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What are Italians really like?

Di Antonio Caneva, 20 Giugno 2003

I was invited to a presentation of Hapag Lloyd low-cost flights connecting the airports of Hannover and Köln / Bonn in Germany to a number of Italian cities.
It is always a pleasure for me to participate in events that involve Germany, so fascinated am I by this country. I like everything about it; the differences between its North and South, its culture, the art cities so different from ours, the very special cuisine, the difficult and intriguing language, the sound economy that produces robust and reliable goods; in short, I just thoroughly enjoy every chance I have to be in contact with Germany.
So I went to the meeting, and there I found out that in addition to the Hapag Lloyd flights there would be presentations of Hannover and Lower Saxony, a discussion on Volkswagen (the Wolfsburg Plant is few kilometres away from Hannover) and, in particular, on the Autostadt thematic park, which was created by Volkswagen and has registered several million visitors in three years.
The meeting proceeded smoothly, the speakers delivering their presentations in German with a simultaneous translation service, and the conclusive remarks were to be made by a representative of the Volkswagen thematic park. The lady, a distinguished middle-aged person, made an effort to try and speak Italian, which drew a spontaneous applause from the large group of participants.
The park is very interesting, centred on the motorcar and its evolution, with interactive spaces for visitors. Within the exhibition area, seven separate buildings are dedicated to the seven Volkswagen-owned brands, and it was at the moment of speaking about Lamborghini that the lady – until then quite self-controlled – lost her aplomb, raising her voice and rolling her eyes, and exploded into a “Lamboooorghini, sooo macho! Like Itaaalian men!”. Embarrassment among the audience who, far from feeling flattered, exchanged looks of consternation. But it might have been a momentary slip, and we returned to focus on the presentation. Unfortunately, when the topic of Lamborghini came up again, the tone was again the same, with allusive smirks and winks that left not a shadow of a doubt about the real meaning of the emphasis.
So I wonder where that lady’s representation of Italy comes from; are we really like that? I am terrified at the thought that it may be the truth: our country being something between a caricature and a clown. On reflection, though, I don’t really need to be comforted by any confirmation of the opposite: we are not like that. How can Italy, the country that attracts tourists with the beauty of its nature, its history and fascinating culture of thousands of years, the warmth of its people, the creations of haut couture, cuisine and lifestyle, be confused with stereotypes such as “machoism” with a shriek, or even worse. I think that that lady with her stereotypes, supposedly cajoling us, missed a good chance to keep quiet.

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