Society / Italy Under Scrutiny
Society / Italy Under Scrutiny
Among the reactions stirred by The New York Times’ article, it is interesting to hear the impressions of Americans who live in Italy or who have visited our country enough times to understand whether Ian Fisher’s impression is true. The expatriates in Italy have created many websites to give advice, share useful information, or just to keep in touch and exchange opinions of the bel paese.
The echoes of the debate provoked by the article written on December 13 by Ian Fisher in The New York Times have not yet faded.
The American correspondent from Rome analyzed the Italian “malaise,” a collective funk regarding economics, politics, and society that is summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite the usual picture of them as the masters in the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe. The article came out, by some coincidence, during the visit of the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano to the United States. Needless to say that it stirred up a long list of reactions beginning with the Italian President himself, just a few hours after publication. Though, Mr. Napolitano, not satisfied with his strong and immediate defense of Italian honor, used the occasion of the traditional televised address to the Italian people on New Year’s Eve to return to this issue. Talking about Italy, the President said that there are many facts to deny the image of a country in decay. Then taking a subtle approach and not mentioning him by name, Mr. Napolitano quoted an influential foreigner observer, “and he referred in a sober but efficacious way to Ian Fisher’s article – and that there are very attentive but not spiteful people,” who have indicated that our culture of creativity is the strength of our country. This personality is Peter Mandelson, the current British Commissioner of the European Union for Trade, an outstanding politician in Tony Blair’s government and also one of the main architects of the modern Labour Party. In a recent interview Mr. Mandelson praised the potential of our enterprises and of our work, along with our creativity. Despite Mr. Napolitano’s diplomatic attitude, it is clear that the article still stings.
Among the reactions stirred by The New York Times’ article, it is interesting to hear the impressions of Americans who live in Italy or who have visited our country enough times to understand whether Ian Fisher’s impression is true. The expatriates in Italy have created many websites to give advice, share useful information, or just to keep in touch and exchange opinions of the bel paese. In one of these sites, Expat Talk, a section of the forum is dedicated to a debate on the article by Ian Fisher. Ramona’s first impression is lapidary: “Unfortunately, I think The New York Times hit the nail on the head.” Idealab thinks that part of the fault lies with young people in high school and college, who appear more interested in fashion and hip music than the future of Italy and their work opportunities. “Italy is a small country,” continues Idealab, “and cannot afford to have too many unproductive people if they want tangible progress.” And, taking a general look at the Italian reality, Idealab arrives at this conclusion: “I think only when the majority of Italian people decide to do something instead of only complain then we can see some real progress.” C in Bo tries to put a positive spin on the debate: “Working at a university I also see people who ARE making a difference, people who refuse to give a bunk up to friends and family and go against the grain (sometimes hurting themselves in the process) to make sure things are done fairly. The media always reports on the fat cats who are cheating the system – there really are a lot of hard-working, genuine Italians who are working to CHANGE the system – you just don’t hear about them very often!” Edi, a woman living in Verona, thinks that more articles along these lines need to be published “if only to provoke Italians to feel shame at what they have allowed to happen to their society. I am glad to read that Italians themselves are driven insane by the contradictions and stultifying rules of daily life. Good for Beppe Grillo [as described in the article] for maybe starting the revolution.” Tourist’s statement concerns another aspect:“There really are no quality job opportunities for the youth of Italy and therefore young qualified foreigners such as myself are really in trouble. We are forced to participate in the system as is or be left out…a real shame. Agitate for change, people!” Mschoen notices that there is no indignance, that “Italians are resigned and just accept that 'è così...che vuoi fare?' People can't even be bothered to get angry.” Cobalt deals with another point analyzed by Fisher’s article – tourism in Italy: “I work in that industry and can tell you there is a lot of money to be made, but it’s also so fickle. With the dollar crashing and so many other factors involved in where one vacations or if one takes a vacation, it’s a bad place to put a country’s profitable businesses.
Lots of which are run by foreigners anyway, since they relate to and understand the foreign clientele.” Jhelm’s post concerns the reason why many Italians are depressed: “They just don’t make enough money. And many don’t have any job security. I’m not sure what will change that but I think it will change. Things,” Jhelm concludes, “are changing already, for example the trade deficit being half of what it was the year before. Also I wonder if the problems in Italy aren’t a bit of a prediction for the future of the U.S.” This is a very interesting question. Damien criticizes the usual stereotype of Italy: “Many foreigners have rose-tinted glasses when it comes to Italy and believe that everything is wonderful because they sit down to a tasty plate of pasta and a nice glass of wine. Italy has some serious problems, but I am not sure that any of these problems will be solved any time soon, as the politicians here (and also in other countries I have to say) are only interested in their own gain. Italy has so much potential and could genuinely be one of the world’s richest countries, but unfortunately due to inept and corrupt politicians, the country is fast becoming the most backward member of the E.U.” Jhelm participates again in the debate, giving a very original analysis of the issue from a historical point of view: “Well I think people had an exaggerated idea of Italy in one direction and now some at least are exaggerating it in the other direction. Well one might also think that Italy is made up of a lot of people who think for themselves in a positive way. The lack of national unity also makes it much harder to use national pride and patriotism to achieve disastrous political goals. And it also makes it nearly impossible to brand people as traitors just because they protest against the invasion of innocent countries in the name of fighting terrorism. I was sickened,” continues Jhelm, “when observing my daughter in her kindergarten class in San Diego marching around the room every morning with the whole class singing ‘I’m proud to be an American because at least I know I’m free.’ Why did it bother me? Not because of a lack of pride in my country, but the whole thing reeks of fascism and indoctrination.”
Joanna agrees with this analysis: “D’accordo. Between mindless patriotic jingoism and the Taliban-like Christian fundamentalists, the U.S. is becoming a nightmare for anyone who has half a brain.” And Chia of Bologna notices another aspect that should be obvious as well: “Others abroad don’t love talking about their flaws. And I agree. Not talking about it does not make things disappear, but it makes them less evident. We love it, we love wailing about our flaws and wailing with foreigners.”
At another website for expatriates, My Life in Italy, there are two sections dedicated to this debate that involves American expats in Italy. In one of them, the “Controversial Issues” section ,Frank Tarsitano does not agree with The New York Times: “Interesting article but very much over-exaggerated. Normal everyday life in Italy is not at all affected by the political struggles between the many parties but more so by the economic issues comforting Italy as mentioned in this article. Italy just like the rest of the world,” continues Tarsitano, “has an aging population. Yes, people are having less children – this is true with most countries. One thing the article does not mention is the population growth among non-Italians. Does that not make you wonder? If life is bad in Italy why are more and more people wanting to live here? The question of contention in Italy truly depends on who you speak to. Life in Italy is still much sweeter but unfortunately the politics in Italy are just bittersweet.” Pescarese disagrees and tells about his own experience: “Italy is a beautiful country but there is something fundamentally wrong with the system. From the outset, I’ve always felt that somehow the Italians of this generation, I have to stress not the older generations when they really had La Dolce Vita and had the passion that we all associate with the Italians, seem to have lost their soul. There’s no real patriotism unless it’s got to do with football or Formula 1. On the street it’s to each his own – you go to the supermarket/post office and people are always trying to cut in front of you. When you are driving, no one wants to give way or when you give way, no one says thank you. And don’t even get me started on the schools and the high-handed teachers here.” Pescarese also refutes the issue about people coming here mentioned by Tarsitano: “As for the huge number of immigrants who want to come and live here, perhaps you should look at where they’ve come from in the first place. Yes, you get many British and Americans, but the majority come from 3rd world countries, so life here is infinitely better than back home.” In the “General Discussions” section the debate goes off in other directions, but is still very interesting Lauretta83, a young American woman who “left her heart in Orvieto” and now lives in the Washington D.C. area, sees things from another perspective: “Change is necessary, but the last thing I want is for Italy as a whole to end up like the United States, a/k/a a huge capitalist society. At least the bond of the family is much stronger in Italy than it is in the States. I think that’s what makes Italy stand out from the rest of Western Europe – the fact that yes, they are a bit behind, but it makes one appreciate the "old world charm" even more and to be honest, I actually feel comfortable in the "semi-third world" atmosphere. And, she concludes that, “despite the obvious economic problems and the rise of the Euro, there is still a deep and respected tradition in the art of living that many Italians (especially those in the small towns) have mastered very well – despite what critics have to say.” Luvtorino’s personal experience gives another perspective of the issue: “I was 24 when I moved here and the comment I received the most from Italians was how I seemed much older than I was. This is because a typical 24-year old is still living at home, still has years of uni to finish and hardly has a clue about their future. I can, however, understand. How can you be happy about a life here where you can barely scrape by? Our mortgage increased 30% in the last year, the prices of bread, pasta, and milk have all gone up in the last month. And yet the average salary here needless to say did not go up (one of the lowest in Europe), yet ironically the politicians and government officials have salaries 2 to 3 times higher than their respective positions in any other country in Europe (and the U.S.).
There was an article published in La Stampa last week on this situation. For example,” Luvtorino continues, “the chief of Polizia makes 650,000 euros a year!!!! My husband is a professor at the University of Turin and makes LESS than 20,000 euors a year. We can barely pay our bills, and we are not the only ones in this situation. It is the same story with our friends, colleagues, family, actually with most people we talk to. Can you wonder why the quality of life and satisfaction with the government is so low?” And, giving her opinion on the danger that Italy could become more like the U.S., Luvtorino states: “I certainly don’t think Italy has to lose its old world charm to get back on its feet. I think Italy needs to begin investing in itself and doing something to help boost morale. Instead last spring the government announced that it was thinking of cutting the government funded retirement for all teachers. And while Alitalia was filing bankruptcy its directors were taking home more than a million euros a year. I love Italy, and I do hope for all the best (especially since my life is now based here!) But I can tell you, from Italy, that the situation is not looking good.” Sardoman, a British married to an Italian woman and living in Sardinia, agrees with Luvtorino: “Living in Italy is a hardship, made worse by the bureaucracy you have to endure every day. This may be a bit extreme, but I’m sure that most of it is a remnant from the country having been a dictatorship, and the establishment today doesn’t want to let go of the control it has over its people, while lining its own pockets. Today I had to resolve an issue I had with my bank in the U.K. I spent less than 10 minutes on the phone and resolved the problem. I can only imagine how many visits to my bank, how many forms I would have to complete and how much in administration fees I would have to pay to do the same thing here.” The New York Times’ article incited a very interesting reaction from Teresa_cutler, an American from New Mexico who deeply loves Italy: “The value system that is understood in this article as vital and important and better than others is that ‘fast’ and ‘competitive’ are good. That the important thing is to work hard and progress, to be ambitious and to want to get bigger, better, richer. What about just living a life?” And she continues: “I met a woman from America who was living in Italy and she told me this one day: Italian men (and women) aren’t as pushed – by outside pressures or their families – to do better, get more money, buy a bigger house, buy a better car. They live their lives and enjoy them. This has a lot of appeal, this idea of not always rushing to have ‘more.’ “However,” Teresa adds, “it might be that these concepts/ideologies of forward motion, ambition and etc., are truly what countries – and by extension, people – need to focus on in today’s world, but I’m with Luvtorino (great name) (mine would be Romamore, I think) if I extend what he said about the U.S. It would be terribly sad if Italy pushed itself into the economic/world/global culture so hard that it became just another “fast-food” nation whose general attitude was one of forward, fast movement no matter what the consequences.” Teresa’s reflection leads her to predict an extreme consequence: “I’m more than willing to stand in lines for an hour at the post office in Rome, or deal with inefficiency at the market or the butcher shop, in exchange for NOT being in a country that resembles my own. The reasons the world is such a wonderful and exciting and challenging and frustrating place are exactly that each country is unique. I would hate to see Italy – or any other country – work so hard to keep up with the U.S. (or the world-power of choice) that it became just another clone culture with a different language.”
It would be interesting to hear the opinions of all those people who line up every day for hours in Italy, most of the time without succeeding in their aim. Though this issue would stir up more debates…
(Edited by Giulia Prestia)