Monday, December 5, 2011

What are the Italian fundamentals?

I adore Italy.  I may not understand it in its entirety but I adore it.  Being an outsider has its advantages, like being invited to run workshops in Beijing “to help the Chinese work more effectively with the Italians”.   Such an occasion gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I have learnt about the Italians so far. As a result I have engineered with a mixture of English and Italian, the idea of the 8Fs (there are more Fs..but they didn't fit into my lucky Chinese eight)...

Foundations:   Italy as a nation may be only 150 years old and regional in viewpoint but there is a collective pride in its ancient civilisation, history and traditions.  It lives in the earth, it seeps from the marble and it is in the pores of the skin...a confidence and pride that comes from once ruling the world.  Gladiators and little Caesars roam with abandon.

Family:  Birth-rates and marriage rates may be low and divorce increasing but the family is still the central building block of Italian society.  At its heart? La mama and this will always be so.

Food:  Italian food does not exist. Full Stop.  It’s regional at most.  Unwavering is the importance of sharing food with friends and family, spending time eating and talking.  It is not about sustenance, food is a social – and business lubricant - of (g)astronomic proportions.  

Faith:  Italians may not regularly turn up to church, but the fact that Italy, and specifically Rome is the headquarters of the catholic faith is apparent.   Hierarchy and control can be seen in all relationships, as can values of freedom and forgiveness, which seem to amount to interesting power dynamics, a kind of individualism-collectivism and a large dose of pragmatism.

Football:  Is this the other ‘religion’ for the majority?  I think I heard the expression, you can change your job, home and partner, but you can never change your football team.

Figura or in particular bella figura, which is to make a favourable impression.   Rest assured you are being judged.  Surrounded by beauty, beauty and appearances do matter. It is more than dressing well; it extends to the aura you project in your confidence, demeanour, charm-factor...

Furbizia:  is cunning and a quality admired by many.   In a positive sense it is the inexhaustible source of wisdom, cleverness, resourcefulness and flexibility to find unusual and extraordinary ways to overcome difficult realities and achieve your goals.  At best, it is exhibited in Italians' sense of creativity and entrepreneurialism; at worst, well I am not sure, but it may include the current financial crisis.

Fiducia:   There is a typical Italian saying about trust: “fidarsi è bene, non fidarsi è meglio” (“trusting is good; not trusting is better”).  I guess it is no wonder with all the numerous wars, political upheavals and economic changes over the centuries, trust is built slowly, from a base of family and close friends.  From getting your bank account to securing a client contract, third party introductions are crucial. Italians, with their warmth and loquaciousness make relationship building a pleasure and an art. A fundamental ritual in building those relationships?  need I say more...

Acknowledgements: thanks to all those who have helped me with my reflections, particularly Tim, Guy and Jan who are more insiders than outsiders.


  1. Peeling the Italian onion skin - & LOVE that photo!

  2. how clearly we see others! could I write the same as a New Zealander..