Italians: a Study in Hypocrisy (Part II)

As the title implies, there is a Part I to this topic that has already been published. Do begin there.

2) Let me begin with a list: air conditioners, dog training, clothing dryers, screens, high-speed internet, adequate-speed internet, bike lanes, two-way streets, available parking, turn signals, window screens, modern deadbolt locks, reasonable store hours, immigration laws, a maximum number of political parties, and normal tax rates.*

Italy has almost none of all of these things. I dare you to find a dryer for your clothes in any home in the country. Likewise, I dare you to find a trained dog that won’t bark at every passing fly in the yard as if it were a flamboyant homosexual that interrupted a Westboro Baptist Church “mass”, or brain-cell destruction ceremony, whatever you like to call it.
This country is full to the brim with inefficency, in all aspects of life. And as Italian law states, there must be obnoxious complaints and arguments about such things, accompanied by little-to-no action. (<— Hypocrisy. See what I was saying?)

For example, Italians don’t believe in air conditioners because they are highly superstitious. And if that doesn’t make any sense to you, good.

The best way to explain the lack of air conditioning in a country with 40 degree weather and 70% humidity would be to tell you that the people here are afraid of the air. A light breeze coming through the window will cause many to clutch their necks in horror, utter an expletive, and demand that they trade seats with someone, so as not to “catch the air.” Truly, the doctors here see this as a treatable malady; in fact, it is one among many other maladies to which any doctor in North America would roll their eyes at, tell you to go home, and stop being dramatic. And yet, the “aria” is a real condition here in Italy – any sneeze, sniffle, throat tickle, fever, headache, general bone ache, knee problem, itchy eye, grumpy mood, or cough is explainable as being caused by the “air” he caught. And he knows exactly where he caught it, too. You see, he was standing in line at the bank, and suddenly he felt the slight, normally welcome draft of cool air from the air conditioner. This was when he realized with dread that he would be forced to wait in the line for at least another ten minutes before he could hurry himself to the exit, and out of the line of air-fire. About three minutes in, despite his best efforts to turn away from the air, and use other’s bodies as shields, he knew he had caught the air. Or rather, the air had malevolently found him. That evening over dinner, he coughed once, and proclaimed vehemently to all who would listen that he simply knew it had been the air in the bank. He had felt it immediately, he said. He then cleared his throat dramatically, and promptly resumed eating his dinner: a dish made with exceptionally spicy pepperoncini flakes.

Now, I will choose one more topic to broach in the list above, because if I were to address them all it would require at least a week’s worth of my time, an endless amount of espresso (with grappa), and probably some psychotherapy to work out the level of crazy it would drive me to.

July 7th, 1868 was a historic day, and one that goes overlooked now. On this day, a U.S. patent number 79541 was filed by Bayley and McCluskey for what is now a standard in the construction of homes and buildings in North America: we know it as “the window screen.” Groundbreaking, I know. You see, someone decided that bugs carried diseases and were gross, but they still liked fresh air in the house, so they invented this handy little mesh contraption, easily installed, and that is now available to fit almost any window type imaginable.

But the Italians have none.

I will tell you what they do have, though. They have massive black flies, horse flies, tropical insects, a million-and-one kinds of spiders, mosquitoes, and in the last thirty or so years, an invasion of what is known as “tiger mosquitoes.” If the term “tiger mosquito” doesn’t frighten you, you clearly haven’t been bitten by one. They are massive, striped (hence the name), they leave welts, and they attack during any of the twenty-four hours in a day, not just dawn and dusk. On my first night here a few years ago, I was yet unaware of these loathsome creatures, and woke up covered in 43 bites. I counted.

Now, this would naturally lead many people to complain about the sheer number of pests that enter the house. Women clean cobwebs down from the corners daily, shoo flies away from the fresh fruit on the counter every five minutes, and swear and gesticulate enthusiastically at every mosquito bite received. But if you suggest installing a screen to them, they will only wave their hands at you, as if to dispel such a ridiculous idea, and move to adjust the (highly effective) window shutters.

If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. Call me a wimp, but spiders terrify me. In addition, I am exceptionally sensitive to mosquito bites, and receive large welts that are anywhere from the diameter of a golf ball, to ones that exceed the size of my iPhone. And before bed every night, I have securely closed my door and window, despite an average of 27 degrees, and aggressively hunted any mosquitos that may have snuck in during my daily absence. Of which there are usually at least three.

And to think, this could all be remedied with a ten-minute trip to the hardware store; but here in Italy, I have discovered that it is much simpler, much easier, and truly the people’s zest of life, to just complain about it all.

But for the sake of my family and friends when I return home, I hope this condition of hypocrisy hasn’t been as contagious as “the air” can be.





*A separate post has been published concerning the politics and the tax rates, because as items they are far too expansive and inefficient to incorporate here. See: “Kicking and Screaming: A Guide to Italian Politics” if you want to read a bunch of simultaneously entertaining and frustrating factoids about this nation’s government policy.


Kicking and Screaming: A Guide to Italian Politics

When speaking with any Italian, the conversation will consistently devolve into politics, and I don’t blame them: there is a lot to talk about.

I have observed far too many political inefficiencies that could be easily remedied, and have been, in North America, the UK, most of Northern Europe, and the urbanized Asian countries. To my knowledge, Spain is really the only other country capable of making similar changes that hasn’t, so hey, at least we’re not in it alone. Another country is making horrible decisions with us, and I’m sure that together we can pull Germany and the rest of the EU into crippling debt within the next ten years. But shhh, don’t tell them their politicians are all still Fascist – they don’t seem to know that. (While this article is technically observable opinion, I don’t make statements without doing my research. If you’d like to read more on Berlusconi and the continued dominance of right-wing thinking in Italy, please follow any and all links you see in this paragraph – the evidence is well-founded.)

Here is a swift break-down of Italian political theory, put in easy to understand click-bait-title terms: You Will Fall Out Of Your Chair In Shock At How Many Political Parties There Are In This One Small Country. God, how I despise click-bait.

To save you the click, which will redirect you to a Wikipedia list of every active political party in Italy, (and a list of past coalitions), I’ll just tell you the number of parties that the average citizen had the option to vote for in the last general election (2013):


I’ll just give you a moment to wrap your head around that number; in the meantime, let’s consider the politics of other first-world democracies. If you live in Canada, like I do, you know that there are really only three major parties to pay attention to, and of the three, the Conservatives and the Liberals have dominated much of the vote for an exceptionally long time. The same is true for Britain if you swap out the NDP for the Labour Party. If you live in the United States, you know that there are the Democrats and the Republicans, with the country almost literally divided in half between the two ideologies. I still struggle to understand how this can be when every week I see a new article about how Ted Cruz did something stupid, like insulting the current Vice President days after his son died. At the very least, American politics are entertaining, (#thanksObama).

My point here though is that there is an unhealthy amount of “choice” for Italian citizens where their governing body is concerned, and the result is that the country cannot, and has not functioned in a cohesive manner since the days of Mussolini. Consider that since 1945, no one party has ever had the chance of gaining power alone. Coalitions are the only reality that faces Italian governments, and the result is that decisions are seldom reached. Even if the current Prime Minister wanted to make changes, his Senate would inevitably be divided, as each member has his own loyalties already sworn to the man backing his position.

—-> *Just a quick fun fact, one of the more liberal parties is run by comedian Beppe Grillo, and the Love Party is run by an ex-porn star.*

To confuse you even further, Italy has both a Prime Minister and a President. The Prime Minister is essentially the leader of the country, and runs the Senate, which draws up and debates bills to be passed as laws – but first they must have the signed approval of the President. This man is the Commander in Chief, so to speak, and once the bill reaches him, he may send it back to the Senate with his changes. The kicker here is that the Senate may review the proposals, lob the bill right back over the fence to him, just as it was before, and the good ol’ Presidente has no choice but to approve it, as he is not permitted to send it back a second time. You can see why it might take a really long time to get anything done here when no one actually has any power.

Add to this the dilemma of taxes in this country. Now, because of a progressive tax regime, the more money you make, the more you pay in taxes. Sounds fair, right? Until you learn that Italians have been paying an average of 46.65% as a Personal Income Tax Rate since 1995, and the current rate is now 47.90%. It can reach up to 71% on the high end of the scale.

Remember this graph the next time you complain about taxes in North America.GRAPH

Arguments have been had over every family dinner about who is doing what, why they’re right or wrong, and the conclusions reached at the end of the night are always the same: Italy is an unorganized mess of politicians, corporations, and desperately needs reform. And as the arguments wind down, we quietly sip our espresso night-caps, and realize that with the current system as it is, change is about as likely as Matt Damon acting like a reasonable person on a spaceship.

I now understand why Italians drink.




Italians: a Study in Hypocrisy (Part I)

Were I asked to describe Italy in a single word, or at least my experiences of it thus far, my chosen adjective would invariably be “hypocritical”.

Thankfully, no one has asked me to describe this strange and awe-some country in a single word, and I have this article to provide you with exactly [insert word count here] of them. And so without further ado, allow me to provide you with the first “hypocritical” impressions that I have solidified in the last month by way of careful observation, (and under the influence of at least two Spritz-Camparis* at a time).

1) Fact one: there are 24 hours in a day. Fact two: an Italian will tell you there are only 16 hours in a day, but will live as if there are anywhere from 28-32.

The logic here is virtually literally non-existent. This sixteen hour idea seems to come from the frequent and extremely vocal complaint that they have eight hours to sleep, and the other eight to work. The irony here is that this grievance is shared and shouted over a café macchiato and brioche in the morning, a café ristretto in the afternoon siesta period, again in the aperitivo hours after work while sipping those famed Spritz cocktails, and finally once more while passing the grappa bottle around after a hearty, ten-o’clock dinner. (Side-note: whomever told North Americans that it was bad to eat past 8pm was not only cruel, but a verified testa di merda who will never deserve the luxury of partaking in Mediterranean cuisine.)

If you ever hire an Italian, expect that they will consistently be late. But this is no fault of theirs, of course. It is all due to their unspoken mantra: no matter what, there is always time for an espresso. If you point out this illogical course of action, most Italians will shrug at you while stirring the foam of their macchiato. Even if late for a meeting with the Pope himself, any self-respecting Italian would stop for at least another ten minutes at the nearest bar for a coffee and newspaper. (I mean, can’t walk in to that encounter uninformed of the latest political events now, can we? Because let’s face it, Church and State have never been a separate thing in this country.)

I should mention that I have now learned to always take time for an espresso. Beware, future employers.

I suppose this phenomenon is best exemplified by an experience I had with my ridiculously interesting grandfather a couple of weeks ago. We were leaving on a four-hour drive to Firenze to meet an esteemed 93 year-old art historian, and colleague of my grandfather. I was told to be ready to leave by 6am, so naturally, we left at 7am. Upon pulling away from the house, we turned a corner, promptly parked at the quaint café that sat there, and ordered espressos and pastries filled with various delicious cremes and fruits. I checked my watch – it was 7:35, and our meeting was scheduled for eleven. That was when my grandfather noticed the barbershop next to the café, and was of the mind that it might be prudent to get his hair and moustache trimmed properly, as he hadn’t had the time all week. Flash-forward another ten minutes, and my North American brain was screaming at the tardiness of our departure, while the rest of our party merely commented on the humidity at this hour. Lo and behold, after driving at break-neck speeds averaging 160km/h through the pouring rain on the autostrada, we arrived in the city of Firenze four hours later, now forty-five minutes late for our appointment.

Fear not, however — we made sure to stop there for a coffee before going to meet her.





*A Spritz is a delightful beverage made of one part of the finest Prosecco, one part carbonated water, and anywhere from 1-2 ounces of either Aperol or Campari, with Campari being the obvious choice.