Culture /

Editor’s Letter: Italians’ Tumultuous Relationship with Their Country

“A relationship for those who love strong emotions and a bit of healthy masochism.”

The relationship we Italians have with our country is complicated to say the least. A relationship of love and hate. A tumultuous one. 

A relationship formed by a great sense of frustration, of evasion and at the same time, of profound love. Italy is a bit like those indelible partners, who make you go through tutte le pene dell’inferno (all the pains of hell), but are impossible to leave behind because nothing and no one else will ever make you feel the way they do. A relationship for those who love strong emotions and a bit of healthy masochism.

Seventy governments (one every 13 months on average) since the proclamation of the republic in 1945–this is Italy’s claim to fame. 

A country where a big part of the population is living in what would be considered, elsewhere, absolute poverty; where paying “a nero” (using cash to avoid taxes) is still considered normal; where organized crime, in one form or another, is still very much an everyday reality for many. 

“Io la tassa la pago tutti i mesi, non ho alternativa, mica posso andarmene e portare via famiglia e amici”.

“I pay the “tax” [to the mafia] every month, I have no alternative,” blurted out our frustrated driver on our early morning ride from Catania city center to the airport. 

A country where bureaucracy reigns supreme; where opening a company or getting any governmental document processed or filed requires excessive procedures, digitizations and delays. A country where the young generation runs away in the hope of being taken seriously or finding a fair opportunity; where the idea of opening a startup is a real wild adventure, one we ourselves are not sure we would recommend despite the fact that we cherish every day of Italy Segreta’s existence. A country where frustration is your worst enemy, and patience and a pinch of sarcasm are your best allies.

We can’t deny, and are not here to hide, that some aspects of Italy are dysfunctional, crumbling, crime-ridden and messy. But on the other end, who else in the world has the Dome of Brunelleschi, the fountain of Bernini, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, archeological sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum, ancient towns like Matera right outside their doorstep? Not to mention our culture, traditions and food, which the whole world tries to mimic and export. No matter what country you visit, you can be sure of one thing: there will be an Italian restaurant.

Ogni scarrafone è bello a mamma sua.” (“Every cockroach is beautiful to its mother.”)

We are a country of artisans, inventors, creators, writers, scientists and artists. A country where health and education is for everyone and where, we once read, there is “a certain permission to be human, an aspect many countries have lost long ago.” 

Our beauty not only lies in the country’s soul, but in its geographical formation—mountains, hills, valleys and sea all somehow connected and densely packed. Jagged cliffs give way to the sea, where you stare back from the water and think to yourself, “Who are the mad people who decided to build towns on these impossibly steep slopes?”

Nonetheless, we still live on tourism and are ready to compromise our beauty for it. To give away our identity, lower the quality and destroy the little authenticity we have left.

While the whole world would like to be Italian, dress Italian, eat Italian, come on holiday in Italy and be in any way possible affiliated to our country, we seem to often forget what we have.

We ask you… can you only imagine what it would be like if we joined our forces, if we all appreciated and protected what already exists, if we would support the small local realities and instead of escaping elsewhere, we worked on healing and rebuilding this country? 

If only we realized that there is no need to take a 12-hour flight to the Maldives when you have Sardinia’s crystal clear waters a ferry ride away; that we have little to envy of the French and the Swiss (you can’t even find bombardino, a sweet alcoholic drink for the ski slopes, there!); that you can’t compare farmed salmon from Norway to a nice local gallinella fish; that our maremmane buffalo cannot be found anywhere else in the world; that the real MADE IN ITALY is a true art, not just a label; that uno spaghetto al pomodoro come si mangia a casa propria non si mangia da nessun’altra parte (you can’t eat spaghetti al pomodoro anywhere else like you eat it at your own home). 

We are not saying don’t leave and explore. Going away is good. It enriches us. Instead, we are inviting you to believe a little in our dream of making this country a better place and to not give up–beautiful things are worth fighting for. Let’s not kid ourselves: when we are away, all we do is think of home, of grandma, of that plate of spaghetti.

The truth is that we are a little lazy and beaten down by our system. We give up because there is so much bureaucracy. Sometimes we get dizzy and a little complacent because changing or moving forward in Italy is not easy. We don’t blame you. 

Relationships, especially difficult ones, need a lot of patience, consistency, and work.

L’amore non è bello se non è litigarello(“Love is not beautiful if not quarrelsome.”)

We know the most beautiful relationships are never easy.

Dolce far niente” certainly doesn’t rhyme with “productivity”, but maybe if we all believe in our country a little more, if we don’t let it corrupt us, if we give it some love and time, Italy will become not only a beautiful place to vacation, but a country that supports its people–the way it was meant to be. 

It is up to us Italians to make a difference, to put in that extra time and effort, and to believe that we can do better for ourselves, our neighbors and everyone we touch. 

The grass may seem greener elsewhere, but it will never be as beautifully messy, nostalgic and fragrant as ours.