Journal Summary 24-4-09 Closing shop:
These last two weeks have seen the close of my internship and the wrapping up of my time in Italy. I’ve been cataloging and summarizing my experiences – contemplating the information and value I take with me as I prepare to journey forward.
Every morning at 7 am I awoke, prepared for work. By 7:30 I left the house and walked to the metro station with my fellow sleep-deprived human beings. Down the steep steps, I stumbled into the Metro. Work culture dominates here. International culture as well. Italian values are ever present but muted in comparison to the countryside. More on that in a paragraph….After rising from the bowels of the underworld, I put on a great big grin and enter the consulate. Inside is a bastion of American customs, tradition and language. Work is a mixture of discovery, research, creation, and training in the proper way to socialize on a political level. As an essential part of each day I read two national newspapers and the International Herald Tribune. Keeping abreast of Italian national events and politics. Work is a joy.
Outside of work I find that for my Italian friends their culture is changed by Milan, by the city and the business and finance heart of Italy. Food is paramount; it is a vital – irrevocable part of Italian culture. When it comes to any decision or cultural comparison the first words spoken by an Italian are about the differences in food. The recent law passed on eating outside small restaurants? A prod against small ethnic shops that serve take out kebabs etc – non traditional Italian eating or food. Want to have a meeting? Lunch or dinner. Need to schedule some time to get to know someone or make friends? Better head to the local appertivo (buy 1 drink, eat as much as you want).
In even running with food is Italian family. Most Italians live with their families until they outgrow the home. Even then it may be more important to move with the family than without. Unless there is no work to be found, sons and daughters stay with the family until marriage. Then they join another family unit and combine the two into one passionate, fierce conglomeration.
International culture has dulled this relationship to a point. As poignant as their culture is, a focus on isolationist individualism, combined with a material focus stemming from financial wealth and international trade, has begun to tear and push against the typical Italian customs. As business people become more international to meet the exported global business model, they must leave behind some of what makes them who they are.
Luckily this process is extremely prolonged for Italians, who seem to linger and resist any type of change. Their financial system resisted the worst of the economic crash because its banking system was so conservative and fragmented that there were no major institutions that could fail. However, Italy is an exporting country, and like every exporter, the meltdown of the market cut demand and has hit the export sector hard. These thoughts weigh heavily on the Italian mind as they culturally return to family core and community/central government safety nets to survive this decline. To see their return is a pleasure. A quick reversion to cultural identity from the general business format impressed upon them.
In the last few weeks a major disaster occurred in the central part of Italy. In L’Aquila a major earthquake shattered the town and its history. It is an example of how much of a city’s identity is held within the homes and families it contains. As plans for the reconstruction continue forward, Italian news have run repeated articles on how important it is to fix the ruined buildings and not tear them down. They reference three other cities destroyed by natural disasters where the residents left and would not return. Their history, the places that held so much cultural history and memory for them as well as for their family were destroyed, leveled, their history removed – they had no reason to return.
My final thoughts on Italy? A beautiful country full of strong-willed, traditional people who value community and history and the joys of life above the material demands of the world. Different and yet again similar to my own culture. Local history far outweighs country history. In many ways Italians are still culturally related to city states. Their homes and lives are based of their local histories combined with the national pride.
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