I was just reading this article that I was sent about an American detailing his visit to Rome, and the end had a little commentary about the differences in cultures... I thought it was kinda interesting.
Now, here's a bit of a political observation (besides the Communist-party march I found myself walking through).
The last evening we were there, Mrs. Kerry Spot and I were sitting in a wine bar when, over at the next table, some British banker was discussing Italian culture with a woman who was (I think) his coworker. The guy seemed like the epitome of British propriety, coupled with an incensed mood — picture John Cleese. The gist of his rant was that Italian society is dominated by a patronage system riddled from top to bottom with rampant nepotism and impropriety. Apparently this made getting anything done nearly impossible, as every business had to find room on the payroll for the boss's mistress, as well as his slow-witted nephews and cousins. One had to wait one's turn for 50-some years to get into any position of responsibility, and then once one got there, the primary method of relieving those decades of stress was browbeating subordinates. Attempting to promote a promising and energetic young employee over an older and mundane employee who had paid his dues by showing up for a quarter of a century was seen as phenomenally risky and a societal taboo.
"It is holding them back in the modern economy," Cleese fumed. "They don't know what's in their self-interest. The Italians are stupid."
"Aren't the Americans stupid, too?" the woman asked, having the audacity to nod her head in my direction. (Cheerio to you too, toots.)
"Of course, but that's different," Cleese said, not willing to be distracted from his current fury at the Italians.
I wouldn't want to base my entire opinion of the Italian economy on the irritation of one wine-sipping Brit, but I would cite it as anecdotal evidence that Old Europe hasn't quite worked out all the details of the opportunity society and the benefits of the free market. Just keep it in mind the next time you read that the EU is going to be the economic superpower of this century.
Sitting in those cafés, eating the good food, it was easy to conclude that Europeans sure know how to live...because they don't know how to work.
For example, all of the guidebooks say, Don't be in a rush when you sit down at a restaurant. Your waiter is used to his culture's leisurely pace. He'll bring you the menu within about five minutes of when you first sit down. He'll ask what you want to drink, and the drinks will come within ten minutes. You could probably knock off a chapter of a book or a section of the paper by the time he returns to take your order. The appetizer will come in about 15 minutes. First course, maybe twenty minutes later. Secondi course, within an hour. Dessert will come after his cigarette break and/or stroll to Florence. The check will come sometime in the spring. If you're paying by a credit card, he'll process it sometime before 2006.
In short, you just have to budget one-and-a-half to three hours for lunch and dinner in these societies. Now, far be it from me to tell the Italians how to run their society, but do you think some of these restaurants might do better if they had more than one party per table per evening? I don't like being rushed out of my table at a restaurant, but American restaurants seem to seat two, three, even four parties at a table in one evening, and the waiters actually hurry, if not hover, over their customers.
It's a different approach to work, and if the Italians prefer it that way, that's their right. But Europeans shouldn't be shocked when the American economy — with its exponentially higher priority on speed, efficiency, and productivity — somehow gallops ahead with much higher growth rates.
Still, I liked the place a lot.
My favourite line was:
"Sitting in those cafés, eating the good food, it was easy to conclude that Europeans sure know how to live...because they don't know how to work."
And I think it ties in a lot to the whole capitalism vs socialism debate I keep having in this forum.
I think a lot of it just comes down to personality. I read a similar thing in this book by Ben Stein a while ago that said that most Americans love to visit Europe, but few of them actually move there.
I guess my personality is just one where I NEED to be busy, even when I'm on vacation I still want to be active, and have projects, and plans, and feel like I'm doing purposeful things. And that's probably why the American politics appeal to me so much more.