It is a sad but undeniable fact that Italy, if it wishes to compete in the 21st century, has to change. The question is not so much whether it will do so, but whether it actually wants to compete. A foreigner observing the current immobile economy could be forgiven for believing that it does not but a five-minute conversation with any member of the country's young, educated, cultured but unemployed masses would lead him to reconsider, for these young people are clearly frustrated beyond endurance.
Change is often unpleasant, especially when thrust upon us by outside forces and an Italy ready to change most of its habits would not be the Italy that so many of us love so dearly, for the very things that exasperate us about the country are also those which we admire: seemingly endless summer holidays, long lunchtime closures which always begin just as we have arrived at some tourist spot, the ability to "worry about it tomorrow", the shop assistant who holds up the queue [or what passes for a queue] by chatting to the customer for too long but at the same time shows that she cares.... aren't these the characteristics that make us all wish we were Italian?
British schoolchildren wish they were Italian too when they hear about the three-month holiday that their contemporaries enjoy here and I'm sure that they would, had they known about it, have empathised with Italian students' dismay when Mr Monti announced on Monday that a plan to curtail the school summer break was under consideration. A quick look at the Twitter feed on the subject revealed that the idea had not gone down well, to say the least, with teachers taking the news personally and working mothers, who in another country might have welcomed the proposal, up in arms. Most of the commenters seemed to be of the opinion that Italy has more urgent problems than the length of school holidays to solve.
Yet the beleaguered Mr Monti may have been on to something: could this have been the beginning of a move to bring Italian working practices into a form which would at least be recognisable to the rest of Europe? Something to stop the British, for instance, smirking in that superior way of theirs and remarking that they "are not paying taxes to Europe so that people in the Mediterranean area can lie on the beach for three months"?
When an Italian politician suggested shortening the lunch break a few years ago there was an outcry, particularly in the South, but those who criticise the long, leisurely family lunch forget that it is too hot down here to do anything anyway and the importance of this time for family cohesion [which, let's face it, countries like my own lack to a tragic degree]. Opening hours, however, are another matter, particularly in areas that are more than ever dependent on tourism to survive.
Yes, there is something wonderful about a country that can look disaster in the eye and then point out that it was here long before the technological age and will be here long after it but even a defender of Italy like me has to admit that the country does have a tendency to go a sunbed too far in summer.
I am able to reassure you, though, that the mothers, teachers and hard done-by schoolchildren of Italy are resting serenely in their beds tonight, for, within hours of Mr Monti's announcement, candidates on his Scelta Civica electoral list acted in unison to deny the existence of any plans to curtail the school summer holidays. Now if only they could take such decisive action on the economy.....