June 26, 2007

Drinking codes

A friend sent this NY Times article on Rome’s new kind of tourist – the “lets have a party and throw it in Europe” variety that travel from country to country in a drunken slur and call it a “European adventure”. Rome used to be off the circuit, attracting those inclined to share a bottle of wine with friends and a large plate of pasta instead of slugging down endless beers and shots in Campo de’Fiori. Not that this behavior is unusual in other European and American cities, but it is new here, and not very welcome by local residents. Until really quite recently, Roman youth didn’t do the drinking thing. A beer (or coke) with pizza, piazza and a whirl on the motorino provided nightlife.

Not to be nostalgic, but the change is jarring, especially since it is being forced on Italian youth by the barbaric hoards that have descended on the city (including approx. 7,000 American study abroad students that pass through over the year) and the mass media. Until now, Italians have stood on the sidelines, watching the spectacle, but not joining in. That too will change.

In connection with a course I taught a few years ago for a study abroad program on, “Contemporary Italian Society”, one student did a final paper on the differences in drinking cultures between US and Italian youth. She interviewed students, talked to local pubs, performed ethnological sightings on the weekends and concluded that the different approach to drinking was fundamentally an outgrowth of the bella figura -- that intrinsic Italian need to always act in good taste, to put forward one’s best as a way of showing respect to others, to maintain aesthetic standards at all times. She found this explanation amazing and profound.

I also think she moved one step down the road of cross-cultural understanding. I wonder if she put some of that knowledge into her suitcase when she returned home?

A domani,


Kataroma said...

How would you explain the extreme rudeness of public officials here and the tendency of people to cut in front of eachother in line (even while being yelled at by all of the people who were ahead of the person) in light of the whole 'bella figura' thing?

I guess I just read your post at a bad moment - but I went to the USL clinic today to try to retrieve my blood test results (my second attempt at retrieving the results and third visit to the clinic) and not only did an older woman blatantly refuse to take a number and try to go right in front of me as I approached the sportello - but the guy behind the sportello was really rude and nasty to me for no reason. Kind of a "brutta figura" - or does it not matter when you don't know the people you're dealing with?

Elizabeth said...

It sounds like you had a very bad day...
I think you hit it on the head in your last line, there is a division, an "in-group" and "out-group" thing and if you are not in their circle of people that are treated like people, you are invisible and treated like an alien with no rights to common curtesy. Another side to the group thing.
I am still amazed at how workers (at the supermarket or the hospital) talk to each other without acknowledging that you exist!
Hope tomorrow goes a bit better, and it will. big hug, E

Kataroma said...

Thanks Elizabeth. I feel better now but I was nearly in tears yesterday at the USL clinic. They were just so nasty to me and that old lady who just went in front of me had absolutely no shame even when I called her on it. So when reading your "bella figura" post - I just thought "what bella figura"? I mean, you don't see much "bella figura" when you're dealing with the public health service here. Or do all the people who care about "bella figura" have private health insurance and go to pricey private clinics?

I'm seriously thinking about getting private health insurance as ridiculously extravagant as this seems. I just can't cope anymore with the chaos of Italian hospitals and clinics and basic rudeness to sick people- especially as we're thinking of maybe having a baby soonish. I figure if I pay them then they have to be nice to me, right?

Elizabeth said...

I have had good and bad experiences in both public and private health services here. You can have higher expectations in terms of creature comforts / service in private clinics, but you can also get excellent medical care in public structures. In an emergency you want to head to a public structure though, as they are better equiped and have all the necessary doctors and machines on call. It does help to have a doctor friend who can orient you and open a few doors....