I have talked about the cultural differences regarding following rules many times on this blog, as it is one of the most famous cultural stereotypes that Italy has. I talked about things like jaywalking, being flexible, speed limits, and telling on your peers. Today’s post is somewhat in the same vein, and is a perfect example of an old Italian adage used to describe Italy’s most famous cultural characteristic:
Fatta la regola, trovato l’inganno
Which means: The rule is made, the way around it is found.
This loose relationship with the rules is considered by many to be both Italy’s downfall and its genius. It is at the heart of why a country with so much tourism and such a large economy could get so complicated and pear-shaped. This post is not going to be about big ideas as to how to fix a broken country, but rather is it a small, simple and elegant example of how true that adage is when describing the Italian culture.
Yesterday, my mother asked me to buy her some cigarettes, and she asked me to look through the packets and find her the ones with the least disgusting pictures on them. While I was embarrassed to be such a bother to the shop owner I did as she asked, and I was surprised as to how accommodating he was. “No one likes those pictures”, he told me, “have you seen that they’ve now invented the figurine?”
He pointed to a small box near the register. I laughed out loud, and immediately bought a pack.
Figurine are stickers that are made for sticker albums. Usually you buy children an album of their favorite cartoon, or animal, or whatever, and once in a while you buy packets of 5-10 stickers from your local newspaper stand. Those stickers are numbered and randomly sorted, and they correspond to a numbered box in the album, and children will swap them or beg you to buy more in the hopes of finishing the entire album.
These were a play on the classic figurine, but with a hilarious twist
The packet says “fai saltare la cultura della paura” which means “disrupt the culture of fear”.
These stickers have neutral images, like a bicycle, and are made to either stick on your packet of cigarettes or to slip between the plastic and the packet so that you don’t have to look at those disgusting pictures on the front. They even say “numbered, collect them all!” to make the parody of kids figurine complete.
This is not a marketing ploy to enrich a clever entrepreneur, they cost a meager 20 cents for a pack of 6 stickers. What it is is a statement, a pushback against the regulations that force smokers to look at blackened lungs or child-sized coffins when they get their daily fix. Hey, it might be illegal to sell cigarettes without the pictures on them, but it’s certainly not illegal to do whatever you want with your pack once you buy it! It is reminiscent of the white t-shirts with a black diagonal stripe across them that were invented in Naples after seat belt laws were introduced.
This is such a perfect manifestation of the old adage that I couldn’t help but share it. Many of you are probably thinking “what’s the big deal! Just ignore the picture/put on your seat belt/follow the rules, they exist for your own good!” Others are probably thinking “that’s hilarious, I kind of want some of those stickers”. Others still are thinking “That’s why your country fails at life, because there’s always a smart ass trying to find a way to get around the rules.” Regardless of your opinion on the subject, and whether you find this kind of thing amusing or exasperating, there is no denying that it is a classic example of Italian culture.