Thursday, 17 March 2011

Fratelli d'Italia pt. 3 - 150 Year Anniversary Edition

Garibaldi comoImage via WikipediaToday, as fate would have it, marks 150 years of Italian unity. Hurrah! A lot of Italians aren't sure it's worth celebrating, but most people will be enjoying the day off to think about it. Anyway, it's nice timing for resurrecting my series on Italian quirks:
  • Extravagant waste - This would be another thing to do with Striscia. It's a funny sort of programme; does a little bit of lots of things. One of the things it does is a bit like Watchdog, but it doesn't limit itself to consumer affairs - it deals with dodgy affairs at a political level too. One of these is wasted public money. Local councils, regions or whatever, pay to develop schools, hospitals, parks, you name it, which are then instantly abandoned. It's not too hard to explain in itself, just common or garden corruption. What I don't understand is how no-one ends up in prison for it. It's clearly a crime people aren't particularly afraid to commit, because it keeps on cropping up on Striscia, but why on earth not? It might be a bit tricky to pursue the mafia, but local politicians have offices; they're in the phone book and everything. And then, it's spectacularly obvious. It's public money wasted in a gratuitously extravagant way - in bricks and concrete, and whatever one uses these days. I mean, short of building a Wasted Public Money Memorial Hospital and then driving through the streets in one of those van with loudspeakers shouting "I am pissing away your taxes!", I'm not quite sure what you'd have to do to get arrested around these parts.
  • Precarietà vs. Cushy Public Sector - I'm rewriting this one, apparently at a distance of 5 months from the first attempt! Here's a funny thing; in the world of work, Italy has two diametrically opposed problems at the same time. Monica tells me that part about the public sector is improving, but anyway. Chronologically, the first problem is that, apparently, public sector workers are practically impossible to fire. Perhaps this says more about employers not wanting to go through disciplinary procedures, but I couldn't tell you. Anyway, they can, by common consent, get away with murder and keep their job for life. Tim Parks told an amazing story about a woman who apparently clocked in at the office, left her coat on her chair and prosituted herself all day for years until someone decided to check what the hell she actually did. The other, more recent problem is precarietà ("precariousness"), the term that Italians use to indicate that someone is on a short term contract, like practically everyone in my office for example, and especially the young. The disastrous social effects of widespread precarietà are obvious, with workers struggling to find the stability that they need to settle down, something which helps to explain why the average Italian waits so long before marrying and having children. How the hell can a government not intervene in a matter like this? Anyway, not much use waiting for Berlusconi to do anything about it. He's too busy trying to save his wrinkly (no matter how hard he tries) skin.
  • Facebook - Now, seriously. Facebook is all well and good. I like Facebook; I use it. But it's not news. Something to do with an Italian love of gadgets I expect (apparently they're second only to us in wasting time on mobile phones), but every so often there's a story about Facebook on the news, about Berlusconi being annoyed about the groups that criticise him (thousands, obviously), groups that offend people with Downs syndrome, FB-based lobbying groups (as much of a waste of time here as anywhere else, I assure you). Then of course, every programme has a Facebook group, and one of our biggest clients insists on trying to do viral marketing through FB apps - trust me, it would take a seriously compromised immune system for that particular virus to take hold. Get a grip! Who gives a cazzo volante? It's only a chuffing website.
  • Strikes -  So... why do Italians strike? I fear the answer can only be because they like striking. I'm definitely in favour of the principle of worker solidarity and striking, and Italy, like us has a long history of socialism and collective action. But here it's so futile; it's devalued currency. I can only really see it as a day off. Apparently the bus drivers strike every year, to coincide with the new school year. But how did it get this way? What happened to the Italian left that they complain so much and achieve so little? Anyway, wiser heads than mine have been trying to answer that question for a loooooooong time.
  • Scusa, ma... - I like this one. If you were translate this literally, it would be "Excuse me, but...". The perfect starting point for a quintessentially British phrase right? Such as "Excuse me, but I appear to have become enveloped in flames. Unfortunately the pain is exquisite. Could I possibly borrow some of your water?" In Italian, it's quite another story; there's no apology going on, it's a popular way of preparing the interested party for criticism. To take it to the extreme (as it might be understood on television for example, in one of the many 'healthy' debates), you might translate it as "Pardon my frankness, but I'd like to explain why you're a moron...". It's not always so pronounced of course, but in any case, sorry doesn't always mean sorry. Quite often it's the prelude to a thorough takedown.
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