Mom’s the word

Updated: 2011-06-17 11:18

By Mike Peters (China Daily European Weekly)

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Mom’s the word
Luciana Rizzo (center) is surrounded by her daughters, baby Lucrezia and Andrea, 17. Three languages are spoken in the Rizzo house, Italian, English and Chinese. Feng Yongbin / China Daily 

Italian expat struggles with learning English and experiences the joys of motherhood again

Hers is not the most typical tale of an expatriate in China. After coming to Beijing to live from her native Italy ?her first trip away from Europe ?Luciana Rizzo spent most of her first year immersed in language study: English. Then she spent most of her second year pregnant, awaiting the birth of her second daughter, Lucrezia, who arrived just before Christmas last year.

Bright-eyed and outgoing, the new mom and her baby carriage have become fixtures at meetings of the International Newcomers Network (INN), where Rizzo is an active board member and host of the expat group's monthly "lunch bunch".

But the first time she checked out INN nearly two years ago, it wasn't clear she'd found a happy nest.

"I went there very excited about meeting new people like me and learning about life in Beijing. But after the meeting, I came home to my husband Alessandro and burst into tears!" she says, laughing about it now.

"I couldn't understand anything anybody said."

That's when she knew that the language she needed to study was English - most expats in China spoke it and most of the Chinese she'd encountered could speak at least a little English, too.

The decision was, coincidentally, a family affair. Her teenage daughter, Andrea, was enrolled in the British School and studied the English language.

"She was 15 then, a critical age socially, so we had some concern about that when we came," Rizzo says. "But after a month she was fine. She spoke no English when we arrived, but she learned well and now she's starting Chinese."

So is mom, who values the Mandarin or putonghua she's picked up so far because it helps her connect with local people and the culture - and because it helps feed one of her great passions: cooking.

"Su Ping, our ayi, is from Sichuan, and she is a very good cook," says Rizzo. "I love to learn from her. I can now make Sichuan eggplant and also mapo doufu - my favorite Chinese dish, I love it!" she says of the bean-curd and minced pork dish set in a spicy chili- and bean-based sauce.

When she arrived almost two years ago, Rizzo had a dream of opening a restaurant in Beijing. She never found the perfect niche, though. Her lack of English was a barrier, too, and now she has a baby.

But there's always another dream. "I want to retire in Italy at 50 and buy a farm in Tuscany and open a B&B," she says.

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