose these languages?

It’s an interesting story! After my board examination, I didn’t know what to do. As I was great in academics, most people assumed that I would choose Science stream and become an engineer or doctor. Well, that’s the last thing you’d see me doing now!

I just thought of trying out a different career path and I chose Arts. So, during junior college, I had French as a second language apart from theoretical subjects like Economics, Psychology, etc. Unfortunately, I would just score passing marks in French in all semesters until I met this person who used to teach French in my area. I went to her and she taught me French for around 4-5 months. I didn’t realize how and when I started loving the language. In these 5 months, my score went from 40s to 90s. (No kidding!) That’s when I decided to pursue my graduation in French Studies.

When I went to the University of Mumbai for admissions, I had to opt for one more foreign language. I wanted to take Spanish because it has great career prospects but for some reason, I couldn’t. I was then suggested by a few seniors to take Italian and they told me that the University has a native professor and that I would enjoy learning it.

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They also told me that the second language shouldn’t matter much as the major subject was French. But honestly, the second language, Italian, made all the difference. I just loved the way it was taught by the Italian professor at University of Mumbai. He would always show us videos related to food, touristic places, gestures, etc. related to Italian culture. Eventually, I started enjoying Italian lectures more than the French. So yeah, I didn’t choose these languages, I think these languages chose me! Haha!

Reading the about page of your blog, one sentence caught my attention: “My studies were not only focused on the language reading, listening and communication skills; but also the countries’ history starting from Antiquity to Contemporary period and the various literary and art movements”. How important is it to learn the culture that goes with the language you're studying?

Is it possible to imagine the Italian language without Dante’s “La Commedia”, a chef d’oeuvre that summarizes all the ideologies and knowledge of Medieval period, expressed in a mixture of dialects and ‘high’ register language?

Although the Renaissance movement began in Italy, it influenced all the European countries.

The Northern Italy use “Lei” as a polite form in formal situations but the Southern Italy often use “Vous” for the same context, due to the French influence, although it’s a custom which is fading away.

So, you see... Culture, history, art, literature and language are inter-connected. They go hand in hand. Some language learners resist embracing the culture behind the language they’re learning and consequently, they have to put deliberate efforts to understand the language. And in the end, they would just rote learn the words and grammar.

Learning the culture along with the language is almost inescapable. For example, the culture shines through a language’s proverbs. In English, “touch wood” is said in order to avoid bad luck when you speak of your good fortune whereas the Italians say “Tocca ferro” (literally, touch iron).

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Also, there are a number of many dialects spoken in Italy like Tuscan, Venetian, Sicilian, Neapolitan, Calabrian, etc. as per the geographical zone. I was surprised to hear a Florentine pronounce Coca Cola as hoha hola, with the h-sound instead of “c”.

Thus, to appreciate the language, it is important to dive into the culture behind the language. It simply opens our mind to new ways of experiencing life. It makes us realize that the way see things is not the only way to perceive it.

What do you like best about Italian culture?

I have always been creatively inclined and embraced Italy’s art and architecture. It is one of the finest in the world. As I’ve studied and also had an opportunity to appreciate first-hand the artworks from various art movements, Baroque and Renaissance are my all-time favourites and I’ve been following the artworks of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Leonardo Da Vinci since my school days. In fact, before actually studying the Italian language and getting to know about Italy, I only knew these two artists. (and pizza!) I have read “Caravaggio Segreto” and “Leonardo Segreto”, written by Costantino D’Orazio. During my graduation, I had watched a movie based on real life events of Caravaggio directed by Angelo Longoni, which left me stunned. I used to follow a historical fantasy drama series too, directed by David Goyer that presented the early life of Leonardo da Vinci. It never ceases to amaze me!

You have been in Italy like a student. I know you have attended courses in two of the most important Italian Universities for Foreigners: Siena and Perugia. Tell us your experience.

Yes, they are the most prestigious universities in Italy. I was in Siena for almost a month in August 2013, when I had won a scholarship to pursue level B2 at the University for Foreigners of Siena. However, I spent around 4 months in Perugia while studying the level C2 at the University for Foreigners of Perugia. I feel privileged to be a part such significant universities where people from all around the world go to study Italian.

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At a very young age, it gave me the opportunity to not only understand the Italian lifestyle and culture but to acknowledge the culture of other countries and further, to express the cultural richness of the country where I come from. Apart from improving my communication skills when writing to and speaking to a person from a different country, I got an insider’s view of Italy. Studying a new language first-hand, connecting with people and hearing their stories have been a source of immense pleasure. It has contributed in expanding my horizons and making me see the world in a new way.

If I have to talk about the cities, Siena is more of a touristic city whereas Perugia is quite student-friendly. Both cities are unique in their own way. The most remarkable memories that I have are witnessing the Palio in Siena and attending the grand concert of Radio Subasio in Perugia.

What’s your favourite Italian word and why?

Arrangiarsi. To get by or manage! According to me, life’s not about running behind what we don’t have, it is about what we make of what we got! It’s very important to be resourceful first and work with what we already have in difficult situations.

During the last period I’ve realized that so many Indians love Italy. Just out of curiosity: can you explain why?

Italians and Indians are like two peas in the same pod. We have a lot in common when it comes to history, art, food, religion and family values.

Also, these two countries complement each other pretty well. Italian government has initiated programs to get Indian IT professionals to contribute to the Italian IT sector. I have noticed that many North Indians work in the retail and restaurant fields in Italy.

People are now beginning to integrate into each other’s lifestyle by appreciating their similarities and respecting the differences.

Is there anything you wish to add?

Thank you for this opportunity! I’m honoured and grateful to be interviewed by The Italian Midday. You’re doing a great job! I wish you all the best for your future endeavours and I hope to see you soon in Italy.

 

Discovering the Real You in Italy. Interview with the Life Coach Sophie Charlotte.

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Sophie Charlotte is the kind of person who can inspire you when you are at a standstill and you are ready to give up. Her life story is a motivating mix of courage, determination and spirit of adventure. Sophie did what everyone only dreams of doing: she left her comfort zone in Holland to do what she really wants. Moving to Italy has been an important step in this process. Aren't you curious to know the why? 

In your business, you help women to leave their comfort zone and finally fulfil their dream to live in Italy. According to your experience of life coach, what are they frightened of?

The insecurity that moving abroad entails. You leave all that you know, and are extremely bored with, behind and leap into a totally new world that yes, excites you but also scares the hell out of you because it’s all new. I help my clients find that balance within themselves to face this new adventure in a grounded way providing practical, but also mental support dealing with fear, anxiety, worries and feelings of overwhelm.

In 2010 you’ve overcome your own fear and moved to Italy. Is your Italian life what you expected?

Yes, I did, I’ve actually overcome anxiety disorder by following my dream of moving to Florence! And what did I expect? Well, I simply expected to feel good. That’s actually why I moved here; because Italy always made me feel good – and still does. So yes, my Italian life is what I expected, but it’s become so much more than I expected. I’ve discovered parts of myself I didn’t know I had, like being a true business woman and people connector in many senses. I’ve done many different jobs like teaching English, interpreting, writing and I’ve eventually set up my own business as a life coach, so cool!


Learning a new language is hard because it’s not just remembering words and grammar structures, but actually learning to read – and listen – in between the lines. When Italians say: “certo, ci sentiamo presto!” you’ll probably never hear from them again. Or when they start using formal structures all of a sudden you know you’ve pissed them off. You don’t know that when you’re thinking “what Lei (she) is she talking about?” when you don’t know that Lei is the formal version of you in Italian. And many other funny tiny little massively important things like those.
— Sophie Charlotte - How to Make Life in Florence Work

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When you write about your life and your coaching activity, you use a word that has piqued my curiosity: renaissance. You mean rebirth and you’ve decided to reinvent yourself in Florence, that is where Renaissance (intended as cultural movement) was born. Is there a connection between you and the city?

Absolutely! I feel more and more that I’m meant to be in Florence and help other creative, sensitive, maybe somewhat lost women move here and reinvent themselves as well. I help them flourish, just like I did by finally allowing myself to be who I really am. Florence is a certain matriarch that just embraces you and nurtures you into being who you truly are. It’s a very special feeling that many people who’ve moved here experience as well. 

And how has Florence inspired you?

It’s inspired me to be more feminine, to show my beauty, to be proud of who I am, to express myself, to be warm, loving, generous and kind. To take life as it comes and to surrender to the flow of abundance that is there, but we just need to open up to. It’s inspired me to be me, to be the extroverted introvert I really am and to connect people.

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Italy is a tiny and complex country. Each town, each region has its own soul. Have you stayed in some other Italian city? Which one caught your eye?

I actually lived in Piombino for three months while I was doing my graduation project, teaching English to Italian kids at a secondary school. It was a lovely small seaside town, but to be honest, I got a little bored at some point and I decided to go to Florence one day. That’s when I realised again why I loved Italy so much. Florence represents everything I love about Italy: beauty, good food, the language, the weather. I love the Florentine mentality as well. Other Italians say they’re closed, but I always reply: “well, how do you approach them?” I always just chat with everyone and know so many people here that it feels like a little village to me. Which is really is!

I know that you are passionate about learning language and that in the past you taught English as a second language. In what way have you approached to the Italian language? Have you studied it before to move in Italy?

Yes, love everything language-related and English and Italian are my favourite languages. I did two Italian courses in Holland and I did a two-week course in Florence. Then I studied here for five months while working as the secretary at that school as well. That was real total immersion for sure! Learning a language is all about taking the leap all the time. You need to dare to make mistakes because that’s how you communicate eventually. Be willing to make a fool of yourself and you’ll move forward! When I now teach English I use a lot of coaching in there as well. 50 % is language knowledge, 50% is having the guts to just speak it.

What’s your favourite Italian word and why?

Ni. What other language has a word that means both yes and no? It represents all the possibilities that there are in Italy; it’s never just black or white. This can be seen as negative, but I just decide to look at the positive side and see it as a flexibility trait that we stressed northerners could really learn to master more!

Is there anything you wish to add?

That I’m all about positivity and bringing women together so they can make friendships, share their stories and have a safe space to promote what they are passionate about. I do this in my group The YES Woman and during our meet ups in Florence. Please join the group is this resonates. Also, a first consultation with me is always free. So if you’re considering moving to Italy, but feel stuck in the what ifs, hows and would like some practical and mental support on taking your own leap, then please contact me here.

Thanks for this and good luck with your big, bold dream of setting up your own Italian language school! Impossible is nothing.

Only for Addicted to Italy. Interview With the Blogger Ishita Sood

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The first thing that people understand when they visit the website www.ishitasood.com, is that its founder is “a lover of all things Italian”. The blog name Italophilia is saying a lot about Ishita. As Italian I’m very curious to understand what made her fall in love with Italy. Let’s find out, shall we?

I know you’re not a simple tourist, but you split your time between India and Italy. How do you find out your love for Italy?

Ciao Emanuela! I am from India and stay and work in Delhi. My love affair with Italy started many years ago when I first traveled for the first time. I instantly felt a connection for the country, the culture and the people. After that, there has been no looking back. Traveling to Italy is my goal every year and somehow I make it possible.

Usually how long do you stay in Italy? Do you plan to travel to different cities every time or you always stay in the same town and from there you visit places along the Boot?

It is usually about 3 weeks, though my shortest trip has been for 5 days in 2016 for the Mantua Literature Festival. I volunteered for those 5 days and explored Austria and Hungary thereafter. I usually try to see at least 2 new cities in every trip. I don’t do rushed travels. They are usually in a good place where I can enjoy local life and savour good food.


When I am in Italy, I love to observe the locals and catch a few extra words for my Italian vocabulary. I try to talk to anyone I can especially the Barista at the bar. Italians usually are a friendly and curious bunch of people and will make you feel comfortable.
— Ishita Sood - Italy Travel: Things to Know

In 2015 you’ve decided to learn Italian. According to your experience, what methods will be more effective?

The Italian language is a whole other game for me because my own mother tongue, Hindi, is no way even close to it. But over the past few months I have realized that the most effective way to learn the language is by speaking more even if to yourself. Also, watching Italian movies and listening to music is very useful. I somehow don’t even realize I know the lyrics of the songs but listening to them repetitively has been the best way for me, apart from usual studies.

In your blog, there is a sentence that has brought a smile on my face: “Italy is a country full of wonderful people, they go out of the way to help you. I have so many instances small or big where I was helped by a complete stranger. It makes travel memorable and you want to keep returning to thatplace”. Can you tell us one of these anecdotes?

It indeed is and one such anecdote that stays with me forever is of my travel experience from Orvieto to Perugia. I was cornered by two strange men for my bag and belongings at the Orvieto train station. Somehow I missed it luckily and took refuge with an Italian couple sitting inside the station. My train was late by an hour and I was worried. But the Italian couple stayed with me throughout. They did not know English but they understood me somehow and they made sure I reached Perugia safely. They helped me with my train travel, made sure they sat next to me in the train, provided me with taxi numbers and even went out of the train to say goodbye and make sure I wasn’t scared. Had it not been for them, I would have possibly been in a mess. So much for meeting kind Italian strangers!

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You are an avid reader and in your blog you have listed some must-read Italian books. How useful do you think is literature to understand Italian culture?

Reading comes naturally to me. I have been a reader since I was very young, maybe 3 or 4 years. Hence, my reading choices in the past few years have been on Italian culture or books written by Italian authors. Literature greatly inspires culture and helps the reader understand society even better. There are some points about daily Italian life that even a person who has not visited Italy would know. For instance, a small example that an author can use is having a caffe from the moka pot in the morning. So Italian!


Festa dei Ceri involves the entire town and I think that is commendable because it gives a spirit of unity. Every man, woman and child; young or old, upholds the tradition and folklore behind this festival.
— Ishita Sood - The Medieval “Festa dei Ceri” in Gubbio

In your post The Medieval “Festa dei Ceri” in Gubbio, you’ve described this outstanding historical and religious event. What did impress you the most? From North to South, there are a lot of “feste” and traditions. In what way they are different from Indian festivals?

When I booked a trip to Perugia to visit the Festa dei Ceri in Gubbio, I had little or no idea about it except from the pictures I saw online. However, being there was almost as if I was back in time. It was surreal and a feeling I cannot explain. I found the festival very interesting and unusual too. But I should add that the festivals in Italy may be different from India in terms of deity but the aim of the celebration is the same - to uphold local customs and appreciate our culture. And how can I forget food!

Is there anything you wish to add?

I thank you for this opportunity to be online at The Italian Midday. Ci vediamo presto ;)

203 Travel Challenges in Italy. Interview with Travel Blogger Maria Angelova

Maria Angelova is one of the founders of 203challenges.com and its editor-in-chief. She calls herself "a traveling disaster roaming the world". I reckon she is a talented blogger and I love how accurate her descriptions are. She lived in Italy for a while and I asked her to tell us something about her italian experience.

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I really like the post “5 unique little towns in Italy for true explorers”. Everyone around the world knows Rome, Florence or Naples but there is much more to see along the “Boot”. How do you consider these hidden gems of Italy? Do you think they are so different from Italian big cities?


Italy has so much to see that you could easily get overwhelmed and give up before you even start.
— Maria Angelova, 5 Unique Little Towns In Italy for True Explorers

As someone who've lived in a small town in Italy for a while, I find them very different. In a little town, almost nobody speaks English but people are more prone to help you. There's no official tourist center but the locals will show you the best places and will tell you the amazing stories behind them. There aren't world-famous restaurants but your neighbor may invite you over for a dinner and teach you how to cook the perfect Tiramisu.

Let’s focus on the language. I know that you lived in Italy for 6 months. When you moved to Italy, did you speak a bit of Italian? Any trouble communicating with the locals? If you have studied Italian, what is the hardest part about learning it?

I could say only “Buongiorno” and “Grazie” the first time I set my foot in Italy but living in a small non-touristy town helped a lot in my mission to learn Italian. I simply had no choice. My university professors were kind and understanding, my landlord was friendly, and all the old ladies who were trying to explain something important to me were all part of the learning process. Well, living in Abruzzo was the reason why I started straight with a bit of a dialect but that's the best part about Italian language – all these different sounds and words – you travel around the country and discover new ways to say the same thing.

Maria in Thiesi, Sardinia.

Maria in Thiesi, Sardinia.

Italy welcomes millions of tourists every year, but don’t expect Italians to speak English. Before you go, it’s well worth jotting down some useful phrases in Italian. Italians are genuinely flattered when a foreign visitor makes an effort to speak their language, and will open their hearts to you.
— Maria Angelova, 22 Honest Travel Tips for Italy


According to your website's spirit, what is the biggest challenge you have completed in Italy?

Italy is a country where you can fulfill your craziest ideas and you'll always be surprised by the result. My love affair with Italy started in 2009 and my biggest challenge (because it's lifelong) is to visit it every single year of my life. So far, I've done it for eight years in a row.

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Is there anything you wish to add?

I want to challenge everyone reading this to discover an amazing story during their next trip (a fascinating local legend, the life story of a butcher in a small town, or the story of your favorite painter, which can be turned in your next travel itinerary).