I remember very well when I first arrived in Canada. I remember spending several months painstakingly and implacably pinpointing every single apparent short- coming, every fault, and every inconsistency of the “best country in the world.”
My Italian-born friends and I would spend entire evenings listing and analysing every irritating habit, custom or cliché our host country seemed to exhibit. I could fill volumes with the transcripts of those rant-a-thons.
The few times I dared to share some of those remarks with a Canadian, the most frequent rebuke was: “Why do you live here, if you dislike this country so much?” Not a bad point, I must admit.
Then, the Italy-bashing years began. It is a syndrome that usually kicks in after your third or fourth year spent outside the country. Same tirades, different topics. Same rant-a-thons, different targets.
Finally, the years of reckoning began, and I found myself fathoming the Three Big Truths: first, there is no paradise on Earth; second, no country is inherently “better” than another – they all have faults, and in most cases, those are counterbalanced by their virtues. But it is the Third Big Truth that I hold dearest. More than a truth, it is a personal precept. It goes like this: Do not pass judgement on a country lest you have lived in it for at least ten years.
Yes, Italy is a country fraught with inefficiencies, problems and contradictions. But so are the US and Canada. And so is, by and large, every country in the world, big or small, developed or backward, industrial or rural.
Time and again, I find myself confronted with casual spurts of prejudice and half-baked stocktakings about the country where I was born and raised. Time and again, I find myself opposing the slings and arrows of those Italian-Canadians (or Italian-Americans) who seem to take pleasure at fortifying their newly acquired national pride – as Canadians or Americans, that is – by stomping, or at least liberally walking over their Italian parents and ancestors.
This is where my “my-country-right-or-wrong” alert mode sets in. I find it rather aggravating when I hear or read otherwise intelligent and articulate Canadians of Italian origin grumble about the Italian bureaucracy, education system, tax structure, job market, university system, the quality of Italian air and water, Italian traffic noise, Italian dog droppings on curbsides, Italian prostitutes lining city streets, dirty Italian beaches, Italian TV shows, Italian media, Italian journalists and… Italian rap music!
At first, I think of the many possible refutations of these apodictic statements. Then I remember my many struggles with Canadian bureaucracy, which in many an instance makes its Italian counterpart pale in comparison. I remind myself of the countless times I found the Canadian system to be just as pervaded by nepotism, cronyism and favouritism as the Italian one. I recall how the Canadian job market seems fair and based on merit only for those who are already comfortably sitting on the mesh of a social network, but it proves merciless and impenetrable for the know-nots.
I recall how the city of Toronto is surrounded by nuclear power plants; that per capita electricity consumption, solid waste production and carbon dioxide emissions in Canada are four times greater than in Italy. I am reminded that although Mafia, Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta were all born in southern Italy, it is here in North America that they have thrived, mostly because this country is devoid of adequate laws against organized crime – laws that Italy enacted twenty years ago (incidentally, that is precisely why so many Italian anti-mafia judges were killed).
I think of the many ways Canadians evade, duck, dribble and dodge taxes. I am painfully reminded of how the Italian formative school system produces well- rounded students who can find Japan on a map and will even tell you a bit of history of that country. (Try that with a Canadian student.)
Finally, I awaken to the notion that an Italian-sounding name does not make one more qualified to speak about Italy than it makes him or her qualified to speak about, say, Indonesia or Ireland – just as my u-ending last name leaves me totally unfit to speak about Vanuatu or Guinea-Bissau.
I would love to engage in this entertaining tit-for-tat. But then, I would find myself using the very same weapons of truth destruction for which I am chastising my opponents!
Perhaps, the only apt refutation, in this case, could come in the form of a kind invitation: one to visit Italy, and not just for ten days, but for ten long years. I can personally attest that, as a prejudice-dismantling experience, it is still unequalled.
Alberto Mario DeLogu was born in Sardinia, Italy, and moved to North America fifteen years ago. He has published numerous essays and books on economics and agriculture, and nationally awarded poetry collections in Italian and Sardinian. He is chief editor of Trentagiorni.com.