Category Archives: Things in Italy that can kill you…..

A light hearted look at some of the quirks, foibles and sometimes utterly whackster paranoid beliefs which prevail in my adopted homeland…

Sometimes…..all I need is the air that I breathe……or maybe not…..

I don’t think I have read a single ex-pat blog that didn’t speak about the infamous “colpo d’aria“. The peculiarly Italian problem of the “hit of air”. The air that sneaks up on you unawares and lands you in bed with a “febbre” (fever, for which read any tenth of a degree over 36.5. 36.6? You have a fever my friend and need antibiotics forthwith. Trust me, I live in Italy.

Never ones for minimising a situation, a headache, a cold, a bad throat, all those minor, niggly symptoms (that let’s face it, beyond the borders of Italy can get you in any season, not just winter)  will have an Italian off work/school for a week, with antibiotics and anxious parents (even when the patient is in their 40s) wringing their hands with that kind of pseudo-relish at having a gory tale to tell, and letting the whole neighbourhood know that young (or old) Giuseppe is in bed with a febbre or influenza.

I had only been in Italy a few months when I got one of my migraines. Nothing dramatic, just a blinding headache that put me in bed for 24 hours. My friend let the English school know I wouldn’t be in when she went in for her lessons.

“Does she have a febbre?” asks the secretary.

“I don’t imagine so,” says my friend, “she’s got a headache”.

Hah. She comes home brandishing a thermometer. “Nieta says we have to see if you’ve got a febbre and she can’t believe we haven’t got one of these in the flat”.

After ringing Nieta to see where we put it, and what it was supposed to do, and what it was going to say if I did/didn’t have a temperature, we established that I was not, as the whole town was suspecting, feverish. Just headachey.

A few years later, and a different school, I had another migraine and asked Concetta to ring the businessman and cancel my evening class with him.

“NotTreading won’t be able to do the lesson this evening, she has influenza”

“Concetta, I do not have influenza, now he’ll think I was telling fibs when he comes in the day after tomorrow and finds me fighting fit! Why didn’t you just tell him I have a headache?”

Too easy.

I have to tell Handsome Swain off for using the excuse with his mother on a Sunday;

“We can’t come, la bambina has a touch of influenza”.

Now anyone who has ever really, truly had influenza knows that you don’t get a “touch” of it. You get a full-blown headlong crash-into-a-brick-wall occurrence and you are bedridden for days. Unless you are Italian, in which case you can get it about 4 times a month, all year round.

One summer I was working in a residential summer school, and the director came banging on my bedroom door about 2am:

“Get up, quick! There’s a medical emergency! We have to call an ambulance! One of the kids has a fever!”

I scrambled up and grabbed my clothes, thinking some kind of malarial nasty, or meningitis. Then I checked…..

“Erm, Mark, what nationality is the kid?”

“It’s one of the Italians”

“Go back to bed, he’s got a cold. Get the group leader to stick one of the suitcase full of suppositories she’ll undoubtedly have about her person up part of his person and we can all get some rest. Once his parents have telephoned every hour, on the hour of course.” Which they were doing anyway. But that’s another post.

Handsome Swain’s mammy is an old lady. Granted. But does she really need to be taken to A and E every time she gets a cold? Of course she does! It’s nearer than the doctor’s. And then we wonder why there are news articles about patients lying in A and E on trollies for days on end. Simples: because 75% didn’t need to be there in the first place. And the other 25% are not seen to when they should be because of this constant going-to-the-hospital mentality.

Everyone has the flu jab. Except us. And everyone gets flu. Lots. From the end of summer onwards, the news always has a little slot with some expert telling us when the “real flu” will arrive, and how bad it will be, and how many of us will end up in bed. This, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the ones already in bed with it when the telly doc is telling us it hasn’t arrived yet have “pre-influenza symptoms”. Like their bodies are preparing them for the worst.

But back to air. In the summer they can’t get enough of it. Unless it is coming through a window, in which case, it’s also lethal in summer. At MiniNotTreading’s nursery show, June, 37 degrees outside, all the windows had to be closed because the mothers sitting too near would get hit by it and then get a cervicale. You wondered when I was going to talk about cervicale, didn’t you? I have been told other people’s headaches are worse than my migraines, because theirs are “cervicale”. Fair enough, it’s not a competition. Actually, at times, when I describe my headaches to Handsome, they do seem to fit in with the Italian definition of this Really Bad Thing. That sort of headache which reaches down into your neck and shoulders. –I think we’d call it a tension headache–  I do rather get off though on saying, in a voice laden with doom and gloom “I think I’ve got a cervicale”.

You don’t go out when it’s not summer though. Mini was born in October, and the following April, a pharmacist friend came round, gingerly sniffed the air (brave brave lady) and said “I think in a week or two, you can start to take her out a bit, in the mornings” (did I mention air goes bad in the afternoon? Even the paediatrician told me that) Mini was first taken out when she was 10 days old and we waited that long simply because I had stitches that made walking any distance ouchy. I didn’t dare tell the pharmacist though, in case she rang the social.

I have quickly learned that a cold, or a headache, will simply not cut it. If you tell them that’s what you have, then they will simply tell you that they have flu and cervicale. So if you get in first, you’re sorted. Sympathy all round.

Finally, you remember the lethal qualities of sweat? I will leave it to you to imagine the full horror of a child coming out of the gym, or the soft play, sweating to dangerous levels, and finding it’s November when they get outside giving a double-whammy of sweat and air.

Things in Italy That Can Kill You Part 1. Sweat.



Apparently. Sweat. Perspiration. Is a Very Bad Thing.


I have been in parks, on what Brits would call a warm Spring day. Children are bundled up like Michelin men. They are running and playing…it’s a park for heaven’s sake.


They are also being forbidden to sweat. “Don’t you dare go sweating!!!” “If I catch you sweating, there’ll be trouble!!!” “Look at you, you’re about to start with that sweating again!”


I have to stop myself from going up to them, tapping them on the shoulder and asking a) why sweating is so feared b) do they not realise that sweating is a biological function like erm, breathing, and trying to stop a child from doing it is a bit impossible c) have they considered perhaps taking off one of the 34 layers of woollen clothing that everyone, young and old, wears until the 15th June (after which date obviously people have carte blanche to  walk around semi naked for 4 months)


But I don’t. Because I know there would be no point. Sweating (or not) is an Italian obsession. Not many people send their children to the local swimming pool in the winter months….The pool area is heated you see, so they get out of the water, start to sweat, then miss 2 months of school with terrible fevers.


The minute you do start to sweat, you have to be rushed home and showered. Soft play centres are a study in human anthropology and psychology……I love ’em. I sit in a corner, while my unruly child runs round sweating…..(and no, she doesn’t get a shower when we get home, far too knackered…so shoot me) and other mothers run round brandishing hand towels to wipe up that nasty sweat before it does irreperable damage. They all arrive at the soft play with huge beach bags….full to the brim with towels and changes of clothes…because if you don’t get the handtowel round their heads in time, they will obviously need a complete change of clothes. And more than once. And the end……the end of the affair/party sees a rugby scrum with mothers shoving other people’s children to the floor and trampling them underfoot to get little Francesco to the hairdryers first. Yes, hairdryers…..there won’t be any loo roll in the toilets, but there will be a bank of child-head-high hairdryers. (note: using the hairdryer at the soft play does not let you off washing the hair once you get home, rogue droplets of you-know-what might be lurking in those curls, ready to do its worst….)


In the interests of subjective unbiased research I did a bit of googling this morning (reminds self to clear history before husband comes home and thinks have gone completely bonkers googling “sweat hairdryers softplay”) and came up with these interesting results….It’s not just Italians: the Spanish and Turks also share this fear of our bodies’ tried and trusted auto-cleansing method.  There are numerous blog posts scattergunning the web about this medical phenomenon.


We can draw only one conclusion I suppose: Mediterranean sweat must be made of sterner stuff than its northern counterparts.