domenica 28 settembre 2008

A Sunday Lesson

I've just got back from fair Verona, which, instead of being populated by warring nobility and star-cross'd lovers as one would normally expect, was full of large Scottish men in kilts, brandishing tree-trunks and bagpipes in their enormous, hairy arms. As I mentioned before, this weekend was the annual “Tocati” festival of street games, and Scotland was the guest of honour, and I was staying with my friends there. I'll write more about the festival when I've uploaded the pictures from my camera, but for now, I want to write about something that I've been thinking about since yesterday evening.

One of the things that interests me a lot here is the way that Italians treat their children. I actually find myself observing this everywhere. Poor people in Scotland scream at them and bribe them with sweets, while Morningside mummies are ridiculously reasonable with their terrible two-year-olds. In France, kids are expected to behave like mini-adults, while I noticed several times in Ireland that they got treated just like, well, children. And everybody knows that Italians love their children to bits, spoil them a bit too much and do their sons' washing until a suitable girl can be found to do it for them, right? Well...

I met a child at the weekend who was pretty badly behaved. He was rude, loud and generally naughty and neither his mum nor any of the other adults we were with told him off or did anything about it. In fact, most of the other adults were being really nice and pretty indulgent with him, talking away and telling him what a great kid he was. At this point, it was really tempting to judge the child (he's horrible) the mother (she obviously lets him get away with murder, and Italians in general (so they do spoil their children, and look at what can happen!).
What I later found out, though, was that this boy's dad had recently died of cancer, not long after his little sister was born. Suddenly it was clear that there was every excuse for him to be a bit naughty and every excuse for his poor mum not to be picking him up for every little thing and every reason for people to be extra nice to him.

So, the lesson in all of this is seems to be: don't judge (or at least, not too soon), don't generalise (or at least, not too much) and always give people a chance to show their good side. It sounds obvious written down like that, but it's so easy to do the opposite, particularly when you're abroad. How many British people, for example, are convinced that the French are rude, judging solely by the people that they've met at supermarket checkouts and at the ticket office in the train station?

The reason for the parentheses, however, is that judging and generalising, in some contexts, are necessary, useful, and sometimes downright entertaining. So if I do it in the future, please don't...umm...judge me. There is a reason. And if you would like to disagree, that's what the comments box is for!

I think this next bit comes under the category of “entertaining”.

I wrote last time that I was a little bit disappointed that my only “foreign” experience last week was eating meatballs in Ikea. I forgot to mention, however, that sitting across from us in the cafe, perched on a minimalist plastic Swedish stool, also eating a plateful of meatballs, dressed in a grey and white habit, was a nun. Surely that counts as an authentically Italian experience?

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