One misconception about Italy has been really bothering me: people [from other countries] seem to think that all of Italy is exactly the same. We speak Italian, we eat pizza and pasta and ice cream, we have a lot of artistic stuff and the sea in Capri and colourful habits.
Try Google Images: “Italy” will give you as a result Rome, Venice, Florence and lovely little towns by the sea. And sun and people eating outside on a porch.
This is Italy too.
This is Trieste.
This is Palermo. [x]
This was taken in Tuscany.
This is Naples. [x]
This is Piedmont. [x]
This is Apulia. [x]
This was taken in Basilicata.
This was taken in Veneto’s lagoon, facing the Alps.
This is Milan. [x]
Of course one can never actually understand how their country is perceived abroad, because it’s a very complex subject. (Plus it changes from place to place. Europeans have certainly a better understanding about it, but there are also a lot of differences.)
This one thing, though, I’ve really seen a lot. So I’d like to address it and say that Italy is a very diversified country. We have twenty districts called regions which are absolutely vital in one’s life. From an administrative point of view, everything you do as a citizen is gonna refer to your region, but more importantly, the average Italian feels a strong connection with his region.
Virtually everything changes. Tourists may not notice it, but architecture changes: Milan is not Rome, Venice is not Genoa, Sicily is not Naples and most certainly not Tuscany. Even more: Florence is not Siena. Even if you have a Medieval building, it won’t be the same; if you have a Fascist building, it won’t be the same. It’s not just in art, it’s something you recognize from small urban details. How the streets are paved, if there are portici or not (apparently, this word doesn’t have a translation in English). An Italian can mostly tell from a photo where that place is.
The food changes. Pizza and pasta, you can find everywhere, that’s true. (You can’t imagine the arguments about how a “real Neapolitan pizza” should be. Pizza can be made in a lot of different ways. Pasta too. Different shapes are sometimes connected to different places where they originated.) But there is more. Every region offers a lot of different dishes, based on what the land can offer. Almost all Italian regions are touched by the sea, so fish is normal, but you won’t find the same recipes in the north and the south.
Language changes. This is a simplified map.
"Italian" is more an idea than a reality, and has a long history of debating about how it should be spoken and written. Nowadays, standard Italian is basically derived from Dante Alighieri’s Tuscan (XIII century Tuscan), with some help now and then from writers and poets and one Venitian guy called Pietro Bembo, who gave his opinion (and was absolutely despised by Florentine people for it). Though we finally obtained a national language, every region (actually, every city, in a way) has its own language. It’s called dialect and it’s mostly considered not to be used in public speeches, but it’s so very alive that virtually half of the Italian population is technically bilingual (being able to switch from standard Italian to their local dialect). Dialects are more used in some regions and by certain people (older folks, for example) but are generally understood in that area. For example, I’m from the Venitian area and I’ve lived in Milan since I was 9 years old: I don’t speak any dialect, but I understand my grandparents and I’m absolutely able to tell if one guy from Veneto is coming from another big city (for example, Vicenza) because their dialect is similar but not the same. I also understand a bit of Milanese, but not so much (that one was influenced by French). I can understand some words from dialects of the northern regions (not much; in Bologna chances are I won’t understand a word of what the clerk and the old lady are telling to each other), but I absolutely don’t understand how they speak in Genoa, or Ancona, or Naples, or Orvieto. And it’s even more complicated than that because we also have regional Italian but let’s stop here.
Ethnic traits and mentality changes greatly. Some clichés are true (there’s always a part of truth in clichés) but one should always keep in mind that even in Italy some things are considered strange in one place and totally normal in another. And finally geography changes. A lot.
This is true for every place in the world, I’m sure. But Italy is so “exposed” in certain regards, and totally unknown in others, that I feel misconceptions about our country are particularly shared and accepted.
(Okay. I had to get it all out of my system. Sorry to those of you who already knew all of this. And by the way if anyone wants to do the same about their country I’m totally interested.)