12 Sep 2012

If you have ever wondered how a small country like Italy could possibly produce so many talents in so many fields, well, there is your explanation. The natural selection is severe.

The survival of the fittest (aka living in Italy)

When we decided on this month’s post’s topic, I thought “what the heck am I going to write about?!” Alexandra suggested it tongue in cheek mentioning her bra fitting adventure, and my first thought was “holy cow,  can you try bras on before you buy them?! Who knew?… ”  (after all there is not much point in me trying on a bra… unless they are ready to give me a discount for provable lack of stuff to fill it with…). My second thought was that the only experience I have with clothes fitting is essentially a depressing one in this country, as I almost never find my size in regular stores and I always end up shopping at plus size stores such as Elena Mirò’s boutiques when I absolutely have to wear something nicer than a pair of pants and a t-shirt, which makes my shopping expeditions outrageously expensive. That’s partly why most of my shopping happens in Canada, where a “large” is a “large”, and not a “small” but in a very elastic fabric! (Rant over – and I am on a diet and 40 pounds down, I swear! Ok… 28 pounds still to go though… Canada, don’t worry, I will keep your economy turning for a long time…)

Anyway… then I went out with Liam, my 9 month old baby, for the first time after our three weeks in Canada visiting my husband’s family, and it clicked. Italy is an extremely darwinian place. Only the fittest survive (metaphorically… but sometimes physically too!) and even a lifetime of this very tiring co-existence with your fellow countrymen might not be enough to keep one’s sanity. I wonder what the general craziness must look like for a first time visitor to the country…

If you think Italy is a fabulous place to live, wait until you have to push a stroller through a city (and my thoughts also go out to disabled people who have mobility issues…). You need the arms of a weight lifter to pull the stroller up and down the sidewalks because there are no ramps. The same strength is required to veer away from poles randomly situated in the middle of the sidewalk, usually with a couple of bikes tied to them, holes in the pavement where a manhole used to be before they resurfaced the road ten times without ever bothering to remove the old layers of asphalt, tree roots, dog poop, cars parked on the sidewalk itself,  and of course groups of people standing in your way, happily chatting away completely oblivious (and often not giving a damn)  of the fact that you are trying to walk by… At least one or two of them, usually with a cigarette in their hands at the hight of your child’s face, will even notice your baby and comment or say hi with smoke signs… Because that is what we are like, friendly people.

Sidewalk in Florence

(Photo by julietgeldi)

To survive Italy, and hopefully without having a nervous breakdown, you need a good dose of darwinian spirit. When I go to work and I walk by Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, I always wonder how it is possible that there are less than 10 serious accidents on pedestrian crossings every year. Crossing the street in this country is the most darwinian (and dangerous) of all activities. The theory (and the law) is that if you see a pedestrian on the side of the road ready to cross, you must slow down and let him or her pass. The practice is that you have already been in a never-ending line of cars populated by other angry drivers trying to get back home after a day at work and hours in traffic, and when you see a pedestrian waiting to cross the street, in the space of a couple of seconds, you perform a very complicated series of calculations to figure out whether you can drive by him before he puts his foot on the road and if so, how much faster you need to go in order to do that. The result is that you start to accelerate and the unfortunate pedestrian is forced to retreat to the sidewalk. It doesn’t matter whether that happens to you 10 times a day when walking through the city: once you are behind the wheel, you morph into one of the “fittest” drivers who are those who finally manage to get back home at a decent hour because they refuse to yield to the annoying obstacles that along the road try to slow him down by crossing. On the other hand, when you are on foot, you can only survive if you are one of the careful ones who look out for vehicles (including those coming from a direction from which they are not supposed to come) very carefully before venturing into the middle of the street.

crossing the street in Italy

(Photo by Söikkëli)

Another situation in which the darwinian spirit of Italian society clearly emerges is queuing. Or rather “not-queuing”. We randomely gather around the point of interest, be it the door of a bus, the counter of the bar, the ticket office at the cinema or the desk at the post office. The stalls at the weekly market are emblematic. You carefully look around until you find the most distracted of the people who are front of you, and zap, you cut in front of him or her! The “fittest” will react and survive in their rightful position, but the unfit, will lose their spot. Fights in this context are not uncommon.

queuing in italy

(Photo by zip3gr)

The fittest ones in school are those who can cheat without being caught. Non-Italians would be astonished to see what happens in a classroom on exam/test day. The teacher has to transform into a maximum security prison guard and be ruthless. You cannot relax for one second or some of your students will cheat. Caught, they deny the obvious. It is unbelievable.

So, if you have ever wondered how a small country like Italy could possibly produce so many talents in so many fields, well, there is your explanation. The natural selection is severe, and only the fittest can survive the mad race! But provided you are brave enough to a) spend an extended amount of time or b) even move here, you will certainly enjoy the spectacle, and certainly toughen up!

Italy Blogging Roundtable

italy travel blog roundtableThis is the thirteenth post in a monthly series called The Italy Blogging Roundtable. Here you can find the posts of the other bloggers who participate in the roundtable. Our topic this month was “fit – in all its possible meanings“:


  1. franco

    tristemente vero brava !

    • Grazie Franco. Tristemente, appunto!

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