Outsiders in London
All photographs: copyright © Milan Svanderlik - London - UK
GIULIA GENTILE (# 04)
Born in Roma, Italy
Father born in Italy / Mother in Germany
Ethnic heritage / Father: Italian / Mother: German
Giulia admits that, from her teenage years, she was a lover of motorbikes and as soon as she was 16, she bought herself a 125cc Moto Morini. “It was a small but very ‘cool’ bike to have and from then on, up to the age of 27, I toured on motorbikes extensively. We went from Rome right to Tunisia and even further in Africa. I progressed to a Honda 400 and leather motor gear was always part of my wardrobe and my image.”
Once motherhood intervened, though her passion for motorbikes remained undimmed, it had to be put on hold until the children grew up a bit, which of course they did; Giulia is now the proud owner of a magnificent Harley Davidson and the joys of being on the road, on a bike, are hers once more.
Giulia attended the German School in Rome which, she says, was really a very positive experience. She then progressed to study Geology and Mineralogy at Rome’s (Italian) University. However, given that this was her first experience of the Italian education system, she admits to struggling a little in her first year. Nevertheless, with her degree secured, Giulia went on to California to specialise further in Gemmology.
Whilst she subsequently returned to Italy and to France, she decided to go back to the States, having accepted a good job as a gemmologist in New York; she lived there for just over two joyful years - independent, single and young in what she calls, “the fastest city in the world”. It was there that she met her husband to be - as it happened, an Englishman.
Though she had always seen herself as something of a Francophile, she followed her heart and her boyfriend impulsively, some might say irrationally, to Britain. The relationship, which was “full of genuine, strong connections and passion”, was not without its storms but it did lead to marriage. Giulia had a son and, shortly after that, twin daughters, now aged 13 and 11 respectively. Concentrating on building a family changed her life completely and forever, of course, and in a very positive way, but unfortunately, the marriage itself was not destined to last; she and her husband divorced while the children were still quite small, though Giulia remained in London where she has now lived for over 14 years.
Having a German mother, being bilingual, and starting her education at a German school in Italy naturally made Giulia feel something of an outsider from the outset. Though a major European capital, Rome was not at that time as multi-cultural as London, so her family did rather stand out and they were proud of it. “Of course, I had always felt like an outsider, but I had never seen it as a negative; indeed, I almost perceived it to be an advantage, a positive experience during most of my early years.
The association of pain with the feeling of being on the outside really came for the first time with my divorce which brought about a more intense feeling of ‘otherness’ than I had ever experienced before. Coming to England was already tough; I had just followed my man and I didn’t know anyone, really, so the painful divorce and the loss of nearly all those people who were associated with our marriage (they were mostly his friends) made me deeply negative for the first time about being an outsider. In England, I felt more on the outside than I had anywhere else in the world, even during my married life; then, after the divorce, having lost most of my friends, I became a single mum as well, someone who no longer fitted into the polite world of couples, someone who had to work, and to look after three small children on her own. A few good friends stuck by me and remained close - I cherish their friendship and they still remain close to me to this day - but my social life became almost non-existent. All these factors made me feel painfully aware that I was ‘on the outside’. I felt almost totally isolated and for the first time I found being an outsider very uncomfortable.”
However, having been accustomed to the outside from her early years, Giulia had a very strong sense of identity. “Strangely,” she says, “one would expect to develop a strong identity within a group, as part of something mutual and collective, but actually my experience has been exactly the opposite. Being outside, one is forced to deal with confrontation and to do this, one has to deal with one’s own idea of self, often without support. One is forced to grow stronger, to define oneself more precisely, to grow more, and to develop as an individual.”
Giulia believes that this ‘enforced development’ does produce something beautiful in the end: “It is probably the pain and hardship that come with being an outsider that ultimately lead to your experiencing a deeper happiness and greater appreciation of life.”
“My children are now teenagers, or are approaching their teenage years, and while that is the time when many youngsters are keen to fit in, to conform to all the trends, and almost to embrace uniformity, I encourage my children to be themselves and to nurture their own individuality. I reassure them that being different is not necessarily a sign of weakness and that a feeling of belonging is not something superficial but something profound that we gradually nurture and develop deep inside ourselves; it is the foundation of being at peace and in harmony with oneself. Having spoken to a number of young people recently, I am strangely reassured that many of them seem not in fact to conform to orthodoxies; they seem much more clued up than I was at their age and that gives me great hope for the future.”
If given the choice, Giulia is clear that she would always opt to be the outsider; it is a strong preference and she feels that this has clearly been the case from the earliest stages of her life, probably as a product of her dual ethnicity. “The feeling of strength, of being an outsider and surviving, the positive feeling that I used to associate with being an outsider in the past, is starting to come back to me and to supplant the dark, painful days that followed my coming to London, the failure of my marriage, and my divorce. Now, looking back on what I have come through, I am starting to feel optimistic again and to love being an outsider once more: it makes me stronger and more confident; it actually gives me part of my identity. Perhaps not fitting in was almost the identity I was looking for and that I had temporarily lost; it was the identity I always wanted.”
Interview Date: 9th May 2013
Updated: 10th August 2014
Having a German mother, being bilingual, and starting her education at a German school in Italy made Giulia something of an outsider from the start. However, being an outsider gave her a strong sense of identity and forced her to deal with confrontation from early on; it was only with her relocation to the UK and then divorce that Giulia first associated pain with the experience of being on the outside. Coming to England had been tough enough so divorce and the loss of many of the friends associated with her marriage had made her for the first time deeply negative about being an outsider. But now, looking back on what she has come through, she is starting to feel optimistic again and to love being an outsider once more.
Photography: London 9th May 2013