Raman is an English lawyer who recently relocated to Milan, Italy. He had lived there for a short while in 2013 and he felt like "unfinished business".
"There is a window of opportunity to bring the famed diversity of London back out to continental Europe and be part of the movement that develops those major capitals into alt-Londons".
What do you consider your nationality to be?
English. British-Indian is also comfortable, but it seems more like a label I save for Q&As about Equal Opportunities.
Have you ever considered yourself a Foreigner?
Currently a foreigner in Milan, Italy. I arrived here in January 2017.
What were your initial reasons?
Such a simple but tough question! There were so many little fragmented reasons that compelled me to leave London. Upon (seriously protracted) reflection I think it boils down to four aspects – factual, professional, personal, and philosophical.
Factually, I was deliberating over my career from the final weeks of campaigning around the EU referendum up until a couple months after the result. The uncertainty brought on by the reality of Brexit meant law firms and investment banks were spooked and, consequently, hiring in my sector in London was frozen with no foreseeable thaw. I’d worked in-house for two major investment banks – both of which openly had contingencies in place for downsizing in London, so the stage was set for a change of some sort.
Professionally, this same Brexit-anxiety meant my former law firm began playing silly buggers with the futures of trainee lawyers. I grappled the reins a bit from them and tried to figure out what I really wanted. I had a wonderful colleague who had decided to leave the firm to start his own art gallery. He had a major re-prioritisation in life from personal events and it was heartening to see his resilience and liberation by doing what he loved. I’ve always considered myself a linguist first and a lawyer second. At age 28, all the flirting with working abroad again had to come to a climax. It became a goal to find a foreign land willing to accommodate me with all my quirks. I knew my preference was to progress from a mid-sized law firm and I had challenged myself to prove I could make it at an elite institution. I interviewed for roles across France and Spain and was in processes for Dubai, HK and Singapore, but I came back to familiar territory with Italy. I had worked in Milan previously for 6 months and met some fantastic people who genuinely had the most infectious creativity and warmth. When I left in 2013, it felt like unfinished business with exploring the city and culture.
Personally, I had the blessing of the people I care most about. The organisation around a long distance relationship is meticulous – flights/trains booked months in advance so there is never a doubt as to when we’ll see each other next and, even then, my job allows me to do the odd spontaneous week back in London. Work-wise, the team I found here surpass my ambitions and are best-in-show for capital markets and derivatives in Italy.
Philosophically, being a foreigner abroad has previously helped me grow. I studied French Law for a year in Aix-en-Provence. Like plenty of other Erasmus students, you become slightly besotted with your new country – the mastery of conversing in another tongue, the profound love associated with food, the sun feeling a little different on your shoulders. Basically, all the romantic stuff captured by Cédric Klapisch’s “l’Auberge Espagnole”.
By comparison, London began to feel bleary. I am a lifelong Londoner. I love the city more than I can capture here. But, there is a sense of an ending, like the London I recognise has just entered into Act V Scene I. No amount of Instagram filters can mask the toxic levels disillusionment that have settled in amongst people, particularly of my age – Brexit, property prices (everything prices), higher education barriers, an onslaught on our NHS and junior doctors, an ever-powerful hateful news media force, legislative programmes without effective political challenge, a very particular brand of boastful London-work-stress, face-to-armpit-crotch-to-crotch rush hour commutes, the relentless unachievable standards marketed on each corner, the environment that does nothing to discourage acts of unkindness, unfriendliness and disrespect.
I’m not writing off Britain or London at all, but in a typically millennial fashion, I have twitchy thumbs and fidgety aspirations that won’t wait for white-noise discussions in Brussels to take place over the next two years.
Why did you choose Italy?
Fascination, law dreams and adventures in hot weather.
What do you enjoy about living abroad?
I love that there is an obsession with detail here for everything. I think it gets confused with vanity too easily. Precise design and dynamic personal styles are etched into the way of life. I think it affects people’s behaviour positively. I flew into London the other day and realised it was the first time I’d seen someone wear trackies outside for 3 months.
Do you remember any personal challenge in adapting to the local culture?
Every day. By the third coffee my heart is ready to burst, but for the sake of integration I persist.
Was there any particular encounter that helped you, personally or professionally?
I’ve got lots of stories of general random acts of kindness. One in particular comes to mind - I had been beasted at work one week and by Friday was feeling quite defeated. My colleagues invited me out for a late dinner. We were finishing up and I mentioned in passing that I hadn’t eaten ice cream since I’d been here. Without any further discussion a colleague used an app to hire a car2go and insisted on taking us all for gelato at a late hour. We drove for 30 mins, laughing, toggling radio stations, admiring Milan under night lights, looking for a place until we pulled up at Corso di Porta Ticinese. The ice cream parlour was closing but the look of desperation got us in just before the shutters were lowered. Good memories.
Do you think your work as a financial capital market lawyer would have been the same in London?
The clients are different but the work is predominantly the same, perhaps with the background of more distressed financial markets (uh-oh are we drifting into exciting finance chat?).
How is your work usually received by local people? Do you have any specific story?
I have a client who loves that I chose to live in Italy and that I’m learning the language from scratch. He got particularly excited like a proud uncle when I told him I was taking my girlfriend to Verona for this cringeworthy “Festival of Love” and to see all the Romeo and Juliet tourist sites.
What message would you want to share with British people who don't know you yet?
It would probably be a message to everyone in Britain, not just foreigners, to say that there is a window of opportunity to bring the famed diversity of London back out to continental Europe and be part of the movement that develops those major capitals into alt-Londons.
Anything you would like them to know about your country of origin?
Nothing in particular. Perhaps naively, I don't think my Indian heritage ever really factors into my decisions. I suppose one element of which I'm always mindful is that it only took one generation to get to where I am and the headwinds of racism and prejudices for my parents were worse than anything conceivable today. The irony is not lost on me that I speak better French, German and Italian than I do Hindi or Punjabi.
What are your plans for the future?
Always planning, always plotting.
Where is home?
What words/ideas do you associate with Foreigner?
*In a stream of consciousness* - the word “Johnny”, the BBC’s “Goodness Gracious Me” or the 70s tv show “Mind Your Language”, one of my favourite books by an author who used to come to my family’s newsagent and loved a good chat - Bloody Foreigners by Robert Winder, certain virtues and attributes (to the extent these things can be generalised): hustle, patience, gratefulness, generosity, perspective.
Follow me being foreign on Instagram @Caffelawyer