The last post of the expedition – the tell-all fit for the tabloids

In the last two months I have gone from staying in Italy until June, to staying unless I screw up again, and now to being back in England by the end of the week. Strangely enough, or not, I’m not too unhappy. Why? Normally I’m not one to bitch or whine in a public forum but I think now I can safely, and freely, say that the only two things about this au pairing experience over the last were the friend that I made, the teaching experience that I gained, and the extra money I (briefly) earned that allowed me to see so much of this spectacular country.

I had a hunch back in the autumn that I wouldn’t see out my scheduled time here, that it was just a case of who got tired of whom first. I remember back in September, when I asked about the possibility of taking a Friday off to spend a three day weekend with a new friend in Rome, and how it seemed like such a big deal, only to be told later down the line that if I wanted to travel Friday afternoons and Monday mornings to get a full two days in wherever I was going, I could. This was only one element of the laughable hypocracy that has peppered the last three months out here.

Let me enlighten you on some of the episodes I’ve witnessed in the intermitting period. A few months in my host mum was seeming like one of the more pushy people I’d yet met. At first I thought it was just helpfulness, but no. It was actually just being pushy. Sometimes blindly so.

I had tried to get in contact with a handful of au pairs that would be living locally to me, before I came out, to help with socialising and seeing the sights. I did find a couple, including a particularly reliable one who I went on three weekend trips with. When I was telling my host of these planned trips before I came out, she used her network of au pair host families to find an au pair doing the same trip I was, on the same weekend. It was the au pair I had discovered.

A few weeks in, she was still using this network to find other au pairs who lived locally, or that might have been interested in visiting my host town. This was great as I’d not found any. Not that I needed to, having been busy with the one I mentioned previously.

One evening, she suggested yet another au pair I contact, although this one had contacted me hours earlier.

The next afternoon, as we were driving home from running a couple of errands, she told me she thought I needed to get out and meet locals, and that it wasn’t good only meeting up with English speaking people, and how girls, as in the au pairs she’d been putting me in touch with, were unreliable.

Which is all well and good, until you remember she had put me in touch with a number of these ‘unreliable’ girls, and that the nearest central bar is a ten, maybe fifteen, minute drive away.

One Saturday evening she had prepared what appeared to be a ragu sauce for pasta, en masse, in a pressure cooker. The next morning it was still sitting on the stove so, presumably in an attempt to avoid the inevitable ‘why has nobody put this into jars?’ interrogation from her later in the day, her boyfriend dutifully puts half an hour aside to do just that.

If he thought he had avoided the wrath, he was sorely mistaken. She comes downstairs and into the kitchen, and the first thing she says is something along the lines of, “Where is the pan with the sauce in it?”

“I put it in jars” he replies.

“Did I ask you to?” she retorts. I didn’t catch the rest of the rant that followed as I was too busy trying to resist laughing. This is a woman who routinely complained about things that have not been done, and here she was complaining about something that had.

I only recount these specifically as I wrote them up for a previously anonymous blog I started up to vent when such ridiculous events occurred. If my memory was better I would have dozens of stories to tell.

And maybe that is the reason I’m not particularly down, dejected or otherwise deflated that this experience has been so unilaterally bad. I repeatedly remind myself that in a few months and years down the line, they will just be hilariously cringeworthy episodes in an otherwise enjoyable au pairing experience. It’s all about the ‘long-game’ mindset I’ve had since I started to falter in university, helping me nudge myself ever more closer to the perfect course through life.

Jack out.

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Risk.

I never considered myself much of a risk-taker. Three years ago I was content with sitting out my failing degree, and two years ago I was content with working a forty-hour week and still not being able to afford my own place. It wasn’t until a little over a year ago that I finally took my first risk. I did something that had no obvious immediate benefit, for no other reason than because I was finally sick of being content with the mundaneness of my existence.

More precisely a year ago, I was gearing up for the second risk I had taken – going to Rome for a few days, to meet a friend who may or may not have been too busy to meet me some or all of the time. It seems silly, in hindsight, calling it a risk. Nowadays I’d just call it a bit of travelling, but back then I had to resist drawing parallels between myself and Columbus, I felt epic. Of course I wasn’t, but the feeling became addictive. Doing something new, or unpredictable, with no thought for the consequences, so long as they wouldn’t be harmful. This was the first time I had stayed in a hostel, and it was the most enjoyable and social hostel experience I’ve experienced so far. I met some really interesting people and even found one or two to explore the city with.

I’ve been to many other cities since, and dare I say it I’m almost becoming accustomed to the novelty of it. I am still taking risks, in that I’m meeting up with new au pairs and seeing cities that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, but now I’m starting to notice risk-taking seeping into other areas of my life. I risked being thought of as unusually chatty by a stranger on my way through London last week on my way home from the airport, and got rewarded with a very enjoyable evening with that same stranger on my return through London back to Italy a week later.

There is no telling where some of these risks will get me, but I am definitely becoming less adverse to taking them. My only concern now is that I don’t become labelled as cocky or arrogant, as I only really want to take chances for what they’re worth.

Jack out.

A change of direction…

As you may, or may not know, I am just approaching the two month mark in my second stint as an au pair. Still in Italy, but this time a little further south in the beautiful region of Tuscany. My ‘radio silence’, for want of a better phrase, hasn’t been through lack of writing material, the opposite in fact. I’ve been infinitely busier here than I ever was last time round. Not only am I doing the ‘standard’ au pairing, which on one hand feels a lot more like what I expected au pairing to feel like, but on the other is rarely standard in any sense of the word, but also attending four to six hours of Italian lessons a week, and now leading four hours (on average) of English lessons every week. I have a grand total of two mornings during the week, in addition to weekends, left to my own devices. However I’m not complaining, as I’ve all but doubled my salary, which has allowed me to make good use of trains, buses, and my old but surprisingly good-quality camera

I’ve had a few busy weekends already; if you cast your mind, or browser, back to a recent post you’ll find I mentioned a highly driven travelling buddy. As it transpired they were also a highly whimsical travelling buddy, and through reasons that aren’t worth regurgitating, cut all contact a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped my seemingly rampant exploration of the area I find myself in, and the country in the whole, and I’m currently gearing up for an in-depth exploration of Florence, while attending a weekend-long tattoo convention there.

However, despite the busyness on the home front, had I been posting with the same frequency as previously, I would have been repeating myself on numerous occasions; same shit, different day as the saying goes. Which left me with a dilemma; I have two more prominent aspects of my experience this time round, namely the travelling and exploration, and the teaching. There are a million and one people writing about their experiences travelling. Heck, I started following one on Twitter just this week. So that leaves teaching, which is the direction I hope I will be, and see myself, going in in the not too distant future. All in all it makes sense and, as Italy is seemingly notorious for poor levels of English and teaching on the subject, I may even fill a niché, and this blog may get the audience it… ahem… needs.

Jack out

Ninja edit: As if to prove my point that every man and his dog is writing about travelling, a friend of mine has just started her own blog. Check it out, she knows what she’s talking about

Whatever They Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Throughout college and university I was a horrible procrastinator. Xbox, TV, going outside, you name it, I’d rather do it than an essay or assignment. If you go back far enough into the depths of my archives, every other post was written to delay something academic. Sure, it bit me in the ass like a police-trained attack squirrel, but I developed my writing style at the same time, and I know which I’m finding most useful now. As it transpires I’m finding English much more interesting than computers, and that seems much more suited to where I’m going in life.

Which brings me to the subject of tonight’s post – it seems I’m still using writing to procrastinate. In a little over thirty-six hours I’ll be on a plane to Italy for the second time in nine months, and I’ve spent the best part of the evening trying my hand at fiction writing. I’m in a real dilemma as to whether I’m almost finished with packing or not. On the return leg in July, I barely managed to keep my hold bag below twenty kilos, and my carry-on was so fat it had to spend the trip down below too. Now, being a little conservative with my clothes, my worldly possessions more or less now fit in the one bag. I can’t help feeling I’m missing some obvious, massive thing. Maybe I’m being a little too conservative with what I take.

However this is all slightly beside the point, in that my concern is more what I’m doing to procrastinate, rather than the task I’m avoiding. The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed I said I’m trying my hand at fiction. When you consider I’ve spent the best part of the last eight months writing (somewhat) factually about my experiences living abroad, you’ll understand why I’m as perplexed as you may be. The venture, currently, is under the encouragement of a new lurker on these pages, a fan of my writings, possibly even the first self-diagnosed case. At the moment I’m in two minds about posting anything on any form of publicly accessible forum (i.e. here). If I do, I fear things may get even more bipolar than they already are. Watch this space.

Jack out.

The Italian job, part two.

In just over a fortnight I’ll be in Siena. In just under three weeks I’ll be on a long weekend in Rome. In four weeks I’ll be spending the night in Venice. Three weekends, three of the more beautiful cities in Italy, and a highly driven travelling buddy thrown in the mix* will be sure to make the first month of my return to the great land of pasta infinitely more intense than the first time round.

Not that it wasn’t intense the first time round of course, as any regular readers will know. Only this time it will be less about becoming accustomed to a new career and country, and I’ll be able to dive into the deep end of culture and fellow travellers.

This is the off-season, of sorts, although I haven’t switched off entirely. For the past week I have been 300 miles away up north seeing a couple of friends I met back in Italy. A couple of weeks before that I was the other side of London seeing one that I left here when I went away, and I guess that’s what living hundreds of miles away and having to make friends that aren’t necessarily on your doorstep does to you. It really shrinks your world. The highly driven travelling buddy I mentioned earlier? She’s based a good two hour drive from me, but when you can get half way down the country in mere hours on the super-fast train network, distance suddenly becomes insignificant.

Jack out.

*Top tip for getting a highly driven travelling buddy: find someone that is already extraordinarily motivated, and then dangle them out of their comfort zone for an extremely restricted period. They’ll want to do everything all at once.

The nineteenth post of the expedition – the compilation from the cutting-room floor

About a month into my stay, I was warned of the ending of the ‘honeymoon’ period that au pairs experienced. The host family had got wise to you, you to them, and the niceties disappear. That never seemed to happen to me, with this family at least. They are as warm and welcoming as they have always been, and their incredible sense of humour is still prevalent. However, I am now starting to experience something that I have seen amongst other au pairs, namely when your stay comes to an end.

It’s probably down to the nature of the job – that it’s so orientated around children – that means that au pairs tend to arrive and leave at similar times. While this sense of discovering new places at the same time as others is really great for bonding, it also rears it’s ugly inverse head when the time comes to leave. It has been such an intense few months of meeting new people, often some of the only other strangers within reach and then, within a few weeks of each other, these new friendships are stretched right across the globe.

However they most definitely are friendships, and not just acquaintances of convenience, as not only are they going to far-flung places, but it was that same sense of adventure and exploration that I have developed in coming to Italy that brought them, as me, to our meeting. And the same one that will make it almost impossible for our paths to not want to cross again.

So while it sad that we will be apart for an unspecified, probably long, period of time, it is also equally awesome that the next time we meet will be in an equally unspecified, but certainly new, place, where more adventures will be had, and the thirst for adventure will be quenched for a time again.

Jack out.

The eighteenth post of the expedition – the recently discovered demo tapes

‘What is going on for you next week?’ a friend asked me last weekend over drinks. ‘Just a normal week, I expect’ was my reply, although with a little over a month left with this family, I knew full well that no such thing existed.

It’s almost paradoxically with the regularity of their irregularity that however frequently the day-to-day goings-on amongst the family drive me to the edge of despair, almost nothing that happens now surprises me. One of the many things I’ve learnt over the last six months is when to not question or ponder, and just accept, shrug, smile, and move on with the day.

Five months ago, I was into my last week in England for the time being, and quite honestly had no real idea of what lay ahead. If I could go back and tell past me everything that has happened in the interim, I am pretty sure past me would believe none of it. Well, he would say he believed it, to stop my rambling, but I know he really wouldn’t. I wouldn’t.

Reading back through the last seventeen and a half (yes) posts and you’ll have some idea of how mind blowing the whole thing has been for me, but I think my head might just go pop if I try and comprehend every single thing at once. The relationships that have developed in sometimes unexpected ways, the ones that have grown out of seemingly thin air or less, and that now feel ten-fold more familiar than they should reasonably do so. The acquaintances that are not only happy to meet and accommodate a foreigner, but entertain him for an evening and then invite him along next time. Every single person that I’ve met that has dispelled any negative stereotype that was ever perpetrated, that’s commented on or tested my Italian, or that’s given me a friendly nod. All the people that have shared their ambition of adventure and discovery.

That, for every friend or family member I am looking forward to seeing back in England I have one friend here, be they local or fellow au pair, that I will miss in equal measure, has really confirmed that it has indeed been an experience, my experience, and a completely unique and unforgettable one at that.

Jack out.

The seventeen-and-a-half-th post of the expedition – the promotional leaflet

The other week, the ‘novelty of being a male au pair’ lightning bolt struck again, and I had a journalist contact me wanting to ask some questions on the odd situation I’ve found myself in with regards to my gender and line of work. This is the result, along with the exceptional translation into Spanish on the affiliated page.

It’s well worth a read even if I wrote most of it, as I go into detail about my motivations, routine, and how terribly tough it is for au pairs to find work as men-folk. And also the interviewer is just as charming if not more so than your favourite au pair-blogger.

Jack out.

The seventeenth post of the expedition – the one with the punny title

Yesterday I made a joke which, for once, I wasn’t the only person to hear. A friend and I were sitting in a local park which just so happened to have a flag similar to the St. George’s cross flying on a nearby pole. ‘St. George’s cross,’ I said, motioning towards it. ‘I have no idea what upset him, but there you go’. Now this particular friend, while she doesn’t have English as her first language, speaks it well enough, and usually laughs at the appropriate time when I try my own special blend of humour. However this one took a little explaining of the ambiguity of the apostrophe-‘s’, but, nevertheless, she subsequently gave a reassuring laugh.

Along this train of thought, it’s a recent realisation that perhaps this fondness for wordplay, extended metaphor, poetry and double meaning that I’ve displayed numerously online were the early manifestations of an interest in language, which seems to have culminated in where I am going in the next few months. In theory, I’m still participating in an English language summer school in the town I’m living in at the end of next month, followed by a couple of months in England to rest and reset. And then it gets interesting, as simultaneously to staying with a new family in Tuscany for the duration of the next academic year, I’ll be continuing my fledgling career as an English tutor, with two colleagues of the mother of the family I’ll be staying with. And there’s nothing quite like a challenge for a man as doing more than one thing concurrently.

Jack out.

The sixteenth post of the expedition – the album with a meta-title

I’ve recently started trying (note – the emphasis is on this word) to teach one of my Italian friends some English before they go to America and Canada later in the year. I can only think poor them however, as they’re certain to get lambasted by the north Americans they encounter for speaking with a British accent, and then by me when I see them next afterwards for having picked up the American one. However this is slightly besides the point of my post.

As I said, the emphasis is on trying, as somewhat paradoxically it’s frustratingly difficult to teach your mother-tongue unless you’ve had formal training in the process, as I’m slowly finding out. Yes, I learnt it at some point in the distant past as well, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you when that was, and even more so if I can tear it apart and explain its nuances and caveats at a moment’s notice.

Take this example that almost flummoxed me today – we were translating our way through an Italian song, and came across the Italian turn of phrase that translated to ‘the beat of the eyelid’ – as in a single moment in time. I instinctively knew the equivalent English idiom, but it took me a couple of attempts to remember it correctly, and a further one or two corrections to get the phrasing right.

Consequently, it has become almost instinctive to challenge anyone that claims to speak ‘perfectly’ in a language. It’s probably the basis for my reserved response when anyone asks how my Italian is going. I’m very much inclined to say ‘fine’, or ‘good enough’, despite what the natives tell me. It’s like one of those mysterious lines your maths teacher tried to tell you about in school, the one that always approaches the axis but never actually reaches it. Heck, I’ve been speaking English for over two decades and still haven’t got that nailed down in places, so I’m highly wary of proclaiming anything other than ‘abbastanza bene’ (well enough) in Italian.

On the flipside of the linguistic coin, though, is the ever present ability to gain more knowledge, and really dive deep into the language below the words and definitions. I don’t know to what type of person etymology (the study of word origins) is interesting, but I seem to be one of them, and it certainly provides a nice backdrop to learning a second language, to discovering even more about your first.

Jack out.