Rebecca Front: I'm not a beach-holiday kind of girl

Take It From Me: 'Italians on the beach look self-confident, relaxed, carefree. Brits all look as if they're about to be felled by some crushing blow'

Share
Related Topics

I have just returned from a couple of weeks in the blazing south of Italy, and yes, it was lovely, thank you for asking. But without wishing to sound ungrateful (and now that I've seen the miserable weather back here, I know I will), I have to confess that I'm not really a beach-holiday kind of a girl. Lying around aimlessly gives me far too much anxiety time. Behind my sunglasses, I can indulge all my darkest fears without my husband suspecting a thing. And there are all those beach-related worries to add into the mix: have the children got enough suncream on; should they be out that far in the sea; are there jellyfish, paedophiles, abandoned syringes, broken bottles, dog faeces?

But it seems I'm not alone. In between bouts of worrying, I spent a lot of time watching other people, and it struck me that you can spot the British on the beach instantly, no matter how tanned they are, by the fact that they all look as if they are about to be felled by some crushing blow. Italians on a beach look self-confident, relaxed, carefree. They wear the briefest of swimwear without caring whether it suits them, and they wear it with such swagger that somehow it does. They smoke endlessly, eat copious amounts of food, swig beer and caress each other publicly, guiltlessly, joyfully. It's rather wonderful to behold.

And then, into your field of vision lopes a hunched, haunted figure in either copious, down-to-the-knee surf shorts or a Boden tankini with a tummy-disguising floral pattern, and you know, just KNOW that they're British. In case you needed further evidence, there are... the hats. The Brits are the only people, apart from the Japanese, who wear hats in Italy. It sets them apart from the riff-raff like a regimental badge: "Ah, Caruthers, I see from your ill-fitting easy-roll white panama that you're from Barnes. You'll get used to the natives and mosquitoes, but it's the damned heat that'll kill you." We slather ourselves in the highest of high-factor protection to guard against a single ray sneaking under the brim, and lie stiffly on our sunbeds reading a brick-sized book with raised gold lettering, pretending we're having fun. Like hell we are.

After a week of observing this, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be Italian. Is that so unreasonable? I may not have a drop of Adriatic blood in my veins, but I am dark-haired and had, by this time, acquired a tan in spite of the factor 80, the huge hat, and the fact that my face had been permanently shielded by half a ton of John Grisham. So, one night, I decided that the early- evening stroll to the bar was going to be my passeggiata. I put on a slightly racy, strappy dress, a great deal of slap and some high heels, sprayed myself with scent with a wanton disregard for insect bites, and walked – not with my customary "watch-out-for-the-traffic" look of fear, but with a shoulders-back, hip-rolling, bella figura sway.

The first thing that happened was my kids asking why I was walking that way. When I explained that I wanted to make the best of myself like the locals did, they decided to join in. So now there were three of us: me, my nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter swaggering through a medieval Italian town pretending we belonged. We must have looked pretty convincing because, almost at once, an Italian woman stopped us and asked us the way. I couldn't tell her, of course, because the only Italian question I can answer is, "Would you like a salad with that?", and, come to think of it, she may have been asking us the way to the straw-hat emporium in Barnes. But no, I believe we were passing muster as fully fledged Italians, albeit with a very limited vocabulary.

Now, apart from the language, just one thing stood between me and my new identity: my husband. Even though he's the only member of the family who has lived in Italy, has innate self-confidence, good looks and a pretty convincing accent, there is something missing. It's in the details, I suppose: the purposeful stride rather than the relaxed amble; the inability to wait half an hour for the bill; the tell-tale reserving of tables and sunbeds, when any self-respecting Southern Italian would just breeze up and take his rightful place.

He never drinks brandy with his breakfast; refuses to have public rows with me; and doesn't kiss his male friends on the cheek. And then there's his driving. He will insist on checking his mirrors, maintaining a steady speed rather than veering erratically around blind bends and then braking sharply for no reason. And worst of all, I'm ashamed to admit, unlike every genuine Southern Italian male, he never smokes while filling the car with petrol.

Then I had a brainwave. If anybody asked, I'd learn how to say, in perfect Italian, that my husband's from Milan. So, for the rest of the holiday, we walked like Italians, and it felt great. I resolved to bring that self-confidence back with me. But within half an hour of landing under a leaden sky and queuing for luggage with fretful Brits jealously guarding their three inches of space at the carousel, I was once again a hunched, anxious-to-please, fully fledged Brit, apologising every time someone rammed me with a trolley. Don't think I'm not proud of being British; it's just that sometimes I'd like to look like I am.



Claudia Winkleman is away

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ashya King in hospital with his mother  

Ashya King: Breakdown in relations led to this PR fiasco

Paul Peachey
Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development holds a carton of eggs during a speech to Better Together supporters  

When the course of history is on the line, democracy is a raw, vicious and filthy business

Matthew Norman
Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing