Holiday in Italy

For all its sleek technology, Italy is still an old country, not just in terms of buildings and art, but in more ways than meet the eye. The sewers of Rome use the same channels the ancients used to flush out the city’s waste. Silversmiths and violin-makers use techniques developed in the Middle Ages. Family companies go back several hundred years. Mostly, though, Italy is an old place in terms of people’s manners. Italians abide by a time-tested decorum that governs every social gathering, every business deal, and every romantic interlude”the sorts of rules that, if they ever existed in North America, were thoroughly wiped out over the last century. Certainly, some of these unwritten rules have changed in Italy, too. Young people don’t speak to their elders as formally as they once did, for example. People don’t go to church as often as they used to. That shift away from piety and ceremony has opened the gates for a number of changes, such as the cohabitation of unmarried couples, one of many social norms that were unheard of in Italy 50 years ago. But beware: Not every stratum of Italian society abides by the same rules. Values in Italy change from family to family. How you act and the things you should say in front of certain people also depend on considerations such as political affiliation, geography”the South tends to be more traditional than the North”and, above all, a person’s upbringing. Ethnicity and Class Everyone sees what you appear to be, few touch what you are. Machiavelli, The Prince To an outsider, the line between Italian classes can be difficult to distinguish, because everyone seems so effortlessly well dressed and well mannered. Most city-dwellers at least feign an interest in the arts, and all the other erstwhile hallmarks of the aristocracy have since been usurped by even the man on the street. Italians, however, are acutely aware and perceptive about a person’s background and, more importantly, what people think about their own.

Unlike in the United States or much of Western Europe, in Italy scrutinizing someone’s background does not often involve trying to decipher an ethnicity, for example, for the very simple reason that 90- something percent of the population is ethnically Italian. If you’re not, it’s pretty obvious. Now, trying to define an ethnic Italian would be rather difficult. Right through the last century this region had always been the melting pot of the world for Etruscans, Gauls, Greeks, Sikuls, Romans, Huns, Goths, Lombards, Slavs, Austrians, French, Spanish, you name it; the list of tribes and nationalities to conquer and settle the peninsula is probably longer than in any other state in the Old World. In the past 100 years, though, or at least right up to the 1990s, any significant migration was in the opposite direction. What was left in this ethnic and linguistic crucible”now more easily defined because people speak, for the most part, the same language”is what we will refer to here as an Italian ethnicity.

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Holidays in Italy

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