When I wrote part one of this blog whilst sitting in my mother’s living room in England I didn’t really consider the fact that I’d have to write part 2 when I returned to Italy. So now I’m faced with the challenge of casting my mind back through the fog of a three day drive across Europe. I know that when I was in England I had loads of things that I wanted to say regarding the differences between the two countries, but England already seems like a distant fantasy. Well, let’s have a go…
England vs. Italy, A Few More Observations:
The Bad: Now Italy, being famous for its fashion designers, would seem to have an unfair advantage here. However, what really struck me was the amazing lack of grace with which many English people dress, especially teenagers. In Italy we have the expression ‘fare bella figura’ which translates as something like ‘make a good impression’, and dressing well/appropriately is an important part of that concept. Unfortunately, many young people in England seem very lacking in self awareness when it comes to dress sense. We noticed, for example, that tight black leggings worn in combination with some kind of short skirt seems to be the compulsory uniform for English teenage girls, regardless of whether it suits them or not. Couple this to the frighteningly high obesity rate in the UK and you are subjected to some very unfortunate examples of ‘la brutta figura’!
The Good: Now this is a tough one! I’m scratching my head to think of something good to say about English dress sense. O.k. here are a couple of things. Because the English are not so concerned with la bella figura they are perhaps far more practical in the way that they dress for specific occasions, such as inclement weather for example. We also seemed to notice far fewer examples of the 16-61 syndrome. The 16-61 syndrome is the belief that with the help of liberal amounts of trucco (makeup), acconciatura (hairstyling), overdone abbronzatura artificiale (false suntan), and totally age inappropriate clothing one can fool the public (and perhaps oneself) into believing that one is 16 years old rather than 61.
The Good: On the whole, staff in shops, banks, offices and so on are far more adept at dealing with their clients. It’s obvious that staff are picked because they like working with the public, and that they receive appropriate training. I’ll never forget the experience of waiting in a bank here in Italy whilst the manager tried impatiently to sort out an insurance cheque that we needed to cash, and hearing him saying loudly to the receptionist “che cazzo vogliono con questo assegno!” (what the fuck do they want with this cheque!). Unfortunately, public service staff here in Italy are often rude or simply disinterested. That doesn’t include, of course, the little shops such as our fruttivendolo (grocers) and panettiere (bakers), or the small local bars.
The Bad: Lurking beneath the British veneer of helpfulness lies a disturbing sense of impatience and tension. The cashier in my mother’s local supermarket panicked and called for assistance when the queue at the till grew to the scary proportion of three people. Yes, the British queue in an orderly fashion, but it’s rarely a relaxing experience. Any small holdup to the proceedings is likely to cause muttering and headshaking. The waitress at the restaurant where three of us (my mother, Serena and myself) turned up without booking, barely managed to maintain a rigor mortis smile whilst announcing: “I’m sorry, we are extremely busy at the moment, but I suppose we could find a table for you”. Yet the restaurant remained half empty during the whole hour that we were there.
…. va bene, eccoci tornati in Italia, andiamo a prendere quel buon cappuccino!
We thought it might be interesting to hear your comparisons between Italian culture and your own culture, e.g. USA vs. Italy, Australia vs. Italy and so on. If we get enough contributions we’ll turn it into a blog. Remember to follow my example and look at both the negative and positive aspects of any given aspect of the culture that you’re discussing. Please leave your comments below.