An Englishman abroad

john hooper

If you want to compare the Italians to another country you think about Spaniards or French. Or Greeks maybe (do you remember una faccia una razza, one face one race, Greeks keep repeating when they talk to an Italian?). Mistake, mistake. Italians are more similar to the Japanese, according to John Hooper, foreign correspondent for The Guardian and author of The Italians, recently published by Penguin.

The two countries have a similar geographical aspect, both long and narrow, longitudinally divided by mountains and prone to earthquakes. Both care about formalities, both give great importance to the family. And, sad to say but true, women play a secondary role in both their society.

But the work ethic it’s not the same!
Yes, it’s true. But this comes from Catholicism. Work is a punishment from God. And the Italians have the culture of laziness (the dolce far niente) which they share with the Spaniards, another catholic country.

So many young Italians are leaving the country that our politician must have done something terribly wrong, don’t you think?
Italy struggles to adapt to the requirement of contemporary world. Thanks to digitalization, there is a tendency to simplify which is in contrast with the Italian temperament, complicated, redundant, baroque.

And very conscious about his appearance…
There is an attention to beauty very peculiar to the country. There is so much beauty around in Italy that appearance becomes of paramount importance. But there is also an historical reason. Italians, due to centuries of oppression and poverty, are insecure, everyone can turn into an enemy for them. On top of that, Italy is a young nation compared to many others, including the UK. A young, uncertain nation. But very conservative at the same time, reluctant towards change. On one part this slows down progress, on the other hand it maintains the traditions. Food is an excellent example. It’s so good because it never gave space to modernisation. It retains its purity.

 What do you think about ‘Made in Italy’? Does it still exists or it has been sold to rich foreigners?
The genius is still in Italian hands, but many companies have not been able to adapt to a faster pace and now suffer a younger, energetic and more reactive competition.

How Italy will be in 20 years time?
In my opinion if nothing changes Southern Europe will be forgotten by Northern Europe, who will go on at a faster pace and will leave all the rest behind. Italy has three big assets though: fashion, food and culture, but they need to be capitalized in the right way.


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