Fancy yourself some British extravaganza but you happen to be in Italy?
No problem! Head over to Schio.
This is the town which styles itself as the Italian Manchester and where once a year a two-day event, called British Day Schio, is held to celebrate Great Britain and its culture.
A double-decker bus is rolled onto the streets…
shop displays get draped with the Union Jack and adorned with tins of Quality Street…
some people dress in baker boy caps and tweed…
and others don outfits to make Camden Town proud…
portions of fish and chips are served…
and tribute bands like the Rubbish Oasis play into the night.
There is even a Scottish pipe band the members of which look perfectly Scottish, but are, in fact, from the Veneto.
I came across the British Day Schio in the Events section on Facebook. For weeks its banner – featuring a photo of Liam Gallagher and his once wife Patsy Kensit reclining against some Union Jack sheets – would pop in my feed.
‘Look, there will be a British Day in Schio!’, I told my husband who hails from Great Britain and has Scottish, English and a bit of Irish blood. ‘Don’t they know that Liam Gallagher is not with Patsy Kensit anymore? Or did they pick the photo because of the Union Jack sheets?’, I wondered inquisitively.
‘Anyway’, I continued undeterred by the glance my husband shot me, ‘I think we should go. The town is paying respect to your country, it would be rude not to.’
This is how on Saturday, 7th October, we piled in our car and headed over to Schio – just over half an hour away from Vicenza.
I have long wanted to go and have a look at the town, having previously driven through it on several occasions. Each time Schio looked very nice through the car windows and I really wanted to see it a bit more up close.
We reached the town around five pm, drove past one of its main sights – the Church of St. Mary in the Valley dating to the 16th century – and found a place to park.
Then we followed the crowd of people up a side street at the end of which we could see the bell towers of Schio’s splendid cathedral. Something else caught our eye though.
Namely, a long line of vintage British cars. Polished to a high shine by their dotting owners, they looked beautiful. I’m telling you, they don’t make cars this elegant and grand anymore.
Curiously, the cars, although British, had their steering wheels on the left. It looked like there must have been a lot of demand for British cars beyond the confines of Britain.
We reached the top of the street and found ourselves at Piazza Alessandro Rossi – Schio’s main square. There the British Day festivities were already in full swing.
Union Jack flags adorned stalls and shops.
Italian bands busked in the best British style.
Signs in the style of the iconic London Underground logo had been pinned to lampposts and shops. Heck, even the local gelateria proudly announced that it was selling not gelato, but ‘Ice Cream’!
‘But why do you have a British Day here in Schio?’, I asked in my best Italian the lady at the event’s official stall.
It turns out that Schio is known as the Manchester of Italy for its large textile industry. Just like its British counterpart, Schio has been involved with the production of textiles for centuries.
In fact, Signore (or shall I call him ‘Mister’?!) Alessandro Rossi founded there the biggest Italian wool firm (called Lanerossi) in the 19th century. He was inspired by the ‘vertical mills’ which at the time were all the rage in Great Britain. Hence he built a factory in Schio with a full vertical production cycle from the yarn to the finished textile products.
‘So, how long have you been organising a British Day?’, I asked again and was told that this was its fifth edition.
It looked like the whole town was taking part with people milling round the central streets and squares. And it was lovely to see that much thought must have been given to the event in advance as local shops and cafes offered British products for sale and even a traditional British afternoon tea.
Just then the rousing sound of a Scottish pipe band caught us unawares.
Dressed in tartan and performing a perfect rendition of ‘Scotland the Brave’ the CatEaters Pipe Band made its way through the streets of Schio.
The band name immediately betrayed them as being from Vicenza (the citizens of which, allegedly, ate cats to survive during famines), but otherwise the men had the most authentic Scottish look you can dream of finding outside of Scotland.
A proud bearer of his Scottish name – Thomson (just, please, don’t spell it with a ‘p’ as the English version) – my husband felt really touched by the performance.
He regretted not having worn his family tartan scarf, but, at least, his Arsenal shirt showed his allegiance to Britain.
We wandered down Schio’s high street to where the Routemaster – the red double-decker bus – this most iconic symbol of London – was parked. And here, we noticed a bit of a glitch in the matrix, as the bus (turned into a portable pub) was adorned with banners advertising Guinness. Yep, Guinness is a regular fixture in British pubs, but it is not British per se.
Let’s not get petty, though. As the lady serving the Guinness was dressed as a London policewoman. So, it was all good.
Obviously, we took our pictures at the rear open platform of the Routemaster reminiscing about the times when we used to hop-on and hop-off the real thing in London.
We also had our pictures taken with two fabulous people.
Dressed in the most amazing steampunk outfits you can imagine, Emy Sabbatini and Gabriele Annovi posed with us and for us. For all their London vibe, we found out that they were, in fact, from Ancona, where Emy – a talented designer – creates their amazing costumes. Check their Instagram pages at @gabryannovi…
for more of their unforgettable looks.
It was getting dark now and we had another festival to go to (yep, the joys of living in Italy!), so it was time to wave a ‘Cheerio bye’ to Schio.
British Day Schio though didn’t end with our departure. The festivities were scheduled to continue all through the evening and on the next day – Sunday.
In the car, my husband told me: ‘It was very good to see. Usually, we are told that Britain went out into the world and took a lot from other countries. So, it was really good to see that this chap went to Britain, saw a technology he found useful and he then implemented it in Italy helping the progress of his town.’
In my mind, I was considering something else. How utterly devoted sometimes people from abroad are to the idea of Great Britain. They pick, seemingly, the best of British, like tea and fish and chips, like indie music and 80’s Camden Town looks, like innovative design and the Union Jack bold colours.
Yet, is this ideal still valid for the Britain of today?! Or is it like a time capsule which we all want to hang on to for just a little bit longer?
British Day Schio is an annual weekend event in Schio celebrating British culture. Definitely give it a try if you are in the area and are looking for something out of the ordinary to have fun at. If you are British yourself, you may feel elated by how loved your country is and how inspiring people find it.
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