La Bella Figura

February 2015


Italians are loud. Italians are VERY loud. And Italians are beautifully loving...except for the fact a lot of them have crooked teeth, which is topic for another post. But the top three things I have learned about Italians during my time abroad so far are that Italians are very well dressed, emphatic, and emotional (in a good way), and most importantly in my eyes, they love good quality food.

Not only in my classes, but in the things read, instances observed, and my personal experiences through Italy, I have noticed the various blemishes hiding beneath Italy's astonishing scenery.

If you ask around, anyone who has personally visited the country of Italy will tell you Italians are obsessed with the way they look. If you just roam around Florence, for example,  you may even compare locals' fashion and poise with classic Renaissance looks. However, having a good figure, or "bella figura" here means more than just expressing personality and keeping up with the fashion world. One's figure in Italy shows their social status, or at least attempts to showcase an ideal, far-fetched social status many will thrive for. You might see a gorgeous young Italian man dressed in ostentatious clothing, with the perfect shave, perfect hair style, and smelling like a field of manly Lilies,  but this could easily be the only outfit he owns. Italian's economy has undergone various crises, and like in any economic crisis, young adults tend to suffer in many ways when attempting to start a career and become financially independent. During my time here in Italy, I have met many local young adults who are finishing their university years and many who have already finished their university and are trying to land their first jobs and start a career. One specific individual, named Fabio*, for instance, is 28 years old and still lives with his parents. He has his own job, and he has his own independent life, however, living with his parents has helped him save a lot of money for the time being, while he switches in and out of jobs and creates a true career for himself. This is not only Fabio's* situation, but the reality for most young Italians here in the Tuscany region.

If you have never been to Italy, or only go for quick, short, touristic trips, where you may not have lots of time to interact with locals, one thing you will still instantly discover is that Italians feel a strong need to dramatically express how they feel. They don't just simply express these to friends and family, but to their friends and family in public so that others around them know what is going on too. I often see couples who seem like they are about to get arrested from arguing very loudly in the middle of the street, but then I realize nobody else is even looking or noticing them because this is common daily episode in the streets of Italy.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance of going to a classic Italian opera show with my school. There, in a simple (but long) performance, so much of what I have been experiencing came together in an instant. I felt as if I was just learning to ride a bike for the first time and suddenly, I started picking it up and clicking. The Italian opera is the perfect metaphor for actual Italians and their culture. Romantic, dramatic, loud, with a bit of comedy and charm. No wonder they invented it!

Anyway, Italy may not be exactly what it seems to outsiders. It is a gorgeous, diverse country, with very different dialects, foods, customs, and people. However, it has a lot of problems many may not even know exist. And only after living here for some time can you start noticing what lies underneath the surface, helping to understand so much about Italians and the culture, and how that affects people's daily life, how it connects to the economy and the way Italy relates to the rest of the world.