Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What I don't like about Milan


Although there a number of things I like about living in Milan (as detailed in my previous blog post), I must admit there are still certain things that I am not keen on. Some of them are things which you encounter to an extent in other big cities, but in Milan these things are exaggerated to the point of being quite annoying.

Things I don't like about Milan

1. The place is dirty. Even though there is no shortage of dustcarts, road sweepers or even proprietors cleaning the pavement outside their own property, Milan still has an innate scruffiness about it. I go through a number of streets that have a stink of pee. Also, many pavements have those familiar streaky patches across path where people have clearly pissed against the wall the previous night, or even shortly before. Many people smoke, and there are no end of cigarette butts littering the streets.
Furthermore, most of the walls you go past are full of graffiti - not necessarily of the artisitic variety, but mainly folks spraying offensive slogans against the government or some other political initiative. Like I said, you can't blame the council. The authorities do what they can. It's just not possible to stop every man, woman and child from dropping their pants or spitting in every street corner!

2. People seem to be quite stressed out and rude. Being a Londoner people might say I should be used to that. But in fact, I think that Londoners are comparatively polite. True, folks are in a rush, but even these busy city types have standards. There seems to be something in the mind of a Milanese that if they need to get on that bus or train, they will boot out of the way anyone in their path - whether they are pregnant women, children, disabled people or old age pensioners. They will make sure they get that seat, and they make no apologies for it. It sucks, but sadly it seems to be quite acceptable round here.

3. Theft. As far as I can see, people steal anything and everything. I had my racing bicycle stolen a few months ago. At the time, I was loading two bikes plus my luggage through a tight door to the courtyard in my flat. I put one bicycle down, put the other in the courtyard, and in that 10 second period someone had ridden off with my bike. I actually saw the toe-rag riding down the road with it, but I was unable to catch him.

Some people say I shouldn't have had my back turned for even one second. Maybe they are right, but it's pretty sad that you can't even load stuff into your home without fear of someone pouncing on you and your stuff. That never happened to me back home. Before that incident. I had never had a bicycle stolen from me, and I have owned a few in my time. I have also heard of people having their luggage stolen from trains while on their way to/from the airport, and folks failing to receive goods which had been pocketed by postal staff. I definitely feel that there is a bigger theft problem in Milan than I have known in any of the other places I have lived.

4. Small town mentality. People often mention Milan in the same sentence as New York, London and Paris. I have never been to New York, but I have lived in the other cities. And on the basis of my experience I don't understand why Milan is put in the same league as the other cities. True, I can understand why this would be the case when thinking about fashion, business and commerce. But on other accounts, I can't see why Milan merits this accolade. London and Paris are places where you can walk down the street and anything goes really. There are all kinds of people, with all kinds of ways of living and dressing, and more importantly there is a melting pot of people of various cultures.

I remember on my first day in Milan I walked to work. I couldn't really get why people were staring at me so much. Did I have two heads, was it my lack of visible designer labels? Well, I was wearing a sharp suit and brogues like many others. No, they had never seen a black person before. I guess they were curious. But, we were always taught not to stare - even when something did look a little strange or different to us. These folks had no compunctions and stared like it was normal to do that. The last time people stared like that at me, was when I was growing up living in small villages in Yorkshire during the 1980s. The folks in Milan behaved just like that. Furthermore, when I get asked where I'm from, and I reply that I am from London this is usually followed by: "but where were you born? It wasn't London was it?", or "yeah but where are you really from? That can't be your home town!" When I reply that I was born in London and I'm British I get a somewhat quizzical look. Some have even commented that "I speak English really well!" What can I say.....

5. Very slow delivery of services. When I first arrived in Milan and I went to the supermarket I chose to use the self service check-outs as I figured they would be quicker than using the manned check-outs. They are usually quite quick. I even thought it was great because you can get the voice to speak in English (in full Dolby stereo so everyone in the supermarket knows you're not Italian!).

Things go well until I have to pay. I end up having to wait for an assistant to key in the code that will allow me to pay. However, said assistant is busy either having a cigarette, taking a coffee break or chatting on the phone. So I have to wait patiently for all of 10 minutes while the folks in the humongous queue for the manual check-out somehow manage to sail past me and get served first. And don't even think of complaining, as that is rude and you are not respecting employees' right to have a break from all those long hours they have been working. Ditto for any other shop or service you can think of. Efficient service does not exist in the vocabulary of your average shop in Milan!

6. Queues. Coming from a nation where standing in line is instilled into us with our mothers' milk it comes as quite a surprise when you get on a bus and notice that everyone crowds through all the doors mob style. Queuing at the train station ticket office is not much better. It's not so much a bun fight as people surreptitiously and slyly sidling in front of you as though they didn't realise what they were doing. And people of all ages are the culprits. Elderly women are the worst!

I guess that's why some shops have a ticketing system for even the most basic of operations like going to the bank or getting served in a mobile phone shop. Without this system there would be no discipline, and folks would just not be able to get themselves organised into an ordered line. Yeah, I have noticed the same problem in other countries, but in Milan it seems worse and I have witnessed, as well as been involved in spats over queueing!

7. Pollution. As well as Milan being one of the fashion hotspots in Europe, it also has the shameful claim of being one of Europe's major smog spots. In recent years Milan has earned the title of the most polluted city in Europe. Reports have even shown that childhood mortbidity is increased due to the excessive level of particulates in the atmosphere.

Thankfully steps have been made to reduced the amount of motorised traffic - ie, introducing a congestion charge, holding car-free days, and encouraging greater use of public transport or environmental friendly transportation. I am not sure how much difference this has made, as I find that I am not able to go for a run whenever I like. In the summer especially, I can only go running early in the morning before the traffic begins. Once the traffic begins you can feel the smog and heaviness in the air. Many people run in the evening regardless, but as someone who is prone to asthma I can't take that risk.

8. Mosquitoes. This is one of those things I'd been unaware of prior to coming to Milan. Even when people told me about the mosquitoes I had not thought it would be such a problem. After all, when
growing up I lived near a canal which attracted mosquitoes, and I coped then. But really, not even that prepared me for the little beasts that plague Milan during the summer. The problem is exacerbated even more by the presence of the canals and the extremely humid weather.

The authorities have put in place various measures including the introduction of bats into parks and green spaces, but short of a massive Deet cloud over the city I don't know what else can be done. Unsurprisingly, I end up suffering from sleep deprivation in the summer. If it's not the hot, humid nights that keep me awake it's the annoying buzz of those blighters. Needless to say I was relieved when autumn came and conditions became tolerable. And at least I could turn up at work feeling
fresh and not covered in bites!

9. The weather. We grew up complaining about the dreary British weather and wishing for a more "continental" climate where we have lots of sunny days and we could enjoy riding our bikes in wall to wall sunshine, and eating al fresco. When people hear that I live in Milan they envy the fact that I am treated to lovely warm weather.

Actually, wrong. The weather is good, but on balance I don't think conditions are much better than in London. At least, in London the summers are not unbearably hot, and the winters are manageable. While spring and autumn in Milan are very pleasant, summer and winter are a different story.

Milan is located on a plain in Lombardy, surrounded by hills about 30 miles from the city. It's like being in a bowl. We get very little wind, and weather just settles within the bowl and sits there for days. So when it's hot, like 35degC and over 50 per cent humidity that's your lot for at least the next 2 weeks. Ditto in the winter when it's 0degC and also above 50 per cent humidity. And when it rains, it properly rains! None of this British drizzle, oh no. We get the full monty - highly charged electric storms with full on torrents of rain that last for days. It's not weather you want to be caught in. Once while out cycling I was caught in a massive hailstorm, that was so violent and with hail stones the size of golf balls. Cars were damaged, and I was glad I was wearing my helmet at the time!

In short, when the weather is good in Milan (ie during spring and autumn), it feels like the best place in the world to be. But Milan weather has quite a few extremes that can make the summer quite unbearable. It's not surprising that so many people escape from the city in July and August.

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After reading this blog post and the previous one, you can probably gather that I have a love-hate relationship with Milan. Indeed, there is lot to like about Milan, but there is a fair bit not to like about the place. However, despite all this there is something that continues to draw people there.....




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