Menefreghismo: why do we do this? by pizzodisevo

There are two words in the Italian language that have always bugged me. One I wish I could delete completely from the Italian dictionary, the second I really wish it was implemented by every Italian. The first word is MENEFREGHISMO and the second is AUTO-IRONIA. Before I start I would like to point out that I am a real Italian (through and through), born in Italy from Italian parents, brought up in Italy until the age of 18, with well implanted Italian roots and traditions. After living in UK for a long time, I have now been back in Italy for over 10 years. So I think this entitles me to express my opinion (maybe not too much unbiased) from the inside of the barricade! I have been wanting to take this off my chest for a while and now is the time to do it!

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Menefreghismo: why do we do this? by pizzodisevo

First of all let’s start explaining what Menefreghismo means: Google translator just indicates it as Indifference, but it is way deeper than that. Menefreghismo is an attitude rooted deeply into the Italian way of life and it is more than indifference: it is the lack of caring if this goes one way or another, it is the mindset conviction that things cannot be changed and they will never change, it is the way Italians live their lives everyday. The word comes from a sentence: Me ne frego, which means I don’t care. It is an attitude to life, it is the way things are run in our government and in our state owned offices. It is the way the health care and the police run their businesses. Me ne frego until something really bad happens! Then, we will take some steps to cover things up and to keep people quite. This attitude has no left or right side, has no political colour or religious creed. It is how the majority of Italians go on about their business every day. Not all, mind you and thank God for that. Some Italians do care and do a lot to prove this, but they always clash with that big majority of people who se ne frega. Unfortunately I am one of those who does care and who, in the last few years, has tried to change things, to prove others that things are not cut in stone, that a little commitment from everyone can make a difference (lived too long in UK and that has rubbed off me, I think). I tried to change things in the local school, in the local church, in the local sports club. But the word change is a big NONO in Italy. So after trying and trying I gave up, got isolated, lost lots of those who I fought were friends. To change things takes hard work and they were not prepared to do it. Much easier to carry on letting thing go as they have always been, even if they are obviously wrong. Little examples? Last month the teachers told us to keep an eye on our children when they came out of school. As we realised that drugs were sold outside the school (to kids as young as 10 by adults), the obvious solution would have been to go to the police and report this. Well, after I did that, I got told off by some parents for sticking my nose and to mind my own business and also the police did not even bother to go and take a look at the situation. They must wait for someone to get hurt and then maybe they will do something. Arghhh!!!! Another example: few years ago our local elementary school desperately needed some renovation work to be done, that the local authority refused to do for lack of funds. Another obvious solution would have been to organise some school charity event to try to raise some money to fund this renovation work. So, as the head of the parents school association, I had the brilliant (sarcasm) idea to try to organise a School Fête. It took me a year of hard work and coordination (nobody had ever heard of such a thing up here) but finally I managed to get people involved, to get all the permissions and to get the thing up and running. The big day came and………out of a 1000 people who were meant to come, only 200 turned up, since a group of other parents, who did not want to get involved in this and thought it was a pie high idea, went around the town telling everyone that the Fête had been cancelled and so the boycotted us. (by the way, 4 year later, the same association has called me asking me how to organise the same fête again!!!). These are only two examples, but my life is filled with this kind of situations. This is the reason why I left Italy when I was 18 and it drove me crazy back then as much as it does now. The second word is AUTO-IRONIA, literally Self-irony, to be able to laugh at themselves. The majority of Italians cannot do this. Every time someone makes a comment or criticises the way Italy is, Italians automatically rear up and go on the attack. I have not met an Italian yet who just takes the critic on board and uses it in a positive way to change something that probably needs to be changed. The moment a foreign person dares to criticise Italy, an Italian will start talking about how we have the best food, the best clothes, so many monuments. I ask all Italians out there: WHY???? People in the world do know we have good food, we have nice fashion designers and more monuments than anybody else, that is not what people are disputing. When foreign people make a comment or criticize the things which do not work in Italy, it does not mean that they are trying to put our country down. They are just pointing out things that need to be sorted out to make us an even better country to live in. This does not mean I do not love Italy, on the contrary. I do love Italy very much and that is one of the main reason why I convinced my husband (who is British) to come and live here. But I also can see the bad side of Italy like any other foreign person can, having lived abroad for so many years. I apologise to everyone reading this, but as I said I really needed to take this off my chest. From now on, my posts will be all about the beautiful things Venice and Veneto can offer!

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Beautiful Venice

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About The Author

Food & Travel Blogger, Culinary & Food Tour Guide, Cooking Consultant & Instructor - this is me....as well as an event organiser and overall talker - always in Venice! #aphotoofveniceaday Offering cooking lessons at http://www.cookinvenice.com As a friend once said: A Fire Cracker full of energy, writing a book on Cicchetti!

26 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention What’s wrong with Italy? | Monica Cesarato - tutor of Italian and English -- Topsy.com

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  2. Nicely put Monica. Being from American and having moved here I am finding it very difficult with hearing NO NO NO all the time lol. I think of all the things that we have back home that could really change the lives of the Italian women here. But maybe they just like it the way it is. I dont know…… There are so many things I love about Venice, but the politics are not one of them.

  3. I wish Italian women took a stand, but maybe you are right, they do like it this way!

  4. Hi Monica, I agree, if you feel strongly about something, you have to make a stand or put yourself forward and do the right thing, especially when children are involved.

    good luck with the school fete!!

  5. Non me ne frega un c…. Yes! It reminds me of the time I tried to motivate people in our little town in Alto Lazio to organize to clean up the graffiti. All agreed that it was ugly, but nobody would lift a finger. I had suggested to get middle school students to start a project, have a hardware store make donations, mobilize the community to clean up the eyesore in this striking medieval village… But the uniform response? Beh… Nobody will care. We are used to it, and who knows, a building owner might sue us for cleaning his building. Such a shame. Since the assumption is that nobody will care, nobody cares to see if they care. Truly sad.

  6. Ah, different place, same results!

  7. Ciao Monica, I couldn’t agree more about menefreghismo. I suppose much comes down to the fact that any effort to improve things systematically fails. It’s depressing. And I keep getting frustrated with things because I just cannot stop trying and complaining as well! :o)
    Curious coincidence that you wrote about the school fete. I was talking with my sister-in-law on Easter Monday. She was quite upset because her suggestion to organize a party to raise money for the local primary school had been opposed by some other parents who insisted that the state should pay for this and that. And even if in principle you are right, if you child doesn’t get toilet paper, you should probably leave principles aside and do something useful rather than complaining.
    The same with the school trip. Some parents didn’t want or couldn’t pay the few euros needed for the school trip. So she had suggested that all the other parents could have chimed in and added a couple of euros so that the two kids who would have been left behind could go too. Not a chance.

    As to autoironia, I think Italians are capable of accepting criticism and to discuss sensitive topics more than people from other countries where the sense of what is politically correct is strongly. this said, to be able to be self-ironic you need to be smart enough. I don’t think I need to add anything to that right? ;o)

  8. Thanks, Gloria, I always appreciate your point of view (also because most of the time it is mine too! 🙂 )

  9. Thank you for asking my opinion, I really appreciate it! As you know I am not a fan of Mussolini, but from time to time I use his ‘me ne frego, non so se mi spiego, con quel che piace a me’ motto to push myself through situations that are far from ideal. I do agree: the very existence of menefreghismo as a practice/concept in a culture is far from ideal itself. It s there to stay, however, and expunging it from the dictionary will not help. If you can call something with its right name, you can also take a stand against it, the way you did.

    You have a very unique kind of experience and the fact that you are married to a Briton means that you are in a position of cultural ambivalence, compared to others who live in the village/town. It is also a position of loneliness, as nobody around you has made those choices and therefore cannot be expected to understand you fully all the time.

    You are a ray of sunshine in a place where things have always happened the way they have always happened. I suggest you take a step back and give yourself as little trouble as you can… this does not mean that you have to cover your eyes and walk past the issue.

    If you see something is necessary and you are the only one that can make a difference, make the least effort possible with the aim well clear in your head. If you cannot do that, then you are better off by becoming patience in person and keep going for what you want. Of course you will be met with resistance and down right obtusity: the first human reaction to change is a ‘no’ and the more people gather under an agenda, the more they seem happy to delegate common sense to others. I am not saying that the agenda is wrong, but one must be a very clear minded and honest leader to channel people in the right direction.

    From what you write, you have lost your first battle but are winning the war: people did a U-turn on their prejudices and they were sensible enough to ask you to help them achieving what you know is the best way to fundraise. I do not think they got their facts straight in the past and even if they made things very personal, attacking you directly or sabotaging your hard work, they proved they are wrong and they need you to lead them. It took time to get there, you got a bit bitten up in the process, but your idea is the right one and it has been proven so!

    I really admire you for doing what you are doing, in spite of all obstacles.

    You can laugh and release all this frustration and upset the whole situation has been causing you.

  10. I love this post! Would like to feature it as a guest post on my blog —

    Anyway, I have four words that you are never — never ever – never ever ever – allowed to say in my presence…

    And they are: “Non ci siamo capiti” (We didn’t understand each other) when, in fact, it is YOU who didn’t understand – listen – do – fill in the blank. Admit it. own it. Take responsibility.
    But no, suddenly, I didn’t understand the point either.
    Arrrrgggghhhhhhhh.

    Francesca Maggi
    http://burntbythetuscansun.blogspot.com

  11. P.S. I don’t think it’s “I don’t care” — more like, “I could care less”.

  12. Be my guest, make sure to link me! You can also folow me on twitter @monicacesarato Ciao and thanks again for your comments!

  13. Wow..! Monica I am surprised! I didn’t know you felt so passionatly!! I think you are a true Italian through and through cuz you care so much about Italy that you want to make it even better for your children and then their children. I’m sure it was nice when you where a kid with cleaner streets etc.. it should be that way for your kids also!! I believe when you have good in your heart it always wins the bad and evil. Just keep doing the good work and dont think about the Menefreghismo!! Auguri Tracy:)

  14. Ciao Monica, interesting blog. As I continue to attempt to wrap my American brain around the Italian media situation (Raiperunanotte e the resignation of Maria Luisa Busi and the legge bavaglio) I find articles like yours helpful as they give perspective on the mindset of Italians and why change is so difficult to achieve. Complimenti! A presto. Melissa

  15. Thanks for reading my post and giving your thoughts! Ciao

  16. Hello,

    I am Sicilian and American (my mother is from Sicily and my father from Ohio!) and I am living in Napoli, after six years in Madrid. I feel that the situation can be simply put this way: Italy is the birthplace of “Western” culture (along with Greece), but in reality, just like her sister Greece, Italy today remains on the outskirts of mainstream European issues and current events. IT’S OK. It is just the way it is. Even Italy’s modus operandi in just about everything testifies to her ancient, Mediterranean history. When countries like Greece and Italy have such a long, complex history which has managed to civilize an entire continent, it is natural and simply the course of events that it has corruption, complex social structures, which make Italy more akin to a little mini India, rather than something like Spain, or France, or Germany. Italy’s biggest mistake, and the mistake of those who criticize/comment on her, is that Italy tries hard to be considered and to behave like France, Germany, Spain or the UK, while the truth is that is does not even belong to the same culture or mindset. Italy and Greece, united in the dawn and twilight of ages. Let us move paradigms and centers of culture to the East, and we will really understand what is happening to the Italian peninsula. Italy: Europe’s little Indian subcontinent (linguistically, religiously, politically, socially… under many aspects!) Italy and Greece are not the past of Europe, but the future. They are the result of their histories. If you wanna understand them, look at their histories.
    Thank you and look at Italy in the wider context: IT HAS NEVER BEEN LIKE FRANCE (IT WISHES!!!) and It SHOULD NEVER WANT TO BE IT EITHER! Italy must deal with its complexity and ancientness, like Greece, this is the price one pays for having invented basically everything that we may call “European” (alphabet, geometry, philosophy, theater, beauty canons, musical notation…shall I continue the list…?) Italy and Greece, two sisters with a common origin and destiny. Let’s see what happens.
    alex

  17. Thank you for your commebts Alex, even though I beg to disagree. Just because someone comes from a lonjg tradition does not mean it cannot try to change!!

    India corruption developed after the death of Indira Ghandi, Italian corruption goes back to the Romans. Italian corruption differs a lot from North and South, because the history of the South is so well different from that of the Northern regions. Spain comes from a long tradition just like Italy but they still managed to change. Italy will not be the future of Europe if it is not willing to change. And just the fact that you said “IT’S OK. It is just the way it is” you confirmed to me that this is the Italian attitude: LET IT BE!!!
    Well, if people Let things be, WWII will still be carrying on, we would be still burning witches and hanging people on crosses.
    I do not renounce my Italian origins or my Italian Historic background, but we should look at history as to learn from the past mistakes and try to change the future, not just to excuse the way we are. Anyway, I really appreciate your comments,it is very nice to see the point of view of someone who had experienced life in and out of Italy. Thank you again!

  18. I read your article Monica, on a really bad day after dealing with doctors who dont care and nurses who were just plain mean. After 10 years of giving, giving,giving and trying to make a difference here, whilst fully intergrating and adapting. I am ready to admit Italy has broken my heart and I need to divorce myself from here, for all the reasons you state, above. I always used to say that nothing could affect my love of art and culture here, but I have truly realised I have no effect whatsover. I have tried to make good friends here, but im sure if I left not a single one would even remember me if I returned a year later. although my facebook page and my life has thousands of Italian “friends” and business people I have known for years, who claim to be delighted by me and care about me. It is a huge failure,after all the sacrifices Ive made to be here.

    I have given Italy, my love, my loyalty, my enthusiasm , my passion , my hard work, and brought hundreds of friends and tourists to see my Italy.

    sadly what Italy has given me in return is a broken heart and a lot of menefreghismo.
    I wish you and your husband a wonderful future.
    Dee

  19. Dear Dee

    I am just so so sorry about what you are going through right now. I went through the same exact feelings when I lived and left the UK! Unfortunately right now Italy is not at its best, I know very well. I believe it might well be the area where you are living, there are huge differences in regions. But I fully understand your situation and I fully understand why you want to leave. I truly wish you to find the right place for you! Keep in touch! Monica

  20. I’ve lived in Italy for almost a decade with an Italian husband but wheneer I question whythe hell things are done they way they are, I get the typical ;” but we have the best food and best monuments,” argument. I just want to know why, not a nationalistic diatribe. Thank you for the post!!

  21. 🙂 don’t tell me about it!! Next time you have one of those questions, write to me, I will try to aswer more specifically 🙂

  22. Carol Ruggeri Grguric

    Bravo! Very courageous of you to speak what’s on your mind! Love your passion! Good luck with your effort to rally for some change – for the better.

  23. longbridgepublishing

    Ciao Monica,

    your blog post was shared on linkedin and it was very interesting reading it!

    I am an Italian living abroad, and I have experienced all your frustrations. Everytime I visit Italy I can see things have not changed. What surprises me the most is that Italians put a lot of effort into complaining but no energy into doing (and trying to change). Why is that? Laziness? Fear? Both? I am not sure.
    All I know is that I don’t identify with it and even before leaving Italy I felt I belonged elsewhere. I stiil like the country for the beaautiful things it offers, but a vacation is all I can take.
    Good luck and keep positive!
    Claudia

  24. Thank you Monica for your interestig post. My mother is italian and she moved to Belgium when she married, but she never wanted to go back to Italy since my father passed away, because she resents so much the menefreghismo and malgoverno you write about.
    I really love Italy, and I always enjoy my stays, I go there whenever I can, but to live there permanently? No way.
    Il Bel Paese è il luogo ideale per le vacanze, ma viverci mi sembra una lotta quotidiana…

  25. Hai colpito nel segno (you hit it on the nail).

    it is a daily fight! In fact we are seriously thinking of leaving and going back to the Uk where my hubby is originally from. We have given ourselves another 3 years, then we will see! good luck to you and your mum!

  26. Grazie Monica e in bocca al lupo!

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