“Most of my important lessons about life have come from recognizing how others from a different culture view things.”
― Edgar H. Schein, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling
Different people or different Italian people?
A couple of weeks ago, during my visit to Fuerteventura, I’ve met two English ladies. Helen and Bridgit, both from London. Both in their mid-thirties, cute and smart. When they’ve found out I was from Italy, they went so excited that began to share of their experiences of being to Italy. Along with impressions of Italian people. Well, these impressions differed considerably…
Then it have suddenly occured to me: the two ladies had visited different parts of Italy. With two different cultures that reside within them: Northern and Southern. For the rest of the flight, I’ve felt myself as some sort of cultural interpreter explaining the differences of two riven yet co-existing Italian actualities.
This made me think… Even if Italy was unified about 150 years ago, will Italians ever become a unified nation? An example? Ask North Italian whether he likes the way South Italians talk or the way they drive? Or ask South Italian whether he finds North Italian сuisine delicious and North Italians easy to get along with? All answers will be “defenitely no”. Why? Well, this is quite curious point!
Before we get started, there are few points I would like to underline. First, as ve already stated in my very first post, I’m not some kind of a tourist guide or sociologist. So don’t expect it to be a conventional Baedeker, or a detailed academic research. Just in case.
Second, whatever I write I do it from my personal and independent standpoint. I explore facts about Italian reality which I find interesting and curious. I study them, and then I share. As much as I know, as much as I’ve learned. So, if you find my words being sceptic or offensive, trust me I’m not. Remember, I said I’m deeply in love with Italy? Well, the thing is, when you care about a particular person, a group of people or a whole country, you learn to accept them just the way they are. Both, with all their good qualities and all their defects. And the only thing you actually want, is to know them ever better. So once again, I’m not here to criticize, but to explore and share.
Italians: North vs. South
A part from political and geographical divisions or unifications, within Italy, Italians divide themselves into two broad cultural categories. More percisely: Nord (North) and Sud (South). Moreover, if not by officially accepted geopolitical division, no Italian could respond where actually does the North Italian culture ends and where the South culture begins. Therefore, the reference point once again is Rome. The capital of Italy since 1871, not by chance, is situated somewhere in between. To unify and, at the same time, to represent two different cultures in order to make them one nation. The nation, that in 2017, still doesn’t feel as one.
To begin with, North Italians are used to think of themselves as “better ones”. They are quite snobbish and apparently so self-confident, even when they are not. Among their prime values North Italians consider job, money, social opinion, branded clothes, shoes, and accessories, fine talks and prestigious companies, good restaurants and excellent wine, et cetera. Let alone resorts and vacations! North Italians are quite difficult to sutisfy… They demand luxury, at least once in a while. North Italians are hard workers passing their lifes at work place. Thus, since they give a lot of them every minute and once in a while they demand a lot.
In other words, the key word to understand most of the Nord Italians, is an appearance. North Italians have an intrinsic need to show up what they have achieved and how much do they earn. This makes them feel better, and know they are better. Both, in order to somewhat compensate all these hours they are constantly spending at work, and to defeat all inner doubts arising within them. What are these doubts? Mainly, if they live their lives the right way. They want it to be the right way. Even if most of them, like 9 out of 10, don’t feel that way. Yet, they are stuck to it.
So, the “upper level values”of North Italians may appear something superfluous. But only if one is not aware of the intensity with what Nord Italians make these values count. No wonder, often they appear as selfish. Or they just act as selfish. On every day basis.
Is there more?
Of course, North Italians do have real and profound values as well. Such as love, care about family members and friends.Yet, the true values of North Italians are somewhat hidden. They show and share them only with those they love and trust to. As for trust, even if deeply in love, North Italians are capable to emanate it only with years to come. Before that, they would view you as a “stranger”. Even if you are in a personal relationship. Or apparently friends. Collegues. Whatever. It’s as if North Italians are constantly aware of being betrayed. Hence their distrust as inner protection. And as a main cultural characteristic.
Therefore, every day North Italian conversations take one of two shapes. Norht Italians will either repeat “commonly” known things with an increasing and quite hypocritical enthusiasm with wide open smile, lacking though faking a sincere brilliance. Otherwise, North Italians will tell directly that they are not up to discuss the subject. Either way, you’ll learn as much as you are let to know, i.e. nothing. So, that’s the general picture: superfluous values and superfluous conversations. At least, as far as North Italians view you as a “stranger”. Otherwise, be patient and expect the years to pass.
By Northern Italians, their Southern compatriots are often refferd to as “Terroni”. The term is to undeerline the laziness and ignorance of Southern Italians. No need to say, the term is regard as offensive by the Southern counterpart.
Why North Italians dislike Southern compatriots?
The main reason resides in the fact that in the South Italy the industrial and economical development is very low. Hence there are few work places and few money. The economy of the Southern Italy mainly consists of agriculture and tourism, so its rather seasonal. So, the whole Southern Italy is like the drag or burden for the rest of the country.
No wonder, many young Southern Italians move to North Italy in order to find a job. Which, in its turn creates futher complications for Northern economy.
Given that in the South there is no work, no wonder many South Italians grow up lazy. They learn how to enjoy the life and often their whole life consists of seizing the moment. Yet, this doesn’t mean all South italians are lazy and incapable of hard work. Lots of them are. But they have to prove that hard as well as to assimilate culturally in order to be accepted.
True, many Southern Italians used to be ignorant time ago. Due to their family social status or, sometimes, personal choice. True, some Southern Italians remain highly ignorant still today. But there is a notable differnce between “then” and “now”. Today lots of South Italians move study ever harder and achieve even better results than Northern guys do. Moreover, most Southern youngsters face necessity to get a degree at one of the Northeren Universities in order to be accepted and find job afterwords. Needless to say that their families make huge sacrifices to allow their offsprings to study on the other part of the country.
At least, ever lower numbers of Southern Italians become “mammoni”, the feature which highly characterizes Northern Italian men. So, today, not all Southern Italians are as lazy and ignorant anymore as North Italians used to think of them. For long time yet, by the way. So, who’s ignorant aftewords?
True, South pronunciation of Italian language is something of horrible to North Italian ear. Even to mine is. I guess if we still were in ancient times, North Italians would regard the Southern counterpart as “barbarian”. Even I would.
Does all that really matter?
But what actually matters is that… Most of South Italians are really good people, open-hearted and kind. The sort of “the friend in need is friend indeed”. They may be too direct, too loudy, too inappropriate… But you do know, they are sincere. They might appear as barbarian and less civilized, yet there’s no kind of hatered or “intrinsic inner protection” which may offend the counterpart… They are earth-to-earth, they are simple, they are just as they are...
And those of North Italians that have them as friends, have learned to appereciate their friendship and kindness. Yet, this regards only firiends indeed.
I don’t judge, I portray…
What is your experience of meeting Italian people from North and South?
This post is also available in: English