Thoughts, quirky insights and experiences in my meandering life.

English, the international language of tourism

Here I am, in Florence, a uni-lingual person, making myself sufficiently understood to get along as most people associated with tourism have at least a little English.

When I was a young teenager I travelled with my family to the Netherlands. I remember being very impressed that the person serving in a small local store spoke English. I am pretty sure that the equivalent person at the store near my home was unlikely to speak other languages. French and German were only offered to “O” level students, not all secondary students. Dutch was not offered at all. Again, when I travelled to Iceland in 2007 it was normal for everyone to speak Icelandic, Danish, English and probably one other language. We were visiting a hot spring and talking to a mother and young daughter, maybe 10. The daughters English was excellent but she hesitated to speak because she thought her accent was not very good. I do not think it crossed her mind that we did not speak Icelandic.

I am attending a school where instruction is offered in Italian and in English. In my class there are 5 women from South Korea, one woman from China and myself. Our English speaking teacher, Ted, is from Singapore and the Italian speaking teacher, Mao, is Japanese. No one is speaking in their first language except me! Most of the teaching is done in English as only one student speaks Italian, and she has a lot of experience with sewing fabric already, so catches on easily. She is also amazingly proficient with an iPad pro, it is mesmerising to watch her. I use old fashion pen and paper to write notes. The technological divide in evidence.

At the teaching table, learning from Ted

It was an experiment on the part of the school to offer the course in July, August and September instead of September, October and November as it had been in previous years which I think accounts for the very small class. The usual number of students is closer to 20. We get a lot of individual attention and help and there is no real waiting time to use machines or ask questions. And we have room to spread out at our work stations. A privileged group.

We are still learning new techniques at a furious rate. Each new item that we make, actually usually two at a time, focuses on adding a new technique or two. Two at a time because there are variations, such as soft leather and stiffer leather, seams with piping and without. This week it was coloured edges, zippers and piping. It is quite stunning that we are producing finished objects so fast. I count eight completed projects in two weeks.

My first zippers on my first zipped bags

Do you notice the leather forming the ends of the zippers? That is because we made the zips. We had to remove the metal teeth with clippers, no easy job, put on the zip mechanism and learned two ways of finishing them, with metal, or as here, with leather. Not sure I will be doing that in my own studio.

First zipped pouches ready for sewing the seam
Week 2’s production

I haven’t yet quite finished doing what we were taught at the previous teaching time before we are called together for the next one. That is a goal I hope to achieve!

I have been exploring Florence in small sips, taking a new way to or from school, and going out on weekends. I say small sips because it is hot and I am not an extreme heat seeker. It is going up to 33C today, and 39 or 40 later in the week, but thankfully humidity is low, so shade really is cooler. A lot more civilised than Toronto yesterday. My friend Katherine told me that with the humidex the temperature was in the mid 40’s! The hottest day of the year so far. She was not planning on going outside.

When I reach a piazza I plan a route to get across it and back into the shade quickly. I could go round the edges in the shade, but that is where the curb side restaurants are set up, or people are huddled, seeking respite from the sun. The streets are filled with tourists wearing very comfortable shoes, loose clothing and hats, each person having their own individual Florence experience. Either following a tour guide holding a stick in the air like a sheep herder holding a staff, or in small groups, parents and children having an Italian experience, or couples doing the romantic thing. I know how I used to feel when I walked home from my massage therapy clinic in the Beach after work at around 8.30 pm. Sidewalks were crowded with people strolling, eating ice cream, pushing strollers and walking dogs. I just wanted to get home and it was trying. I can only imagine what it feels like to be a Florentine dealing with the invasion of tourists every day, and I am not sure it is possible to avoid tourists because the whole town is a tourist attraction.

A copy of David by Michelangelo in Palazzo Vecchio. No where near the beauty of the original in the Accadamia. The marble of the original really adds to its magnificence.

They sure get the scooters close together in these parking areas
Basilica di Santa Croce, where my school is attached at the back, along with a functioning monastery.

Yesterday I visited the San Lorenzo Market, full of cheese stalls, meat stalls, vegetable stalls, truffle stalls, bread stalls and cafes. All the riches of Tuscany. It was a wonderland. It reminded me of the St. Lawrence market in Toronto, the covered market in Durham, the Borough market in London before it changed focus to street food, and the lovely Saturday market in my new home town, Owen Sound. This particular covered market is surrounded by stalls outside selling, you guessed it, leather. Down every street in Florence you are bound to pass a store or street stall selling leather. Clearly a substantial part of the economy is selling leather to tourists. And they do it with a vengeance. It is quite a skill to politely avoid being roped in to look more closely at something you have glanced at, because once they snare you, you are half way sold. So I will look more closely when I am ready to buy, but at my present rate of production, it won’t be very much.

Firenze fact. I have been very impressed with how much biodegradable plastic is used here, both for garbage bags and food bags. And at the San Lorenzo Market all the food was packaged in paper bags. Way to go Florence.


10,000 Hours


Florence, the continuing adventure.


  1. Kathie Oakden

    Dear Maggie,
    I have a favourite wallet of extremely thin leather. I have replaced the thread in several places. I am now hopeful that you will be able to repair the folded tab. I will send a photo to your email address.
    Best wishes. We enjoy your posts so much.

    • Maggie

      Yes, those favourite things are hard to let go off. A wallet that I have had for over 30 years is finally wearing out, and I will probably make myself a new one. I can certainly take a look.
      I am really glad you are still enjoying the blog

  2. Suza

    Thank you for transporting me to Florence, Maggie… much appreciated !
    Great to hear you are in Owen Sound now…. Cee’s grandmother used to live there, as does her cousin Jacq’s family. Take good care xoxo

    • Maggie

      Hi Suza,
      So lovely to hear from you. I follow along with your postings when I visit FB so feel a bit in touch. Getting to know Florence more and more as I use different routes to get around town, and my first visitors were here last week and realized I hardly had to use my map anymore.
      I hope you are enjoying summer after what I hear was a rotten winter and spring.

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