Palermo/Catania to London: one-way or a return?

passportThe UK, London in particular, has always been a land of immigration, especially for Italians looking for a better life. We don’t have concrete figures but the Italian Consulate reports 250,000 Italians resident in the UK. Lately though we’ve seen a massive emigration of Italians and, in particular, of Sicilians to London. As a result, several sources report that the total of Italian immigrants to the UK has increased today to half a million.

It was after WWII that many Sicilians left home with cardboard luggage, forming “enclaves” together with relatives already in the UK. It was usual for calling home to only happen at the weekend (when possible). There was no Internet, mobile or cheap airlines. Emigration was a one-way ticket.

From the 80s until today, emigration was very minor, the so called, “fuga di cervelli” or “brain drain”: doctors, biologists, researchers, qualified IT people or civil engineers, designers looking for a more exciting international environment.

However, these days the continuing recession, together with a truly immoral and unfair political class have combined to push young people, but also the not so young, to look for Eldorado in London. “Londorado”, I would say.

italiansGiuseppe and Marco are working in Caffe Nero and Giorgia in the Union Pub in Little Venice, she left Agrigento because “there is no job” there. Salvatore is fresh from his degree and working in a real estate company, the pay is not good but he’ll survive in order to get more experience, improve his English and look for a better company. Claudia is doing a masters and Giulia an internship and lives in Baker Street. Claudio got a job with a start-up software company based in London but often flies to Barcelona, Paris or Dubai for business. Others, more entrepreneurial, open new Sicilian restaurants.

Armed with an initially satisfactory level of English and some travel experience, the resolute Sicilian adventurer in London is determined to be the new citizen of the world. Is there a perfect identikit for the new “Sicilondoner”? They may have piercings or tattoos but more often than not a degree or high school diploma. They rely on smart phones and tablets, always connected to both islands, in fact they have a cheap return ticket somewhere on the calendar that makes Sicily and the UK somehow closer.

They are the new social generation of Facebook, Twitter and Whatsup. Trendy apps allow them to get a cheap taxi by smartphone, or check for the best deal to buy a watch or perfume online. You see them tagging on their smart phones the lastest pics in the pub or during the last party. They answer calls from their managers, making sure the job has been done and dusted and their English becomes less accented with Italian.

shardIn a city where “competition” is the password, they know it’s not easy but they are ready for it. They know it’s about working to live. Or may be the other way round – living to work. They are competing against Spanish, Scandinavians, Eastern Europeans, Arabs. All nationalities. They rent a room with people from other countries. They don’t tend to hang out together with other Sicilians but they often mix with other nationalities to gain a better grasp of English. Anyway, having a Sicilian friend from the village does not guarantee a job anymore. You must be better than the others to get the job.

All in all, these Sicilians have changed a lot of those negative stereotypes, moreover, they no longer clap hands when the plane lands, or scream and shout, at least no more than the average Italian. What haven’t they lost? They jealously keep their Sicilian language when they call back home, at least some of them. Their luggage always has room for some delicious traditional food that you won’t find in London. But most importantly, a real Sicilian would never take public transport to get home from Punta Raisi Airport (or vice-versa), they always have a relative coming to greet them as soon as they get beyond that “No Entry point”.

In that regard, what is noticeable is that cheap flights from Palermo to London and back again are now available all year round; they become more frequent during the week and are often FULLY packed. If the majority of travellers are tourists visiting Sicily, there is a very high percentage of the new generation of Sicilondoners, with oyster cards, or nectar cards in their wallet. The plane looks like a bus, busy, coloured, some of them know each other and the average age is not more than a Ryanair hostess or steward, actually they could even be one. Very different from the people flying Alitalia, from Palermo to Rome, they are more easy-going. These people aren’t looking for “a place” to live forever but for experience, for good money. They also know that life and the world have changed and Sicily needs to adapt, very quickly.

Prime Minister David Cameron Makes Speech On The UK's Position In EuropeCameron, the UK Prime Minister, has lately been concerned about this new massive emigration from southern regions. I would reassure him. Sicilians don’t come to look for trouble. They come to the capital of Europe to gain as much experience as possible, knowing that Sicily is just a Skype away, a WhatsApp away, that a ticket back home costs less than a train ticket to Reading and that when things change or when their experience is good enough they’ll come back home to look for a better quality of life and to start a business back home.

Sicilians in Sicily, watch out! A new generation is soon ready to return and won’t look anymore for the friend or the parent or the political contact to get or create new jobs. Sicilondoners will be super-skilled, international, and competitive! They’ll kick the politician’s arses as well if need be. Hopefully they’ll help to change Sicily for the better too! They have a valid return ticket home!!

A ticket to London...
Giovanni Morreale
Giovanni Morreale
I would define myself an "eclectic" mind, trying, with all my hearth and soul to realize my dreams, which often gravitate around my family and my land, Sicily. Professionally, I am a Civili Engineer, seconded to the IT world of Cyber Security, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence.

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  1. I’m with you 100% Gary. Although I’m a rather “old fashion” Sicilian (Sicilian 1.0), I do use the bus. I just arrived home, and still have that “return” ticket of the bus as well in front of me. To be brutally honest though, tonight I would have loved some friends at the airport.

    • I actually felt bad about leaving that reply because I hate it when readers take a phrase not all that central to the subject matter and make a big deal about it. So I’m glad you received it in the spirit it was given. Plus, it shows I read it all!!!

      However….now that you brought it up—-I understand prefering a welcoming ride to/from the airport but imagine a Palermo without those of us who use public transport. Without us there’d be no public transport and the one time you might need a bus to/from the airport and you found there was no public transport, I can immagine an article asking how could the capital city of Sicily not have public transport! E’ vero, no?

      • Sure! I hope I’m not misunderstood about what I wrote in the article. It doesn’t want to be a wrong message. I cannot imagine Palermo without public transport. I’d imagine/love more public transport in fact. Talking about that precise bus, up till now, there has always been some free spot on that ride. Yesterday, the bus was also FULLY packed, and had to wait 30 min for the next one. I guess because the high-season is approaching. Not sure about the train. So yes, I’m convinced things are improving and need to improve. Now, about (some) of these “Sicilondoners”, I guess they can change habit too 😉 , but considering that generally they come only for a short weekend, and parents are waiting for her/him at home to cook the pasta… I guess we can “close one eye”.. 😉 (not sure how to translate that in EN)

  2. Great piece Gio. These Sicililondoners make the capital a far more interesting place. Always great to have a chat when I realise someone’s from the island.

  3. History repeats the old conceits. My great grandfather was placed in a ruota in Cattolica Eraclea and my grandparents left in early 1910s. Sicily is a brutal place. However, what you touch on is like the Radiohead song “Let Down” on OK Computer. Even 100 years in America and we ‘Mericans still look for authenticity. Capitalism kills love. If you look at someone like Brunello Cucinelli, he has a better idea.
    Still I’m sure not perfect, but better than capitalism in London or Manhattan. It’s too bad young Sicilians can’t develop an infrastructure on the island that would be beyond the mafia and government’s reach.
    Your article also reminds of the Philippines, where foreign nationals send money back and have become the economy of the island. All- while wishing they could move back. Sad really.

    • Hi DeCarmine,
      I’m not sure how to answer your comment. You’ve touched many subjects at ones. As far as I’m concerned, the saddest thing (apart from Mafia) is meeting “Mericans” or others that have left Sicily and became all of a sudden, “Nglisi”, “Birgisi”, “Tedeschi” and so forth and look down upon Sicilians that have had the courage to remain in the island, despite all. The courage (today) is not the courage to leave, everyone can do that. Today, the courage, is the courage to remain or even to come back.. and only few can do that. We’ll manage one day to kick-out Mafia from this country, and when “Mericans” will come back for Citizenship, we should ask: “Where have you been so far??” What have you done for this country, besides writing: “It’s too bad young Sicilians can’t develop an infrastructure on the island that would be beyond the mafia and government’s reach.” – – All the best, and, don’t take me wrong, I love you guys sticking around in a way or another. We need you! Ciao

      • I’m glad you got the ‘Merica joke. America is pretty scary place where we shoot/choke black people in the street all time. No joke. If Sicilian Americans were to support Sicily in a way like American Jews to Israel, it could bolster the place. There are 17 million S-A and 5 million of you living on the island. As for what I do, I try to buy Sicilian exports in ‘Merica. COS vineyards are pretty easy to get in NYC. Occhipinti wines -harder to find and I e mailed her about no availablilty. I have donated to “The Sicilian Project” which teaches ‘Merican to Sicilian kids. DO they really need that ? You could tell me, because I find it hard to believe. Aside from visiting and spending money there, there’s not too much a 100 year removed person can do. Suggestions?

  4. Excellent point, Giovanni. I’ve written on this very subject regarding the USA. “Get out of the ghetto” is the message to poor, especially black, youth, and to succeed that’s I guess a good idea, but it doesn’t improve ghetto living at all. I often wonder how much those who get out, give back from their success. Especially when I think of sports or artistic stars. NBA star Magic Johnson gave back by building mega-cinemas in poor neighborhoods providing an economic boost to these communities. On the other hand, superstar-celebrity Jennifer Lopez might sing she’s still just “Jenny from the Block” but nobody from her block in the Bronx has seen or heard from her!

    • it’s exactly that Gary! I don’t think many would have the chance to become Jennifer Lopez or similar, but a couple of years abroad won’t hurt… Once upon a time, men had to spend at least one year outside home for the military service. Now, not even that!

  5. Ciao Giovanni,
    just back from the airport taking my daughter and boyfriend for their return to Berlin after a weekend visit here in Sicily. I guess Berlin as well as London has become a destination for those who search for a decent job in a respectable country.
    Coming back to Sicily? I would love to believe you Giovanni, but to me it seems very difficult.

  6. Emigration is emigration and always painful, but I would suggest the kind of emigration Giovanni describes so well is of a different nature to that experienced in the States many years ago. Most of the Sicilians I’ve chatted to in London have a positive attitude about returning home and they will bring with them a whole raft of experiences that only working and living abroad can give you, whether that’s England, Germany, France, Sweden or anywhere else. Indeed every young Sicilian making his/her way in the world like this helps to put to bed those stereotypes propagated by Hollywood.

  7. As someone who just recently (two months ago) received my Italian passport < thru "Jure Sanguinis" < I hope to return to Sicily after two generations in "Merica" to help contribute to the betterment of all the island's people. Last summer I worked hard to attain my Certificate from Oxford Seminars of a TESFL – Teach English to Speakers of Foreign Language , and for the last nine months have been studying Italian at my local college. All four of my grandparents came from Sicily in the early 1900's , and lived in Sicilian enclaves in NYC. I ALWAYS maintained my Sicilian Identity and hope that this next chapter ( My Senior years) will be filled with the "QUALITY" of life that cannot be found in the USA. I have always bought Sicilian wine Not being a drain) lives on in many of us , even after two generations in straniero lands. Thank you for your magazine and all your articles. Grazie Mille!

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