The Italian approach to life impresses many people. Tranquility, casual outfits and complete nonchalance. However, it turns out that in many cases it is just a game of appearances, and in fact Italians are very secretive and do not like to share their opinions. They also very clearly establish a distance that tourists often do not understand. Below we present an excerpt from the book “The Italians” by John Hooper, which explains the whole phenomenon and shows what it looks like today.
Italian casual armor made hundreds of years ago
Typically the Italian word is “sprezzatura“. It was first used by Baldassare Castiglione in his “courtiers“, an early 16th century courtiers handbook. The play clearly shows that life in the palace was not easy at all. Renaissance courtiers were expected to have eloquence, logical reasoning, extensive knowledge, as well as physical strength and skills typical of a soldier. “Sprezzatura” is the answer to the question of how all this can be presented to the world with studied carelessness, as if it were self-evident, although in fact it is the result of long nights of reading by the candle and weary days of practicing the art of weapons.
If we now return to our hypothetical street and look closely around us, we will see the spiritual heirs of the courtiers described by Castiglione – those who pose annoyingly of young men who say something in their ear in a conspiratorial whisper on the corners of the Renaissance streets. We will also see one at a table in a cafe garden. He looks at the hostile world through the ubiquitous sunglasses. His hair looks tousled, but in fact he combed it carefully to create that effect. This hairstyle is as thoughtful as the perfectly fitting shoes and belt. Our modern courtier is probably waiting for a beautiful young woman as elegant as he is. Though it’s even more likely that he’s made an appointment with someone who will give him a lucrative contract or tell him who to make a good impression on in order to be on the candidate list for the next municipal election. His world is one of elegance and intrigue, but outside of his family and maybe a handful of friends from school or college, he probably lives alone. This loneliness was perfectly conveyed by actor Marcello Mastroianni when he created the characters of the great loners in Federico Fellini’s films. However, they can also be seen in the cool gaze and precocious, relaxed demeanor of Giovanni de’ Medici, standing by his mother’s side in the famous portrait of Agnolo Bronzin. It sends a clear message: Even a Medici child is capable of intimidating self-control.
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Italian impulsiveness? This is another veil
Perhaps the most paradoxical characteristic of Italians – and also one of those who cheat others the most – is their apparent impulsiveness. All these exaggerated expressions, lively gestures and apparent emotional outbursts are accompanied by deep caution and discretion. A turbulent history and cunning compatriots taught Italians to be careful.
One of the first things foreign correspondents notice when they come to this country is the unwillingness of ordinary people to give their names, let alone other details such as occupation, age or place of birth. They can chat loudly on their cellphones about the most intimate aspects of their private lives — problems with their brother-in-law or even medical exams — but when asked, for example, who to vote for, they keep their mouths shut. And even if they do, they will refuse to provide details by which they can be identified. The same is true when Italians are asked to comment on an event – be it an accident they witnessed or the result of Saturday’s game. Even when they are sure that their words will be published in foreign-only material, they often turn around, raise their index finger and mumble a word borrowed from the English “privacy”.
The most remarkable example of this kind of reserve came to me one evening after a phone call from a colleague in London. His newspaper would collect the prices of similar products in various European capitals. One of them was Big Mac. I asked my assistant to call the nearest McDonald’s in Rome.
“Who asks?” – she heard into the receiver. She replied that an English journalist was interested. “Then I can’t say anything.” The assistant explained that she did not need any comment or the details of the person she spoke to. She added that she could go to McDonald’s and check the price herself. All she wanted was for the caller to save her the trouble and mention the price, which is probably on a lit sign just above her head. None of that. In the end, the assistant had to leave the office and travel a mile from the restaurant to discover something that is not a secret.
Even the media are sometimes characterized by reluctance to provide information. News on TV and radio can be biased, but at least communicated in a clear and understandable way. Articles in Italian magazines, especially in Italian newspapers, are different – they often need to be decoded. This is especially true for material from political life. After reading the article, we have the impression that the journalist was only indiscreet enough to reveal the secret and let us discover some (but certainly not all) secrets that only he has access to.
I have to do justice to my fellow journalists: in most cases it is because they protect their informants. At other times, they use periphrase (usually commanded from above) so as not to upset the politicians involved. It goes without saying that Silvio Berlusconi has long been the politician with the greatest media power. When he was in power, the Italian media often dodged the problem by citing critical voices from foreign publications whose authors usually don’t mince words.
“For centuries we have been calling on foreign troops to fight for us,” one of Berlusconi’s ministers told me over dinner. “Now we use foreign correspondents.”
Luigi Barzini, in a classic study of his own country, wrote that fear taught Italians “to live with as much caution as experienced scouts in the woods, looking around, listening for the faintest rustle and groping the ground before them for hidden things.” fall.”
Pinocchio is not just a parable about the dangers of lying. It is also a moralizing tale about the dangers of naivety. When the doll meets Fox and Kat, they urge him to take the gold coins to the Field of Wonders and plant them in the ground. They assure that a tree full of money will grow out of it. What follows next is needless to say.
Ciao can you lose
One of the most common mistakes made by foreigners who come to Italy and believe they are among the carefree, friendly southerners is to say “ciao” to every one. Except that “ciao” is the English equivalent of “hi” or “hello”. While in the United States it’s easy to say “hello” to a person you don’t know well, in Italy you shouldn’t. “Bye” corresponds to the well-known “here” (“you”). If the more formal “Lei” is usually used, depending on the time of day, the appropriate greeting is “buongiorno” (“good morning”) or “buonasera” (“good evening”). There are also regional variations – this is one of the many characteristic signs by which Italians recognize strangers. For example, in some regions, you’ll hear “buon pomeriggio” instead of “buonasera.” Somewhere between the “ciao” and the more formal greeting, you should use the form of “ointment,” which you use if you’re not sure how close your relationship with the person is. If you use the word “ciao” too freely, sooner or later you’ll hear a dry “ointment” and maybe even an icy “buongiorno” or “buonasera”. It would be the linguistic equivalent of a cold shower, meaning something like, “Stop. I’m not your friend, so don’t treat me like I was.
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