The Italian Experience

Buon Giorno from Greensboro, North Carolina.  My daughter, a Junior at UNC, has had the fortune to study abroad this semester in Florence, Italy.  When you and I were going to school, studying abroad meant something totally differently (key words….a broad) than it does today.  Somewhere along the way, our college children have been granted the right to go to such thriving economic bastions like Florence, Barcelona, Rome, and Nice, and are loaded down with rigorous classes like Italian Cooking, Renaissance Italian Art, and Photography.  Sul Serio?   Yes…Really!  But I am not here to write about the entitlements afforded that generation.  I’ll save that for another day. The only benefit from the added tuition of studying is that my wife and I got to visit Mary Parke in Florence, and if you have a bucket list, Florence should be on it.  Home to Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Bellini, and Donatello, Florence was home to some of the most famous and influential artists this world has produced.  Famous Museums like the Uffizi and Chapels like the Duomo are obvious attractions that must be seen.  During my Italian travels besides just being another tourist,  I tried to use my business viewfinder and view Italy in the 21st century, especially considering the debt issues surrounding Southern Europe.

First, Florentines are some of the most loving, genuine, and proud people I have ever met in all of my travels.  We tried to dine in small, locally owned restaurants.  They love Americans, are genuine in their affinity, and are proud of their cuisine, family, and heritage.  However it became quite evident that Florentines viewed Florence as the frame of reference for life; Romans viewed Rome as their center of the universe, and Venetians are from Venice….not Italy.  Italy’s wartime help given to Prussia in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars set it on the path to reunification in 1871.  But unification of Italy was in name only.

In the US, there is certainly a difference between folks from the Jackson, Mississippi and Long Island. Ever been Des Moines??  How about San Francisco??  There couldn’t be two more different cultures and people.  Politically, certain regions are Roosevelt liberals while others are right of Attila the Hun. However for the most part, we are unified by history, family, ethics and the fact that most of our family trees were originally planted somewhere else.  We also become instinctively united when confronted by crisis.  Look at the shared sacrifices of US citizens during WWII.  Remember how we all came together after 9/11?  There is not that feeling in Italy in general and in Europe specifically.

The point is, if one of the most debt-ridden countries in EU doesn’t share the nationalism to achieve the “austerity” necessary to survive, how does Greece, Portugal and Spain?  How do countries with their own feelings of Dominion, culture, and history unify around a common currency especially when that currency is threatened by those same cultures rife with governmental entitlement.  How does a disenfranchised youth with unemployment of over 30% have meaningful contributions to the region? The EU and the Euro will survive in the near future, but eventually as austerity programs fail in Greece and other Southern European countries, the dominos will fall and so will Europe.