Welcome to Italy
Airline Skyeurope helped me get from Cyprus to Vienna and from Bratislava to Rome in the last 48 hours. Italy is country number 15 on the list and since today is my first day, the usual introductory questions pop up: what`s going on in this country and what is on people`s minds?
News coverage about Italy during the past few days consistently focused on the dissolution of the national government. At the same time, Naples gets news coverage because of its issues with garbage collection. Hooligans, known as Ultras keep messing up the Italy`s second religion after Roman Catholicism: football. Sales of Mozzarella cheese have been under pressure since many of the buffalos producing the required milk have been stuck by disease.
`Italian teachers and politicians are usually not very supportive to the common cause`
Ups and downs
At the same time, the boot-shaped country is loved and praised across the globe. Pamela (25) explains why: `We have got art, we`ve got food and we like to shine like the sun. Italians are very extrovert and they like to socialise.` Daniele (28) likes his home country `because we always push boundaries of what is possible. We do it in fashion, in soccer, literature and in scientific development.`
Daniele is less satisfied by employment opportunities in Italy: `It`s all about connections. If you don`t have the right connections or references, you will get temporary contracts one after the other. I have worked at the financial departments of Unilever, Accenture and Sony, but none of them have been prepared to give me an indefinite contract. It`s hard for young people to build up a life, and there is very little support from the government. Official youth unemployment figures are low, but they disguise the low probability of an employer giving you an steady contract. The best way to get one is to follow the same studies as your dad did. If your dad is a lawyer, that will make it easier for you to be a lawyer to. Relations are decisive for success in Italy.`
Frederica (28) explains that politics are a grateful subject of conversation, but a major source of mass-annoyance at the same time. `The government fell following corruption claims against no-one less than the Minister of Justice. At the moment, there is a lot of uncertainty about the political future. We may get elections, or maybe there will be an intermediary government who will reform the election process, either way, it`s all chaotic - as it Italian politics usually are.`
Giacomo (photo) also refers to politics when I ask him for an overall impression of Italy. `We don`t put a lot of trust in politicians. Most of them are old and corrupt, no matter whether they are right of left wing. They never seem really qualified for the job, just like our English teachers.` After spending half a day in Rome, I can already conclude that Italians are more talented for art and science than for speaking English. Unlike the Spanish, the Italians don`t do any window dressing. In Spain, people systematically responded `Yes` when I asked them whether they spoke English, only to switch to Spanish ten seconds after.
Beside the millions of tourists coming to Italy`s cultural and natural attractions, the country is also a popular haven for immigrants. Albanians, Romanians, Chinese and Africans make up a big part of the foreign population. The arrival of Romanians after the admission of Romania to the European Union has caused a wave of robberies and violence, up to the point where politicians proposed to extradite Romanians upon their first infringement of Italian law.
Italians themselves also like to travel abroad, but mostly for holidays. France, Spain and Greece rank among people`s favourites. Except during ski holidays, very few Italians leave for destinations that have colder weather than their home country. Since Italians are attached to good food, countries that do not match their gastronomic expectations are also easily disqualified. The presence or absence of pizza and pasta restaurants by itself is not decisive. Most Italians are not convinced by the quality of foreign versions of their food anyway.
Food and drinks have also proved their use to the Italian economy. Coffee brands Illy and Lavazza are from Italy and Perfetti is a major sweets manufacturer. Parmalat produces diary products. In design, car brands like Ferrari, Bugatti, Maserati, Fiat and Alpha Romeo are well-known, and so are Pirelli and Magnetti Marelli. Perfume and fashion brands like Dolce and Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Benetton and Kappa are all Italian-born.
No matter how creative Italians claim to be in design, there is one type of design that is closely linked with tradition. Newborn`s given names usually refer to older family members, which explains the high number of Anna`s, Chiara`s, Laura`s or Paola`s. Boys have good chances of being called Francesco`s, Mario`s, Antonio`s, Alessandro`s and Giovanni`s.
Bruno is also popular in Italy, and it would be a nice surprise to be able quote somebody with whom I share my first name. This said, I have no expectations of finding somebody here that also shares my family name. But we`ll see what the coming few weeks of Italy experience add to the Us Europeans project.
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