Thursday, October 18, 2012


Comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo's Sicilian tour has set me thinking about roles for, if he has a problem here other than convincing Sicilians to abandon the status quo, it is a particularly Italian view of people and their roles.  It works like this:

If you are a lawyer you will be expected to behave like a lawyer at all times and it will occur to no one that you might ever need to relax, so you will have to dispense legal advice wherever you are - on the beach, at a café table or from your car window as you speed past another driver that you know.  In exchange, you will be addressed as avvocato by everyone for the rest of your life, even in the unlikely event that you give up the law to become a shoeshine boy. And talking of shoes, if you happen to sell them, it would be regarded as eccentric, if not mad, to sell clothes as well.  Thus small towns like Modica have no department stores and no one [except me] misses them. This conformity, then, goes for places too, so the pharmacy doesn't sell perfumes, the supermarkets don't have pharmacies [though some deregulation has been mooted, to widespread protest] and when the underwear store started selling jumpers a few years ago it was regarded as a revolution.

A revolution, of course, is exactly what Italy needs, preferably with a 21st century economic miracle thrown in.  If we think back to another economic miracle, that of Japan in the post-war years, we may remember that one of the ways in which it was achieved was to put everybody, from managing director to apprentice, in company uniform and, when necessary but also in order to boost morale, chief executives worked on the shop floor.

Could such a thing ever happen in Italy?  In a country where, even during their busiest periods, bank and post office managers would not dream of taking their turn at the counters to reduce queues, it would require a sea change in attitudes. Managers are supposed to manage and to do that it is assumed that they must wear a suit and walk around looking important. Only in extreme circumstances would they suggest to their employees that they should try to complete transactions more quickly and I have seen this happen only once in my seven years of interminable waiting in such institutions.

In An Italian in Britain the Corriere della Sera journalist Beppe Severgnini observes, with some surprise, that in Britain,

"On weekends you can dress as you please.  A politician will let himself be interviewed walking his dog in the countryside wearing an ancient jumper and everyone seems to find this perfectly normal."

So there you have it, Mr Grillo:  a politician is not to be photographed doing mundane tasks like walking the dog, he wears a suit all the time and he probably shouldn't be a comedian too -  well, not intentionally, anyway.   However, it is just possible that the sea change began when you swam the Strait of Messina last week . For all our sakes, I hope so.


Whispering Walls said...

Bring back Garibaldi!

Rosaria Williams said...

Hard to change a country that can point at buildings and institutions from pre-historic times.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Ha, WW. Hard but necessary, Rosaria.


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