As I have been far far removed from the goings on in that big ‘ole US of A, I have had time to learn and appreciate something so spectacularly beautiful and different: the Italian way. Whether it’s a random coffee break at 3:31 in the afternoon or an old man dressed to the nines just sitting on a stool by his front door, Italians know how to have a good day. There’s none of this herding employees in at 9 o’clock sharp. Nah uh! A true Italian strolls leisurely into work at around 9:15, looks around, and leaves for a coffee break. Ideally, said Italian will be dressed in all black with maybe some wingtip leather boots to pull it all together.
Once at the bar (yes, bar), said Italian will chat cordially and very animatedly (lots of hand usage) with Marco, the bartender, until finally ordering a cafè espresso portare via (to take away). They chat a bit more, Marco begins to sing opera, said Italian pays and strolls on back to work. Not a bad start, eh?
In all seriousness, Italians just know how to live. In the words of Tina Fallani, a woman who sat on Frederico Fellini’s lap as a child and edited movies like The Godfather and The Dead Poet’s Society, “Italians are the only people who know how absolutely horrible life is, but they smile anyway.” To be fair, life is very hard in Italy because the government is so poorly run, becoming successful is a hopeless endeavor, and taxes are 53% of total income. With all that against them, I’ve never heard an Italian complain. And why do you ask? Because they are CONTENT. They are happy to just live their lives. They don’t want fame or fortune (or maybe they do, but it’s almost impossible in their culture), so they just are the way they are.
Coming from America, this was a serious mental adjustment. Success, big business, even economic growth are things not even considered. In America, you’ve got new businesses popping up everywhere, you’ve got successful people starting off with two nickels in their pockets. I needed almost two months before it all made sense. And once it clicked, man, I was changed.
How great is the idea of becoming successful at something? It’s a great thought. But when is that success actually achieved. What’s the salary? Where’s the house? What’s the account balance? Do truly successful people ever stop and say, “Now I’m successful, and I’m going to take it easy.” Or is it that these people become blind to this idea of enough. Enough for the kids’ college, enough for retirement, enough for that next car, enough for her, enough for him, etc. Where does the bar start, and where, along the ride, does it disappear.
And for the record here, I’m never going to give value to the statement, “I just want to be secure.” Life is insecure by definition. People get cancer, people fall off bikes and never walk again, people get married after two weeks and live happily together until the end, and humans are in and of themselves insecure, so how can anyone expect money to cure that. Having money is never going to make it any less hard, beautiful, or painful.
It’s not a race, it’s a life.
I once asked my professor about the 53% tax rate, and before I could even finish my question, he said, “I’m proud I pay. I pay because it’s my duty, and I feel good knowing I’ve played my part.” So basically, Italians live in a grand-scale play. Each person is crucial in telling the story. If one actor fails to hold up his/her lines or task, the play is made weaker. The plot, less convincing. In no way is this a perfect government; however, I would argue that this forces people to care for one another.
Now, America. America runs in similar fashion to a cross-country race. The gun is shot, and instantly, the best are separated from the middle, and those with the least training or skill fall to the back. It doesn’t matter how strong someone looks, if they haven’t had the practice or support, they won’t win. How can they? It’s a tooth and nail fight, and the race is never really over. Man, that’s exhausting.
And not only that, but you’ve fought so hard to make ground that all of a sudden, you find yourself less and less charitable. No one ever admits that, but it’s the truth. It’s human nature. You can donate to a thousand charities, but as long as you have the newest iPhone in your purse, are you not contradicting yourself? Are Americans forced to choose between consumerism or being labeled a Marxist?
I don’t know which government is better: Italian or American. I mean, I myself have many goals. I eventually want to live and make my career in a world surrounded by art, and depending on the path I choose, that may mean money, but, more than likely, not. I can accept a lack of “success” as long as my personal goals are met. But that’s just me, and to some reading this, that’s simply unacceptable. I get that. You’re not bad for wanting nice things. I grew up with them, but I wonder if I’m alone in not being able to take myself seriously due to the climate or environment in which I was raised.
“College students are always more liberal because they’re young, and they want to save the world,” a patronizing acquaintance once told me. In truth, I fail to see what’s wrong with that. Maybe my lack of a corporate job keeps my eyes open to the need still present in the world. People need other people, and like it or not, money keeps governments moving. So people with money should be able to see the great need and help, right? Is it really more complicated than that? Does your ONE corporate job mean more than a single mother’s FOUR part time jobs? Does your degree make you any better than the hardworking man stuck in a cycle of poverty and racist oppression.
I want to help. I want to know that my work and toil during the day does play a part in the greater picture.
“People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.”
― Bob Dylan