It`s not a coincidence that my coverage about Italy ended up being divided in three parts. The first two parts had a logistical explanation. I simply needed to travel to the South of Italy to get to Malta, and then up again to catch a ferry to Greece. My third passage in Italy can be explained by the fanatic encouragements of Southern-Italians to also visit a few Northern cities, so I could see with my own eyes how much North Italy and South Italy are different from each other.
Italians from the North are not very much loved in the South. They are blamed for not being real Italians, for mixing in with other European cultures and for letting go with family traditions. `Life in the North is all about work, not about living`, the Southerners say. Many young people from the South would stay in the South if they could. Unfortunately, unemployment in the South is high and local mafia is cutting down new business initiatives that are not in line with their priorities. Ambitious young Southerners are well aware that they have few other options but to move to the North if they want to get something unconventional done.
..thinks there are some local problems in the North of Italy that need to be solved before all revenues are sent to the south
The border between North and South Italy is not clearly defined. Political fanatics draw it as far North as the River Po. Others claim that Tuscany is the southernmost part of the North. Rome is accepted to be positioned centrally, but people from the North are likely to claim that Rome is already part of Southern Italy. Elisa (27) explains that Southerners often speak lousy Italian. `They make lots of mistakes, even if they are not speaking their regional dialect. The official Italian language is said to be Dante`s Italian which comes from the Tuscany region. Northern Italian is much closer to the ideal Italian than Southern Italian.`
Whatever the exact location of the border, Elisa (28) has no reason to cross it other than for holiday purposes: `They of course have the tastiest vegetables, best fruits, fish and all kinds of ingredients for lovely dishes, good weather and sunny beaches. At the same time, they are often much more conservative and more restrictive. Their rhythm of life is so different, I don`t think I could deal with it for longer than a few weeks.`
Another point of discussion is: where do the real Italians live. The Southerners claim that they are the real Italians, because the Northerners are too European to be Italian. At the same time, the Northerners associate Italy with design, science, industry and prosperity, claiming that the Southerners are not even working hard enough to call themselves Italians.
Whoever is right about who is Italian and who is not, both sides have nicknames for the other party. They should be used with caution, because they could be offending if used in the wrong situations. The Southerners like to refer to people from the North as `Polentone`, for the fact that they eat mais-based Polenta, which Southerners do not consider proper food. Southerners may be called `Terroni`, which is more difficult to explain but presents them as ill-mannered people from the countryside.
Beside the nicknames, there are plenty of stereotypes about people from the South. They are supposed to be shorter, hairier ? also women, less punctual, less patient and more hot-tempered. The most common stereotype claims that Southerners are lazy, that they don`t wake up before 10, only start working at 11, go for lunch at 11h30, stay away until 16h, then decide at 17h that it`s time to go to the beach. Floriano (33) works at a shoe designer and is responsible for sales in Northern Italy. `I sell about 500,000 pairs of shoes a year`, he says, explaining that he is not selling to end users directly, but rather looks for local distributors. `My colleague who covers the South of Italy never switches on his mobile before 10 in the morning. Still, he sells a similar amount of shoes, although I don`t know why. I don`t know whether to call him lazy or clever.`
Northern Italians tend to claim that the large majority of Italy`s revenue is realised in the North, while government aids systematically focus on the South. Federico (28, photo) explains that Northerners are unhappy about the current situation of money simply drifting away from their region. `Many of us would support a plan to promote federalism in Italy. If the different regions have more power vis-?-vis the national government, they can care more about local interests. We have plenty of local problems that could be solved if the money wasn`t wasted on unprofitable projects in the South.`
Immigration is one of the issues that Northern Italy is currently fighting. `Even if many of them get to Italy through the South, they will soon find out that there is nothing to gain from them but staying in the South`, Federico says. `They concentrate in the North-East of Italy and cause lots of problems. We have many immigrants from Northern Africa, Albania and Poland. They cause occasional problems, but not even close to how much trouble the Romanians have brought. Gypsies or not, they have made our streets unsafe. They rob, they steal, they kill, they end up in jail and they continue whenever they are released. It would have been best if they were never allowed into Italy at all. And although the group of troublemakers is probably not even that big, they have very, very rapidly spoilt any good reputation that Romanians have ever had in Italy. There`s no need to be a racist to be worried about the problems we have with our Romanian immigrant population.`
If the wish for federalization didn`t already exist within many Northern Italians, the current immigration problems have given them another reason to vote for the political party Lega Nord. Southerners blame this party of wishing to divide Italy in two, creating the separate state of `Padania`, bordered to the South by the River Po.
Despite the differences, Italians across the country may have more in common than for example the Belgians on either side of their language barrier do. Italians basically speak the same language, they have access to the same TV programs and newspapers, they have common national heroes and they can vote for all political parties they wish to vote for. They may prefer to think of their regional origins before claiming to be Italian, but they all feel Italian when the national football team plays or whenever they travel abroad. The major differences between North and South boil down to time management, financial management, relation management and kitchen management. Whether all of that justifies a separation of North and South.. the future will tell. One thing is for sure: splitting up countries seems to be a lot easier than trying to unite them.
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