Miles Kington: When in Rome, bring your own kettle descaler

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The Independent Online

Years ago I had an aunt who lived in Nassau in the Bahamas, running a hotel with her husband, and the only time I was ever lucky enough to get out to stay with her I remember asking her if in this paradise there was anything at all she ever missed from England.

"Oh, yes," she said. "Two things. Crispy green apples. And changeable weather."

I could understand the crispy green apples. But changeable weather?

"Every day here is the same," she said. "Glorious sunshine. Bright, wonderful sunshine. You have no idea how sick you can get of everlasting blue skies and everlasting sunshine. How I long for the weather to have a few surprises! How nice it would be to be caught in the rain! How I miss being able to chat to people about what the weather might do today!"

Interesting. And this weekend I have gained another insight into international cultural deprivation, because my son and Italian daughter-in-law have been staying with us for four days. My son Tom lives and works in Rome, married to Renata, whom he met when she was working in TV in London, so they are well used to life both in Britain and in Italy. The result was that they spent a good part of their time over here shopping for things they could not get in Rome.

Like kettle descaler

"They must have descaler in Rome, surely?" I said. "If things get scaled up in Rome, you must have descaler."

"We do," they said." But not kettle descaler. This is because they do not have kettles in Italy. Kettles are for making te a. They do not make tea in Italy, so there are no kettles, so there is no kettle descaler."

Also there is no crunchy peanut butter in Italy, which my son greedily stocked up on, nor mint jelly, for that matter. Or jackets. Tom is tall and slim, but also quite broad-shouldered. Italian men are very rarely tall and thin and broad-shouldered, so he can never find jackets in Rome which fit him; the solution to his problem, he has now discovered, lies in Marks & Spencer in Bath.

There was also Renata's Wellington boot problem. Her parents have a house and garden outside Rome, which gets quite muddy, but where Rome is deficient in boots, Frome is not; we took them to the big Mole Valley Farmers shop near there, where they went delirious over the available choice of gumboot styles. They also bought a boot remover, something she had never seen before.

Renata intends to get into jam-making this autumn, but can't get hold of the right stuff in Rome to do it with. Luckily, she found all the equipment she needed in the new Lakeland shop in Bath, as well as a size of bread tin you can't get in Rome.

But the thing she most enjoyed finding was a book called Shop Horror by Guy Swillingham, which celebrates the best/ worst puns committed in the names of British shops. It's just a series of photos of shop fronts – for instance, of flower shops called "Floral and Hardy" or "Nottingham Florist", or a South Coast Chinese restaurant called "Brighton Wok" ...

"This is brilliant!" she said. "We just don't have puns in Italy. And we certainly don't have shop names with puns. And even if we did, nobody in Italy would ever do a book about it. Brilliant!"

She did relent later, saying that the Italian word for shoe was "scarpe" and she had once seen a shoe shop in Italy called "Scarpe Diem", but she insisted that puns were generally a closed book to the Italians, and Tom agreed and said he had often tried to make puns in Italian and nobody had ever noticed. So although the other day I wrote a piece suggesting that the French did various things better than we did, I have made partial amends today by discovering that we British do things better as well.

Than the Italians, anyway.

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