I love Italy. My country is beautiful. Italy is well known for its history, art, architecture, food, weather, beautiful landscapes, fashion, and the warm nature of its people: (I recommend visiting Italy at least once in your life if you haven’t already). The Tuscan hills. The Colosseum. The fresh smell of fragrant bread coming from the bakeries. The gentle sun caressing you while sitting outside with a breathtaking view. Italian wine. The Sardinian blue sea. I can go on like this forever. Boring. Yes, you got that right. Believe me, talking to you about this is the most boring thing I can do. Everybody has heard about the beauty of Italy even those who have never set foot in the country. But one thing is to visit Italy for a vacation. Living in Italy, the reality, is a slightly different. I want to talk to you about the way it feels to live in Italy after living abroad for a number of years.
Living abroad, and learning to speak several foreign languages has helped me understand Italy better. Travel has the magical ability to broaden your perspective on things you slowly come to realize that everything is relative.
“You realize that much of what you believed to be unique in your home country is often universal, and that much of what you thought was universal is often specific to your home country”. You realize that humans are by and large the same, with the same needs, the same desires and the same awful biases that pit them haplessly against each other” – Mark Manson (http://markmanson.net/5lifelessons5yearstravelingworld)
I completely agree. When you broaden your perspectives, you realize that those who never leave their country often have a narrow vision on things, and it starts to bother you in some way. It’s not a matter of feeling better than the others, because we’re all limited. But it’s not uncommon to wish that things were different, that people would travel and explore more. I’m sure it would change this country for the better.
So here we are. I’ll talk about the things I can’t stand, the things that make my blood boil, that make me toss and turn in my bed before going to sleep. The things I get nervous and passionate about.
So here you have the 7 things I hate about Italy.
1. Public Transport
Moving around any major city in Italy with public transport is problematic, to say the least. I like saying that in Rome you can only know when you’ll go out, but you’ll never know when you’ll reach your destination.
First of all, electronic displays with the bus timetable almost never exist, and when they do, they’re never accurate. It’s not uncommon to wait for 1 hour before getting even a glimpse of a bus. You’ve been warned. Waiting for it to arrive is one problem, but then you’ll have to get on the bus. This can be a bigger challenge because the infrequency means they’re often full of people. But not just people irritated people. They shout, push and complain. I can’t blame them (I admit to sometimes being the same). The system is poor, and it’s always late, and often hot. An Italian bus in summer is a mobile furnace. But the heat combined with the crowd squashed together still isn’t the biggest problem. What literally “drives” everyone crazy are the drivers. They’re almost always unprofessional with an attitude. They don’t know the answer to any questions, and if they do respond they often give short, unenthusiastic answers, as if asking questions is offensive.
I’ve even met drivers who didn’t know where they were going. Seriously, I was once on a bus and I noticed the bus took a left when it should have taken a right. I walked up to the driver and asked where he was going. He said it was his first day and no one had told him where to go… Nevertheless a driver who doesn’t know where he’s going is less problematic than one who drives with his knees. Yeah, you read that correctly, with his KNEES. If that’s not bad enough, I recently read about a bus driver who was caught handling two mobile phones while driving the bus with his knees. I know it may be hard to believe, but trust me, it’s all true. Only in Italy. I’m sure you can understand why drivers in Italy drive everyone crazy…
2. Driving and Parking
One thing that caught my attention when I came back to Rome after living in Paris for 3 years is the traffic. I noticed is that crossing the street is often an adventure. In Paris and other countries, cars slow down when they see someone at the zebracrossing. Makes sense right? That’s why the crossing is there. In Italy, drivers speed up! They see a pedestrian as an obstacle. A nuisance. Something stopping them from reaching their destination. It helped me realize why foreigners landing in Italy are aghast when they talk about simply “crossing the street”.
Now, let’s talk about driving on Italian streets, which can be nervewracking for the inexperienced and fainthearted. It consists of long queues at traffic lights, drivers sounding horns at each other, and scooters darting all over the place (even on the wrong side of the street). Speaking of which, scooters are very popular in Italy. So popular that it’s not uncommon to see a lot of people riding on one scooter at once. Especially in the South (in Rome it is still relatively rare) it is not uncommon to see up to four people on a single scooter.
In Naples, wearing a helmet is not only deemed unnecessary, It can be dangerous. If you wear a helmet which covers your face, most people will think you are part of the mafia and you’re on a mission to kill someone. Not having or wanting to wear a helmet can have hilarious effects as well. A friend of mine told me that he once saw a person wearing a bag on his head with two eyeholes because it was pouring down with rain Comical and tragic at the same time, isn’t it?
Another thing that pisses me off even more than the way Italians drive their cars is the way the park them. In the best case, it’s sloppy, in the worst case it’s disrespectful to pedestrians and other cars. Seeing a car parked far from the curb is already unbearable, but imagine a car parked on the sidewalk?
Italians also love parking cars on the corners streets, reducing visibility at intersections. It is not uncommon to find these cars with their windscreen wipers twisted. This is how people passing by express their disapproval.
The way Italians drive and park reflects their attitude towards society, where everyone thinks about themselves. Which brings us to the next aspect I can’t stand about this country.
3. Lack of civic mindedness
The historian and politician Francesco Guicciardini said in the 16th centurary: “In Italia ognuno pensa al suo particolare”. Literally translated is: “in Italy everybody thinks about his own interests (about themselves)”. There’s nothing bad about wanting to improve one’s life. In Italy, though, this acute sense of selfpreservation almost always borders on reckless and shortsighted selfishness. The concept of “me as an individual within the society is always treated as more important than “the society in which I want to live. This mebeforeanyoneelse attitude is not only evident in the way people drive, but at all levels of normal Italian life. When standing in line at the bank, post office, supermarket, or just about anywhere else, you’ll find someone trying to skip past you. Italians don’t respect authority and this attitude is reflected in small things like standing in line.
What’s more sad is that Italian’s draw great satisfaction from being sly. If an Italian can get ahead of you when standing in line or while driving, they will be happy to do so. Needless to say, this attitude has disastrous consequences for our society as a whole. Living in France made me realize how an alternative mentality can lead to huge differences in the quality of life in a nation. What pisses me off is that what’s needed to make the shift in mentality and quality of life would require very little effort from everyone…But people in Italy prefer to complain and do nothing to make changes.
4. Corruption and hypocrisy
There is no question that Italy is a corrupt country. Those who read Italian newspapers daily will notice that there’s literally one scandal a day. Corruption takes on many forms and is involved many areas of public life. This can be summarized as “drugs sex and rock n’ roll”. Or: “Public money, drugs and sex”. Now, as we all know know, taxes are paid to provide public services. The rate of tax in Italy is one of the highest in Europe, and yet services are extremely poor. On a daily basis politicians are accused of using public money to go on expensive vacations and buy presents for their wives, lovers and family, or to pay prostitutes, to give you an idea..
What infuriates me is the fact that Italians accept it. When Italians hear about the umpteenth scandal,most shrugtheirshouldersandsay“itislikethat,everybodysteals,whatcanyoudo”. We keep thinking as individuals who are powerless in the societal structure, instead of coming together for change.
But there is more to it. Corruption comes with unbearable hypocrisy. One glaring example of this is Lega Nord, a political party from the North of Italy which has been fighting against “the corruption of the South”, accusing Southerners of being inveterate thieves who put strain on the Northern Italy’s efforts to improve Italy. After years of pointing fingers at the South, it turned out that Politicians from that party in the north love public money, prostitutes and nice cars even more than people they are accuse from the south. .
I don’t watch much TV, but when I do, the first thing that normally pops up is some politician’s face. I have to say it helps, because they make me turn off the TV and head straight for a good book. Seriously though, I know people tend to badmouth politicians and this is universal around the world, so It might sound trivial. However I’m not being trivial when I say that with very few exceptions politicians in Italy are among the worst in the world. They are absolutely horrendous.
First of all, Italian politicians are uneducated. There’s a TV show called “Le iene” where presenters approach politicians outside of the parliament to catch them off guard by asking simple questions that expose their ignorance. One politician, when asked if he knew of Steve Jobs, replied “no clue”. Another politician was asked if he knew what a synagogue is and he replied “it is the place where Muslims gather and pray”. The same politician replied “Palestine” when asked about the location of Jerusalem.
Italian politicians are also corrupt. Being uneducated puts a stain on their resumes, but add corruption and their resumes become unreadable. Public money coming from taxes goes straight to their pockets. And when it is invested, it’s invested recklessly. Oh, and did I mentions that Italian tax is among the highest in Europe?
Antonio Razzi is a glaring example of a politician who’s both uneducated and corrupt. He was caught on camera telling journalists that he only cares about himself and his family, and not about political issues.
The endemic corruption poisoning the Italian society at all levels might help explain to foreigners why a person like Berlusconi was in power for 20 years. Foreigners often exclaim in complete disbelief that “something like that” could never happen in their country. I still remember the guy at the newsstand in Paris who always gave me a sardonic grin when he handed me the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica”, adding “ah, Berlusconi”, as if to say “you Italians are unbelievable”. In some way, it made me feel ashamed of being Italian, because the fact that Berlusconi was still governing my country was a result of the mentality of my people.
6. Italian’s attitude abroad
The first thing that happens when an Italian lands on foreign soil is they go to an Italian restaurant. Italians are constantly talking about how “there is no such food as Italian food”, or “food here really sucks” or, “they really don’t know how to make pizza or pasta here”. Curiosity about other cultures is a sign of openmindedness, and cuisine is an important part of culture. Some Italians are so convinced that Italy’s cuisine is the best that they pack Italian products in their suitcases to “survive the journey” (Italian cuisine is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean other countries have little to offer).
Another thing I can’t stand is how judgemental Italians are towards other people and nationalities. I’ve heard on many occasions that the French are “incredibly snobbish” and the English “stink”, to name a few. Having lived in France for a few years, and having friends from the UK, I can tell you It’s complete BS. I once challenged a guy after hearing such remarks. I asked him if he knew any French people. He said “no, but they are like that”
Another thing that comes to mind, is that Italians don’t speak a word of English, and Italians expect, somehow, foreigners to speak or understand Italian. I was once on the metro in Paris, and a guy approached me and asked in what sounded like a Southern Italian dialect, what line he had to get to reach the Eiffel Tour. It never crossed his mind that I might not understand the dialect spoken in Southern Italy, or perhaps I could have been French?
7. Italian men and women
A lot of Italian men think they are irresistible to foreign girls and they behave in a way that reflects their mentality. It is true to some extent that Italian guys are popular abroad. I have heard a lot of girls say “oh, you’re Italian, that’s wonderful. I love Italian guys.”. But things are a tad different when speaking to foreign girls who have been living in Italy for some time.
I remember having a long discussion with a Norwegian friend of mine about this before she came to live in Italy for a few months. She said: “Italian men are sexy, gentlemen and sweet”. I was a bit puzzled and replied: “have you met a lot of Italians?” she said: “well, I met a few here in Oslo”. After living in Italy for a few months her opinion completely changed. She had had enough of men staring her on the street like hawks, whistling at her, and greeting her with“ciao bella” while taking at look at her rear end lustfully. There’s a huge misunderstanding between foreign girls and Italian guys. In Italy it’s normal for a man to look at a woman on the street lustfully. He is appreciating her physical beauty. The misunderstanding lies in the word “appreciation”, An Italian man staring at a woman for more than 5 seconds probably means that he’s not only appreciating her beauty , but that he wants her to know that he does. These stares are often perceived as impolite and intrusive by a foreign girl who isn’t used to this way of behaving.
To top it all off, many Italian guys are convinced that foreign girls are “easy”. The truth is, everything is relative. Foreign girls are not “easy” or easier than Italian girls. They are often just more open. Generalizing is always a big mistake, but I can say with a certain degree of certainty that a LOT of Italian girls, apart from those who live abroad, are much more conservative than most girls in Europe. My male foreign friends often ask me: “what’s wrong with Italian girls, why are they so closed?” For example ,If a man tries to approach a group of, say, 3 Italian girls sitting on the stairs of a fountain, they tend to look at the man as if he were invading their privacy. He’d get the “oh no, not again” sort of looks and it’s possible that he just wanted to ask for the time. In most cases girls from other countries react differently. This isn’t the only thing that makes Italian girls conservative. There are many more things, such as their attitude towards sex… Italian girls
If an Italian girl has a “one night stand” with a guy, in most cases, it’s not something they’re supposed to let other people (especially their parents and some of their friends) know because they’ll consider her to be a slut.
After reading all this you will probably think I despise my country. My intention with this article was to offer my take on the “Italian way of life”, after living abroad for a few years. Doing so has really helped me to understand some things about Italy and Italians which I was not conscious of before. I wanted to talk about the dark side of my country because they are aspects less known to foreigners. Once again, I am very proud of being Italian. What about your country? Have you ever lived abroad, and upon coming back realized a number of things that you had never really thought about before?