Last night I had a cross-cultural moment, in my own home. Our dinner guests were what the Italians would call "left wing intellectuals" and artistic types. What often strikes me is how being cast in this role as an intellectual can blind from individual and critical thinking and cancel all curiosity. I hear the same old phrases about America and Americans repeated word for word, over and over again. They must all refer to the same, "How to Act Like an Intellectual" manual for the text. Although they have never actually talked to one, due to a lack of spoken English and a fear of integrating with the locals when visiting other Italian intellectuals living in the U.S., they have very clear ideas about who and what Americans are. In a word, uncultured, which for a left-wing Italian means not being well-versed in Italian (or European at best) culture. Tit for tat with Condolezza's firm belief that American values are universal.
Sigh. It is true. We are uncultured (in the Italian definition of cultured) and there is nothing we can do about it. It doesn't matter how many degrees and what level of knowledge, understanding and expertise we may achieve, even in a cultural field, we will never have that odor of intrinsic culture that Italian left wing intellectuals developed from their mother's milk. It is an in-group, out-group thing. We are out, by the very nature of being American. We have no history (only some odd hundreds of years, not thousands) and cannot, therefore, have a real sense of History (capital H). We do not have that culture gene in our DNA. A Fulbright scholar and internationally acclaimed expert in Medieval Italian studies, once confided her frustration at always having to defend the fact that it is indeed possible to study Italian history as a non-Italian and actually be really, really good at it, even the best! This is often received with a shaking of the head in sheer disbelief.
As usual, I listened, nodded and very diplomatically explained that, we do not receive the same bulk culture that Italians do because we have a different educational system that trains us to be forward looking, practical, pragmatic and productive, with critical thinking skills, clear, linear communications and project oriented thinking that serves our countries needs.
"Ah yes," Guilio replied, "you are not taught culture, only to be consumers and to produce," while puffing on his cigarette in our smoke-free home. Clearly not part of a left wing intellectual's ideology. In the meantime, he doesn't produce a new generation of wealth, but lives off the management of family properties.
Just a rant.