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

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor