In the final of a weekly series, Rosita Boland discovers what Italian students expect from a trip to Ireland - and what they get
Teenagers in large groups in public are always noticeable, but some groups are more eye-catching than others.
Tanned, exotic-looking, confident, usually toting matching backpacks, and above all, always chattering loudly in any language other than English, the foreign-language students appear each summer in Ireland with the regularity of swallows.
In recent years, the core traditional cohort of Italian, Spanish and French students have been joined by their peers from countries such as Croatia, Russia and Slovenia.
The Dublin School of English (DSE) has been bringing foreign teenagers to Ireland for several years now. Its summer base in the city is St Andrew's College in Booterstown.
DSE students Mattia L'Abbate (15) and Raffaella Lecchi (13) have just arrived for a two-week course from Como, in the north of Italy.
It is the first time in Ireland for them both, and they are two days into their fortnight.
"I chose Ireland to study English, because one of my friends has been here before and he talks to me and says that Irish people are very friendly," Mattia explains, on a break from afternoon games.
He is living with a family near Sallynoggin, but is disappointed that the children of the house are grown up and thus not at home. It means that his contact with Irish teenagers is going to be limited.
"I would like to find out what Irish teenagers are like. Me - I like listening to music, playing volleyball, and sleeping."
The students go to classes by bus each morning from their host families, with activities in the afternoon and tours at the weekend.
They are free to wander round in the evenings, but must be back with their host families for an evening curfew.
What is Mattia expecting from Dublin?
"I am not looking forward to the north of Dublin, because some people say to me it is a very busy place and maybe dangerous at night."
Raffaella's brother was in Dublin three years ago. "He said people were very friendly, but he only talked about his family and the school, not about what there is to see."
Raffaella is living with a family in Killiney, who have a 12-year-old son.
"I would like to meet other Irish teenagers, but I will meet only Italians. The boys who play football can sometimes meet Irish boys, but for girls it is not so easy." She says she doesn't know anything about Dublin.
"I think there is a lot of green in the city, but there are no antiques or old buildings or monuments here, not like Italy."
Two days before they return to Italy, Mattia and Raffaella talk about their time in Dublin. "Dublin is a very simple city to get around," Mattia says enthusiastically, a generous comment that is followed by another. "There is lots of transport." Then he looks a bit puzzled. "But sometimes there are three buses together and not another for an hour, why is this?"
"Irish people are more friendly than Italians and more talkative," Raffaella says.
While her formal daily programme of classes and games didn't allow for interaction with young Irish people, she did meet a lot of them on her many bus journeys around the city. "Everyone on the bus is very chatty. Everyone I sat beside on the bus talked to me!" Mattia has just the opposite impression. "The Irish are much more closed than Italians. They don't ask you a lot of questions. In Italy, people are always talking."
They both hated the food. Mattia actually automatically covers his face with his hands when asked this question, and then apologises profusely when he realises what he has done.
Raffaella, who has been hesitant with her English thus far, and often in need of translator, Romana Strambini, has no trouble at all about articulating her thoughts on the Irish food she has eaten.
"It's terrible!" she says flatly. "Italian food is the best food and I am not used to anything else. Everything here is fried! No salads! No fresh vegetables! Rice with ketchup! And I do not understand pizza here. It is very strange: why do you put pineapple on pizza?"
"Pasta without salt in the water when you are cooking it is terrible. If you can't cook pasta properly, don't cook it at all," Mattia says sternly. "The food here is very, very bad."
They both loved their trip out of the city, to Glendalough. Raffaella has changed her mind about Dublin, now that she has seen a bit more of it: the National Museum and St Michan's particularly impressed her. "I think now it is rich with history."
She is not sure about suburban Dublin, however. "In Italy, you don't see two houses together that look the same. It's really strange for me to see all these estates with houses all the same as each other."
Has anything surprised them, apart from our terrible food? "Irish people drink a lot," Mattia says. "I was waiting for a bus one evening in Dún Laoghaire and there were many loud drunk people around me. I was scared."
On his daily journeys across the city, he spent a lot of time looking out the windows from the top of the bus. "I many times saw a lot of young girls and boys drinking from bottles and cans, all over the city; on footpaths and at the side of the road and on streets. In Italy, we don't start drinking until we are 17. Here, they seem to start at 13."
How would they each describe Ireland from their short stay?
"Friendly, quiet and green," Raffaella says, after a while.
Mattia doesn't need to think about it all. "Crazy and green," he offers.