Cultural Differences: Fatta la Regola, Trovato L’Inganno

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.


  1. enkidu says

    Yes, I get it, bellisima gioca, but dieing, or watching your relative die of lung cancer is not quite so funny. I guess I’m torn here. The anarchist in me wants a packet of those, and the socialist rages against the evil forces of capitalism that enslave people to their addictive and deadly drug.

    It’s not only Italians, my father in law (Polish) used to drive with his seat belt draped over his shoulder, but not done up. A subtle “F you” to the Communist (read mildly Social Democrat) government.

  2. says

    That’s awesome. People often underestimate the fine art of being a smart ass.

    I don’t know what kind of images they put on your cigarettes though. The ones we have in Mexico are so over the top and silly that no one can quite take them seriously. Dead rat, badly photoshopped tracheotomy, yellow teeth, fetus on a pile of cigarette butts, it gets silly.

  3. agender says

    Italy has survived Berlusconi, therefore its politcal culture cannot be that bad.
    And while I think there is value in keeping children from addiction (beginning with sugar), it amounts to plain torture to keep people away from what might make a bad life tolerable – for a while, most have a trade-off between lenght and quality of life.
    I do not smoke, but I like the stickers.

  4. perodatrent says

    Wasn’t it “Fatta la legge, trovato l’inganno?”.
    This way it seems more euphonic – it’s an hendecasyllable, none the less.

  5. says

    Yes, I get it, bellisima gioca, but dieing, or watching your relative die of lung cancer is not quite so funny.

    My aunt died of smoking induced lung cancer. My sister took care of her to the very last. Then she washed her, dressed her and laid her out.
    You know what she didn’t do? Stop smoking.
    I think those pictures are disgusting, inefficient and I really don’t know why I have to look at them while standing at the check out even though I never smoked a single cigarette in my whole life. Even more fun: shopping with children!

    Though I can’t say I find these stickers clever. What’s supposed to be clever about them? “Hahahha, you can’t make me stop inflicting a bunch of horrible diseases on myself, hahaha, look at me!”
    That’S not clever, that’s still being an addict and acting as if no harm will happen to you if you cannot see it. But that’s bogeymen, not cancer.

    • Ice Swimmer says

      I think those pictures are disgusting, inefficient and I really don’t know why I have to look at them while standing at the check out even though I never smoked a single cigarette in my whole life. Even more fun: shopping with children!

      The solution is to move to the next level as has been done here in Finland. It is illegal to keep tobacco products visible in the shops and kiosks etc. Those who want to buy some will either state what they want or ask for a (text-only) list of the products and pick their poison and the sales person will open the cabinet, take the product and close the cabinet again.

  6. rq says

    I kinda want some of those stickers.

    Ice Swimmer
    As of a few years ago, Canada does something similar, it was quite the change but nobody seems to mind anymore. Except for European tourists, of course. 🙂 (They kept the pictures, though.)

  7. agender says

    Ice Swimmer,
    there is a difference between forbidding to advertise and forbidding the product.
    Forbidding to advertise (perhaps with the only exception of specialized magazines, which should be treated like alcohol and tobacco) is reasonable, BECAUSE it helps young people to perceive reality INSTEAD of the fictional world of ads!
    I tried to to a bit against Germany´s regrettable stances in EU and UN on the ad discussion a few years ago, to no avail.
    Forbidding alcohol and/or tobacco – well, you do know “The War On Drugs”, and its outcome?!?
    Showing full shelves of cigarettes with ugly pics – I do not know whether anybody will smoke less, and the lowering of numbers of young smokers have, in my opinion, more to do with the fact that to smoke is forbidden in many places where youngsters spend their time, and not the negative ads.
    Compare: I get my legal painkillers from the pharmacy, for the basic I have to give a prescription, the second I have to pay (its cheap), but both are in a drawer and I have to ask. And when I go to a different pharmacy than my usual (have moved often), they will ask whether I know the substances, and I say a few sentences about my lifelong chronical pain. Perfectly acceptable, and I could DREAM that this would be for any addictive substance, I repeat: beginning with sugar.
    Or a shop for grown-ups only – 30 or 40y-olds get it without and younger ones with prescription.

    • Ice Swimmer says

      There is no tobacco prohibition here. The shops just aren’t allowed to keep the tobacco products visible. I’m not actually sure if there are scary pictures on cigarette packs in Finland, because I don’t see them that often.

  8. agender says

    And: such regulations could make some (sub-)cultures more “Italian”, in my limited experience Fatta la regola, trovato l’inganno does not work in countries where too many people are SOOOOOO fond of the penal law!

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