Note: This is an old post from 2011 but, given the current political climate, one that is still relevant today.
As I explained in my first ever post, I have a double nationality, with one foot firmly in Italy, and one (well, perhaps a toe at the moment) in the US of A. This has given me a unique perspective, one that can view both countries in both a subjective and objective way. Something that has always struck me about the accepted cultural mentality with regards to these countries (speaking in generalizations of course, there are always people who are more objective with regards to their own country) are polar opposites, and yet I see both as being straight roads to failure. Let me explain further.
I have always been floored by the patriotism that is commonplace in the USA. The reverence for the flag, the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem played at every baseball game, all of it baffled me. But even if you forget about all of that, there is still a prevalent mentality, sometimes a subconscious one, that the USA is the best country in the world, and every other country wants to be like US. When I used to visit during my college years, I had numerous people, and I mean liberal, freethinking and well-traveled people, ask me why on earth hadn’t I chosen the US when I was deciding on a college. In order to keep the answer short and away from “starting my working life under a pile of debt just didnt seem all that appealing to me” I gave them my second reason for not doing so, because the US is just too far away from the rest of the world. They all looked at me baffled, thought for a moment, and all of them, I shit you not, gave me the exact same answer:
“Huh. That’s interesting. I never thought of that. See for us, America is the world”
The lack of internationality also aside, the patriotism in the US runs extremely deep. Many Americans believe, unconsciously or not, that they are a model for the rest of the world, that everyone wants to move there and live there, that they have the best quality of life of the developed world, despite the stark evidence to the contrary. If I picked any old bar in the US, stood up, raised my glass and yelled “A toast to the USA! The greatest country in the world!” I would probably be met with a variation of nodding to outright applause (if any of you USAers want to give this a shot for me and share your stories, I’d love to hear them!)
Now lets contrast that with the prevalent Italian mentality.
In Italy, all you ever hear is “this is the worst fucking country in the entire world”. When I tell people that Im here doing my PhD at the moment, all they can say to me is “What? Why the hell did you come back here? You speak English, leave this god forsaken country! Don’t you know that this country has gone to the dogs?! If I were young, I’d leave this place and never look back! Well you finish your PhD, but then get out as fast as you possibly can! Here, we might as well be living in the Congo the way things are going nowadays. You’ll see, we’re destined for a ruin the likes of which Haiti hasn’t even seen. We’re the laughing stock of the EU let me tell you!” And on and on and on. Good old Italian optimism. If I picked any old bar in Italy, stood up and raised a glass and yelled “A toast to Italy! The greatest country in the whole world!” I’d be met with laughter, jeers, and at the door the men in white coats would be waiting to bring me to a special place.
That isn’t to say that Italy doesn’t have its problems. I am the first to acknowledge that there is a lot of work to do to get this country back on its feet. But Italians fail to recognize that there are other countries that have it much, much worse. They take what they have for granted, that if Italy has it, that means everyone does (like a very inclusive universal health care system), and everything else is just garbage and attests to the fact that Italy is unsavable, shameful and embarrassing.
And now these two polar opposite countries are both facing some extremely tough times ahead. Both need sweeping reform and really new ideas. Yet what struck me most was how these two extremely opposing views seem to come to the same conclusion: hampering this change that is sorely needed.
On the one side you have the American view. What this can come to often is “yes, we have some problems, but we’re still Number 1. We’re still the best. We may need to change some things, but what we’re doing works, we’re number 1 after all, so there’s no need to rock the boat all that much”
Compare that to the Italian view: “It doesn’t matter what we do. All politicians are corrupt bums. I don’t even vote anymore. Why should I? they’re all the exact same and will the steal the exact same amount. Nothing is going to change. Ever. No point in getting our hopes up or expecting anything that’s never going to happen”.
See how these opposite extremes come down to the same thing? In order to have real change we have to put all of these personal biases aside. The idea that “change is impossible” or “we’re too perfect to change” is ludicrous. People need to start looking at things objectively. America, don’t be afraid to copy something that is working wonders in Norway because you think they’re “socialist” or because you’re subconsciously afraid that by taking a page from someone else’s book you will diminish your status as alpha male and acknowledge an inferiority on your part. Italy, don’t be afraid to really and truly reach for the stars, to identify what problems there are and do your part to eradicate them to create a better future for your children. Change is not bad, its inevitable, the important thing is to make sure that you change for the better, and you change enough to really make a difference.