My name is Francesca, I am Italian and I love my country, but I also happen to love the US a lot: while living and studying abroad (I did both my MA and PhD in Ireland), I befriended many Americans, who became fantastic friends, some of them so close I consider them today as members of my own family. Paolo also contributed to this article, he is Italian, lives in the US but still goes 4 times a year to Italy and has his family in Italy.
It was thanks to my friends I visited the US and thanks to them I learnt what the US really are. I discovered about the States’ many paradoxes, but also about the kindness and openness of their people. I learnt about vanilla coffees and pumpkin pie, but also about the fact it’s much easier to cook Italian properly (i.e: finding the right ingredients!) than it’s in some European countries. I saw how different your cities are from ours, but how the beauty of both manages to touch the same strings in the heart. I think of American literature and American music and remember how much their aesthetics and their message have formed my conscience, just as much as the poetry and literature of my own country.
Italy and the US: so far apart geographically, so different. Yet, so similar and so close in values, tastes and, sometimes, attitudes.
This article’ll try to make a simple comparison between Italy and the US, looking at some fundamental aspects of their world: landscape, history, society, culture, lifestyle.
But let’s now explore the universes of Italy and the US to see what makes them different and what brings them together.
The Beauty of Nature
When it comes to the beauty of nature, it truly seems both countries are winners: because of its size, the US probably offer a larger variety of landscapes, but Italy has the Alps and the Mediterranean sea, the hills of Langhe and Chianti, they’re both breathtaking beauties. Overall however factorig inn the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Alaska , the variety of animals that you can still meet in the wild, I would give the Wilderness nature award to the
Nature Winner: US.
History and Art
Well, the history of the United States has been eventful and defining also for that of Europe in more than one occasion, especially in the past 100 years or so. That of Italy has been the same, but for longer: from the Etruscans and the Greeks, to the Roman Empire and the rise of the Renaissance, all the way through the great revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, Italy has always been at the centre of western history’s evolution.
There’s, however, a tendency to forget of the wealth of events that characterized the history of the American lands before the coming of Columbus, in other words, we often forget about Native Americans and their own history, which was rich and in full development when Europeans arrived. What makes American history before the arrival of the first settlers different from Italian history of the same period is the paucity of direct historical sources, which abound on the other hand when it comes to the history of Italy. Even when archaeological sources of pre-Colombian times are available, such as in the case of the Puebloan people of North America, they are temporally coeval to the Italian early Middle Ages, hence much later than, say, the Roman Republic or the Punic Wars.
Italy is rich in history and culture and so are the US; however, when it comes to sources about such history and culture, or their vestiges (also in the form of buildings and artefacts), those related to Italy are more and go back further in time.
History Winner : Italy
I think that, by definition, American culture is the epitome of multiplicity: it’s not uncommon to hear people talk about it as a “melting pot,” and it seems to be very much true. Italy also has cultural differences, especially visible when considering the country’s northern, central and southern regions, yet, culture seems to be more of a cohesive entity than in the US. Of course, we’re talking about “culture” in its sense of “heritage” here, but what about culture as history, art and all that stuff we learn in school?
Well, in this case, of course, both countries are winners: as we said while discussing history, Italy has the advantage of having been at the centre of it all for a much longer time, but the US have been hugely influential in the arts and social habits and behaviors in the past 100 years much more, probably, than Italy has been. So let’s be happy: when it comes to culture, both Italy and the USA are pretty amazing.
Here’s where, I think, differences become more evident and a definite gap appears between Italy and the US. Let’s start from saying one thing: ours are countries where it’s good to live. There are pros and cons on both sides, but ultimately we chose pretty amazing places to be born in. That said, let’s see what’s similar and what’s different between the US and Italy when it comes to social issues, bureaucracy, integration.
Bureaucracy and the Fiscal System
This is a no brainer: the US beat Italy. Hands down. Il Bel Paese has one of the worst fiscal systems in the world, weighting on people’s shoulders hugely: any given Italian sees about 50% of his/her income go in taxes every year. Of course, there are advantages in it, for instance, every Italian has free healthcare since birth, but the more we go on and the more we Italians start wondering if it’s all worth it.
WINNER US ( hands down)
Lifeinitaly discussed the topic of Italian and US healthcare at length, and the considerations expressed in that article still stand true: Italy has certainly a better healthcare, because it’s largely provided for free. Of course, there are issues, too, long waiting lists being probably the main, and the obvious disparity between healthcare in the North and in the South coming a close second. Yet, considering the situation in many other first world countries, we can consider ourselves relatively lucky.
So, yes: Italy wins the healthcare battle.
The Job Market
Finding a job is much easier in the US than it’s in Italy. Under-34 unemployment is at 44% in Italy, one of the highest percentages in Europe. On a good side, Italy’s pension system is as good as the American, but il Bel Paese offers to its workers more holidays per year than the US.
Italy, however, is crippled by a series of issues which makes getting the job you deserve more difficult. Meritocracy is virtually inexistent, whereas nepotism is rampant, which explains also why public offices and universities (where nepotism is notoriously common) work so badly. Which brings me to the next issue, that of…
Here, the US are winners, without a doubt. In spite of being home to the oldest university in existence, Bologna, and having held for centuries the sceptre of cultural centre of the world, Italian third level education is mediocre if compared to what’s offered by anglo-saxon countries, US included. From a didactic point of view, the Italian system neglects grossly the development of critical and analytical skills, which are essential for a proper cultural formation and also very useful once students hit the job market. Instead, Italian universities focus largely on pedantic learning: usually, any form of independent, source-supported thinking is frowned upon. Moreover in Italy, the relationship between students and lecturers is very different from what you’d expect in a US university: exchanges are usually stiff, formal and have little formative value.
On a good side, Italian third level education is less expensive than its American counterpart. The same can be said for most European countries, though, so if you’re planning to get your degree abroad, just avoid Italy altogether…
The US very much dictates the way most other countries, Italy included, act internationally. The States have a higher political and military weight than Italy, which only works as an ally and usually follows their chosen line of action.
Integration and Racism
A delicate topic, especially at this very moment in time.
We mentioned already how the US, by definition, are a multi-cultural nation. They were born, developed and prospered thanks to immigration and the very presence of so many cultures, heritages and etnicities has made the US unique and strong. One would assume that such an etnically and culturally multi-faceted nation would have little issues related to racism, yet we know it’s not true. Italy has never known racial diversity until very recently in its history and, in a certain way, we Italians are still learning how to deal with it.
Both countries have been experiencing a series of worrying, race related issues in the past months: a surge of crime against the African American community in the US, a rise of intolerance toward immigrants in Italy. Racism in the US however has, so to speak, more ancient roots, especially when it’s addressed towards the African American community.
In Italy, racism develops from a profound sense of social injustice, perceived by citizens as caused by the presence of immigrants. When digging under the surface, however, it becomes quite evident that in Italy the problem has political causes: government after government, Italy has failed to control a phenomenon, that of illegal immigration, that quickly went out of hand. People would come to the country without documents and without any means to be traced and recognized. Hosted in first rescue centres, they would disappear in large numbers and become inexistent to the state, yet very well present in our streets and in society, as they have often very little choice but accepting to be exploited as workforce by ruthless land owners, or turning to crime to keep alive.
Regular immigrants and refugees are a different thing, yet their presence has been creating problems, too. The country receives EU money to provide for them, who are hosted a bit everywhere in hotels and resorts; many feels the same type of treatment should be granted to Italian people (and there are many, unfortunately) who no longer have a home or a job, and for whom there’s, at the moment, little or no protection. Some criminal events happened in recent months at the hand of rescue centres guests have also increased people’s intolerance towards immigrants.
I’ll be honest here: are Italian intolerant? Yes, many of us are. Are we right to be? Intolerance is never the right answer, but we do have reasons to be outraged: outraged at the lack of control over a migratory flux our country cannot sustain. Outraged at the lack of control on people who enter the country, which creates in return an escalation of race-inspired hatred and intolerance. Outraged at the world of politics, which is answering demagogically to the issue, that is, by speaking and not acting properly. This is not the immigrants’ fault, nor the Italian people’s fault: as it always happens, it’s the highest echelons of the social ladder that play dirty with the lives of the rest of us.
Quality of Life
Let’s talk about something lighter: who enjoys life better, the Americans or the Italians? In truth, the quality of life is great in both countries, provided of course you work and have a decent income, but that’s true for everywhere in the world. Many find the Italian way of living much more relaxed and ultimately better for the coronaries than the American, especially if you also throw in Italy’s natural healthy attitude to food and cuisine. At the same time, such a laid back approach to everyday life can be just as stressful as a high pitched one: efficiency is certainly not Italy’s best characteristic, the US are much, much better at that than we’re.
Italy’s said to have a better social life, as we tend to go out more often during the week, for aperitivi or just to have dinner with friends. Much of Italians’ socializing revolves around eating, food and cooking, all occasions to bond and catch up with friends and families, even on a work day. When the weekend comes, we do hit the pubs and the clubs, too, of course. These stay usually open until the early hours of the morning, which means we often stay out until breakfast time: in fact, one of Italy’s best loved weekend habits is to grab fresh croissants at the bakery when it opens, before going home after a night out.
Americans and Italians love sports and get very attached to the teams they support: we’re sport fans at heart. I have the impression we’re also both “sportivi da poltrona,” that is, armachair sports people: we love to watch sports, but we barely practice it. Proof of it are the high level of obesity in the US and the fact Italians are getting also heavier and heavier each year.
We’ve come to the end of our brief excursus on the differences and similarities between Italy and the US: what do you make of it? Do you agree with these considerations or feel like there is more be added? ‘Til next time…