An Interview with Moira McFarland

British Consul General

Erin Townsend
December 29, 2005

Moira McFarland serves as the British Consul General covering the Regions of Tuscany, Umbria, Emilia Romagna and Marche.  We were fortunate to steal her away from her diplomatic duties long enough to ask some questions about her life as a Florentine.

 

How long have you served as the British Consul General here in Florence?

 

I have spent four years at this post, and it feels very much like home.

 

How far back do your diplomatic predecessors go in Italian history?

 

The presence of British representation in Tuscany can be traced back to 1698, but the first official British Consul General was appointed in 1705.  He was sent basically to spy on the Tuscan Court and make sure the Brits knew what the Tuscan Navy was up to.  Since then, except for Napoleon and World War II, Great Britain has always had some form of presence in Italy.

 

What roles does the British Consulate have today?

 

There are three main responsibilities.  First, we provide consular assistance and protection for Brits and their interests.  Second, the cultural section, or the commercial side, exists to help British businesses and industries that are present in Italy.  And third, there is a political role, to report to and represent the UK and the major British trade initiative.  We also organize all British cultural events.

 

After the London bombings occurred this summer, what was the reaction here in Florence?

 

Obviously the effect here was not any different than if we had been in the UK, we were all shocked.  The same day of the bombings I had received 149 letters and emails from Italians, expressing their grief and support.  That evening over 1000 people showed up in Piazza della Signoria for a vigil.

 

How did your job change after that day?

 

For all of us, the biggest wake-up call was the fact that those bombers were not insurgents, but our own, from well-off families, born and raised in the UKit was a realisation that you can even be successful in a society without feeling a part of it.  We decided to start doing a deeper evaluation of the people moving into our country, but the UK government decided not to change the immigration policies themselves.

 

What is the one thing you love most about living in Florence?

 

I think the fact that I get to learn something new everyday.  Especially at my age, it is

something unique to have the opportunity to meet so many marvellous people.

 

Is there anything about Florence that you are not particularly fond of?

 

It’s hard to say.  I suppose not having my children around the corner has been hard, but if I have to choose, I have a genuine hatred for the motorino.  In terms of noise and pollution, and also just that they have no concept of how difficult it is for a car driver to see them.  They cut across your bonnet, and very genuinely, the last thing I want to do is run over a motorcyclist, but it seems they keep inviting me to.

 

The issue has recently been raised that a serious problem is emerging in Florence with American students and the abuse of alcohol.  Is this a common problem among British students as well?  

 

We don’t have fixed university campuses like many American schools, just the British Institute, but even between Italians and Brits there is a big cultural difference.  Young Italian women are not big drinkers.  Young Italian men seem to be responsive to American and British girls because they are more likely to be out and possibly drunk.  I think that the big house keys here make it difficult to open the large front doors, and provides an opportunity to take advantage of a women trying to open her door late at night this is often the scenario for rapes that take place.

 

Do you have a message for young women studying or living in Florence?

 

My message to young women is to be aware of your cultural differences because what others infer from your actions might not be the same as your intentions.  And above all, do not walk alone, or if you must, walk in the middle of the street.

 

How do you think the Italians see British who come to visit or live in Italy?

 

There is a question in the European mind of how committed we (Britons) are to being European because we have always been cautious about handing over control, and I suppose it shows since we have not been invaded since 1066.  We Brits have a reputation for being insular, such as the Chantishire.  It’s true that there are Brits who come here and live in their bubbles, but those who choose to be insular become invisible.  There are other Brits who come and live here and seem every bit as Italian as the Italians.

 

If you could describe Florence as a person, who would she be?

 

She is a very complex person, elegant and alluring, with a bit of her outfit frayed at the edges, hoping that people won’t notice.  She is layered, in the sense that she is mantled.  There  will always be something beautiful underneath.  It is hard to get to know her, because she is accustomed to meeting strangers, but if you get into her and know her enough, you will never be able to get her out of your soul.

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