Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "Privacy".
In Italy the British are famous for their supposed love of privacy and Italians even use the English term for the concept. Thus it is that I often find myself explaining that my compatriots' perceived "coldness" or lack of curiosity is really just British reserve or the Anglo-Saxon virtue of leaving the other chap alone unless he asks you to become involved in his troubles.
We are, I tell my Italian friends and students, just as interested as they are in the lives of others and I ask them if they have ever, whilst on holiday in Britain, seen a net curtain twitch. The British, after all, have some of the most intrusive media in the world and there is no tolerance for those who fall foul of it or, like the late Diana, Princess of Wales, fail to understand it.
Just a few miles away but across a significant stretch of water, things are very different, however: When it was publically revealed that President Mitterand of France had a second, "secret" family, his countrymen deemed the matter to be largely his own business. In Britain he would have been hounded and, of course, political scandals such as those being revealed almost daily in Italy would not be tolerated. In fact, whenever I hear a British Prime Minister announcing his "support" for some hapless colleague whose lustful instincts have ruled his or her head, I know that that politician will resign very shortly indeed.
Italy's privacy laws* do set out to protect the ordinary citizen, though, and a blogger in this country would have to be very reckless to publish a non-public-domain photo of someone without his or her permission. A few months ago I wrote that I had managed, using a photo editing programme, to restore a faded photo of my first Italian boyfriend to its former glory after 40 years and several commenters asked me why I hadn't published it. The answer is that I daren't.
But nowhere were my own concepts of privacy more challenged than in a Sicilian hospital, where I had to spend some time three years ago: I want to say at the outset that the medical care I received was excellent and I will always be grateful for that. However, being examined in full view of the other patients in the ward - there were no partitions or curtains that could be drawn around the beds - was somewhat disconcerting, as was having your case discussed within their hearing. Once I was in the loo when a group of doctors on the ward ruminated upon the best course of action for me and I learnt about my future medication not from them, but from the solicitous patient in the bed opposite. This lady also appointed herself as my dietician and my advice to anyone having to undergo a similar hospital stay is to surrender your privacy gracefully, for the rewards of doing so are great.
The trouble with privacy, it seems to me, is that we all have a different concept of what it entails and this can happen across or within cultures: I once had a foreign colleague who kept turning up at my home without warning at inconvenient times and I couldn't work out why he wanted to spend so much time with me, for there was no romantic interest. I was flabbergasted when he told me that he had never, until he came to Britain at the age of 31, spent as long as one minute of his life alone. I was almost as surprised when a young Sicilian friend told me that when she gets married she will move into a house situated between that of her mother and that of her mother-in-law but, as she says, what she loses in privacy she will gain in helping hands and she will certainly not lack willing babysitters when the time comes!
Another friend here, who has had six children in as many years, does not seem to need personal space at all and perhaps that is just as well! Yet, paradoxically, this friend is more capable than most of understanding that a single life with all the privacy you want - and some that you don't - is not always a joyride.
So there we have it: some have their privacy thrust upon them whilst others give it up for security, family, fame or, unintentionally, to satisfy other desires. In a world in which we are all increasingly observed, what would you give up yours for?
* Italian privacy laws are under review as I write and there is concern that they may be used to silence some bloggers. This is a political matter which I do not want to expand upon here but you can read more about it in this post at Alex's.
Below is a full list of blogs participating in this theme: