As a Milanese born and bred turned Londoner fifteen years ago, articles about Italy published in British magazines tend to give me sudden attacks of eczema.
It’s like they’re all stuck with Audrey Hepburn in “Roman holidays” and refuse to see it was just a movie.
First of all, no matter whether they’re about fashion, politics, culture, food or Balotelli, features on Italy tend to have three titles:
La dolce vita…
I mean, really?
Lets start with Mamma mia… which even the “serious” and supposedly more knowledgeable editors at the Economist seem unable to resist.
“Mamma mia!” is about as contemporary as Cor Blimey! only naffer. I know Abba might have convinced you othwrwise, but trust me, it’s very un-cool. My granny used to say more funky stuff. Do you want Italian “exclamations”? Try Caspita! Urca! Fantastico! Mannaggia! Accidenti! Acciderbolina! Cazzarola! Per i fulmini di Giove! Alla faccia! Li mortacci! Mio zio Battista! Sti czzz…
Okay I’m getting carried away.
“La Dolce Vita” is a film usually none of the young hipster geniuses who write such stuff has seen, and even if they have, we’re talking about an oniric fairytale Fellini created fifty years ago. It wasn’t never meant to be a realistic portrait of Italy, not then and certainly not now. Get over it.
As for Bellissimo… You might think the -issimo ending makes you sound sooo Italian, wink wink… Well, it doesnt. It makes you sound like you don’t know the appropriate use of a qualifying adjective in its superlative form. So don’t kid yourselves, on average you only know three words of any foreign language. I know two words in Japanese, do we deserve a round of applause?
And now let’s look at the content of such masterpieces of journalism. The quintessential example being the special issue on Milan published by Stylist, the Evening Standard supplement, two weeks ago. A random amount of cliches, caricatures, and cultural stereotypes from five decades ago…
1) Italians live life at such a leisurely pace… Never in a rush…
Really? Where exactly? Who? Do you mean the millions who are unemployed and unfortunately don’t have much to do? Or the ones who cant afford to pay for their rent and food thanks to the recession – let alone going for aperitifs and cocktails.. Or perhaps your “average sample” is Vogue’s chief editor…?
All my friends in Italy wake up at dawn, get stuck in traffic for an hour and a half as public transport sucks, swallow a capuccino standing at the corner and rush to the office. They never leave before 7pm, drive back home and if they’re lucky have dinner at 9pm before collapsing on the sofa. Provided they don’t have kids to bathe and feed. So much for the leisurly pace.
2) In Italy there’s beauty everywhere, no ugly buildings, just Art…
Sure. Viale Monza in Milan is a supreme example of beauty… Rome’s industrial suburbs are pure masterpiece. And check this out in the dictionary: SPECULAZIONE EDILIZIA. Something that has spoilt kilometres of coast with horrific mountains of concrete, thanks to illegal building and widespread corruption.
Of course one can stand in the centre of Florence and proclaime italy has no ugly buildings exactly like Italian tourists walking from Trafalgar square to Westminster swear to God London is the cleanest, kindest and most beautiful city ever where everyone drinks tea from old china pots… They are usually not offered a tour of the Peckham estates by night.
Tourism isn’t a taste of real life. No country in the western world is unspoilt. Sad but true. As a journalist somebody should have explained you that.
3) Italians are all sexy and stylish, and the men are so romantic, whispering compliments in a strange accent…
Er, sorry for disappointing you, but I have feral news: despite our efforts we don’t look all like models in a Dolce and Gabbana advert (they are usually Romanian).
And by the way, men whispering to you in a funny accent are usually considered either embarrassingly stupid or potentially dangerous. Beware and call the police.
4) as for the ludicrously patronising idea that sex and romance are at the top of every Italian’s priorities, most Italians are far too tired and worried about making ends meet to have all that sex. Contemporary Italy is driven not by passion but by the market’s fluctuation and by a growing sense of instability and fear for the future. Which is why so many young people with degrees leave Italy in search for a better future.
And to those compatriots who are about to attack me accusing me of inverted snobism, lack of patriotism and similar stuff, behold! I’m not saying that Italy isn’t beautiful.
Because Italy is beautiful, it’s gorgeous, has amazing places, gorgeous landscapes, breathtaking architecture and incredible art.
But Italy isn’t a living advert.
Italians aren’t either fashion obsessed Latin lovers or opera buffoons.
We dont spend our life sipping cappuccino and roaming the countryside on scooters wearing designer clothes, occasionally stopping to have sex or sing a song.
We don’t use gondolas, we don’t constantly shout at each other, and, most definitely we DON’T consider Mafiosi stylish, they are disgusting criminals.
And in this globalised world in which we all travel and get to “see” countries, its high time journalists and advertising executives stopped being so lazy. Its not even funny anymore. The joke ran out ages ago.
So next time you go to Italy to write a feature try and “see” what you look at. You might even manage to discover the country’s real beauty.