Thursday, August 30, 2012


"Bisogna adunque essere golpe a conoscere e lacci, e lione a sbigottire e lupi."
"It is nescessary, therefore, to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves."
- Niccolò Machiavelli:  Il Principe

It's been a great week for British humour - unless, that is, you happen to be a Windsor - and it's set me thinking about the differences between Italian and British humour.

Unless you've been living on Mars, you'll know all about the Prince Harry pictures and there have been some headlines and puns worthy of the Bard himself in the British press.  Many Brits have taken Harry to their hearts, regarding him as a bit of a "Jack the lad" who can at least make us laugh and a lot of the menfolk envy him.  Then there is the view that this is a young man who is a serving soldier and if he wants to let off steam in this way on a private holiday, so what?  I can agree with this up to a point but would add that it is not his soldier's salary that allows the young prince to stay in hotel rooms costing £5,000 per night.  You could counter by arguing that he comes from a wealthy family so must have been using his own money and a response to that would depend on your attitude to inherited wealth and privilege. Either way, the prince's security detail are paid for by the British taxpayer so it's not a clear-cut matter of a "private" holiday, as it might have been had the matter involved some vacuous celebrity.  

My Italian friends were surprised when I mentioned the security aspects of the affair as this had not occurred to them and some genuinely thought that the British press [until the "Sun" published the pictures] were "afraid" of the Queen. "Not the Queen but a possible new privacy law", said I and a discussion ensued in which the prince's capers were compared with those of Mr Berlusconi. The Italians felt that the Berlusconi scandals were worse as he held political office whilst I argued that the difference was that Italians could, if they wished, have voted Mr Berlusconi out [I stopped myself from adding, "But you didn't"] whereas it would take more than the franchise to oust the Windsors. 

Italians do get the joke, though and have been giggling along with the rest of us at the facebook pictures of naked soldiers covering up their private parts in ever more ingenious ways as they salute one of their own.  A great deal of Italian humour, you see, is pretty ribald and it is considered quite in order to ridicule a man's virility. On the Saturday and Sunday night chat show Che tempo che fa, genial host Fabio Fazio exchanges banter with comic Luciana Littizetto, who also treats us to a genuinely funny and ironic commentary on the week's news.  Then there will be a little innuendo before la Littizetto tells us that "The only hard thing about Fabio is his knee" or some other such detail which the Italian audience finds hilarious.

I actually rather like la Littizetto, who in February will make a pleasant change from the Belen and Canalis type of glamour girl when she co-presents the Sanremo Song Festival with Fabio Fazio.  That is to say, I like her until the moment when she curls up, legs askew, on Fabio's desk and starts sticking her chewing gum under it.  This is mainly because I have an inborn antipathy to naturally thin women who can curl up on a desk, especially when they also have naturally thin legs.  La Littizetto, when she is not being small and cute, can look just like a neighbour with whom you would compare prices at the supermarket - indeed she plays one in a TV advertisement - and that is part of her charm.  She can act, too.

Che tempo che fa, 19.2.12 - Luciana Littizetto's take on the news [including Sanremo and Belen Rodriguez]

Italians, like the British, have the ability to be self-deprecating and laugh at themselves. [How else could they have put up with some of their awful politicians for so long?]  They can also be extremely ironic and the example that comes to mind is that of Mariastella Gelmini, Minister of Education in the last Berlusconi government.  Not a popular figure with many teachers and students because of swathing cuts she had made in expenditure on education,  in September last year the unfortunate Minister made a gaffe for which she will probably be remembered long after her policies are forgotten: referring to the Abruzzo Gran Sasso Laboratory, where neutrinos that travel at the speed of light were recorded, she said that Italy had contributed to the building of a tunnel between the Gran Sasso and CERN in Switzerland.  Any such tunnel would have had to be 750 km long and of course it didn't exist. The twitter feed filled up with tunnel jokes and the queries of worried parents who no longer felt that they could entrust the education of their precious offspring to one as uninformed as la Gelmini.

The Italian press loved the "Gelmini Tunnel" and it loved the Harry story this week  but you know its journalists are perplexed by the British when they start referring to us as "i sudditi di Sua Maestà"  ["Her Majesty's subjects"] and they were certainly perplexed by this week's lion story!  If you are not from Britain, you may not know that campers near Clacton-on-Sea in Essex reported seeing a lion on the loose on Sunday night and people in the area were advised to stay indoors.  As armed police and helicopters swarmed to the area, did my compatriots go into lockdown mode?  No, they carried on much as usual and continued to go "down the pub".  I couldn't help smiling as the landlady of the nearest pub was interviewed, saying she was "a bit worried" but that her customers were still coming.  That's the kind of reaction that makes you strangely proud to be British!  On this occasion , too, twitter came into its own:  "Essex girl" and her companion "Essex man" are unflattering stereotypes in popular culture [better that you read about them here] so when, within minutes of the "lion" news breaking, a twitter account in the name of "Essex Lion" was opened, the tweeting party went on all night.  This puzzled a lot of my Italian twitter friends and I reflected that, had a lion been on the prowl here, everybody would have barricaded themselves in [elegantly, with good food on the stove and packs of cards to pass the time, it must be said].  As the night wore on and Sunday merged into Monday I think someone must have called Moody's because the poor old lion was downgraded, first to a "big dog", then to a "wildcat" and finally, yesterday, to a domestic cat called "Teddy Bear".  But the British are nothing if not stubborn, as many would-be invaders have found out,  and as I write  this on Wednesday night, there are still folk in Essex who are convinced they saw a lion despite the fact that the police called off their search yesterday morning.

In the Italian press we are "i sudditi di Sua Maestà" again.


Sean Jeating said...

THE LION, THE PRINCE AND THE TUNNEL and below all: Victoria Beckham ...
Glorious, Lady Limoncello.

James Higham said...

Welshcakes - I'm sure you didn't actually look at those pics, being a lady and all.


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