Beppe Severgnini on Italians and Americans

May 15, 2014

La coreografia della vita

The Choreography of Life

What are the differences between Italians and Americans? Many have offered their theories, but the acclaimed journalist and author Beppe Severgnini, speaking in San Francisco at an event benefiting  the local adopt-an-Italian-student program, boiled them down to quattro grandi C (four big C’s): cambiamento (change), controllo (control), concorrenza (competition) and coreografia (choreography).

Sempre spiritoso (always witty), Beppe commented on how change thrills Americans and terrifies Italians, how control obsesses Americans and bores Italians, and how competition stirs a lust for winning in Americans and a fear of losing in Italians. But what intrigued me most was his perspective on la coreografia.

“Quella degli americani è collettiva” (that of Americans is collective), he observed, noting that we are convinced that “le cose importanti possano–anzi, debbano–essere spettacolari e condivise” (important things can—indeed, must—be shared spectacles). Whether for una laurea (graduation), the inauguration of un nuovo presidente or un evento sportivo (a sporting event), la scenografia (scene-setting) is considered rassicurante (re-assuring), una prova di serietà e di qualità (a proof of seriousness and quality).

As Beppe put it, Americans need to sentirci parte di qualcosa di grande e organizzato (feel part of something great and organized) — non per dovere: per piacere e conforto (not as a duty, but as pleasure and comfort).

La coreografia italiana esiste (Italian choreography exists), he noted, ma è privata (but is private). “Siamo però capaci di decorare la nostra vita personale come qui in America non sanno fare.” (We, however, are capable of decorating our personal life as they don’t know how to do here in America).

As Beppe explained, Italians buy cars per come vestono (for how they look) non per come vanno (not for how they run). They unfurl i titoli accademici (academic titles) come bandierine (like banners). And they uphold rituals like la cena in famiglia (the family dinner), which he desribes as “un rito intelligente" (an intelligent rite).

Italians’ passion for la coreografia individuale, Beppe commented, gives rise to il bel gesto (the beautiful gesture)–a combination di generosità e spettacolo (of generosity and theatricality) of which they are campioni indiscussi (undisputed champions).

Beppe offered some insights into his countrymen’s love of private choreography “Mentre ci comportiamo bene” (While we are behaving well), “siamo in grado di vederci e ammirarci" (we are in a position of seeing ourselves and admiring ourselves). This forma di auto-esibizionismo sofisticato (form of sophisticated self-exhibition) has no need of a public audience. “Bastiamo noi” (we are enough).

“Se mettessimo la stessa intelligenza nel semplificarci la vita, spaccheremmo il mondo!”  Beppe concluded. (If we put the same effort into simplifying our lives, we would rock the world!) 

Words and Expressions

risposta spiritosa –- witty remark

processo mentale –- mental process

uno psicodramma –- a psychodrama

differenze culturali –- cultural differences

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.

Click here to listen to Beppe talk about the "t's" that make Italians unique: 

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