I don’t love the English, despite the fact that I lived in London and that my two children, Paolo and Elena, were born there.
Italy’s admiration for the English goes back to the 18th century when nobles and their children traveled to Italy with their tutors on “Grand Tours,” which brought them to classical Rome and glamorous Venice (which, at the time, was the Bangkok of Europe, with a liberal sex industry and armies of prostitutes and fabulous courtesans). Our countrymen saw these “m’lords” on horseback or riding in carriages on Via di Firenze in Rome, and they thought that everyone in England was a lord (which they still do subconsciously, although susceptible to excessive libations). The only traces they left were temporary, stemming from less noble manifestations ranging from violent brawls between Nelson’s sailors and Neopolitans when the admiral anchored in Italy to enjoy his lover and take advantage of Bourbon hospitality, to the hooligan component of the British Legion of volunteers following Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand: once arrived in Naples with the hero, they celebrated their success by drinking per their usual, therefore by breaking tables, chairs, and all manner of things in numerous taverns to the point that Neapolitan inn keepers responded by locking them out and protesting to Garibaldi’s command.
Not even the grim years of soccer hooligan malfeasance around Europe between 1970 and 2000– culminating with 39 deaths in Brussels in 1985 during the final between the Juventus and Liverpool– made a serious dent in our provincial Anglophilia, which even now causes many to say, “I love the English, I love England.”
Let’s also think of the fascination of past generations for England, the powerful victor of the Second World War, the heroic liberators preceded by mythic communications from Radio London and the paratroopers that landed behind enemy lines and fought beside our partisans.
Then, there was the Beatles, Swinging London in the sixties, etc, etc, the Queen and royal family appropriated by those Italians who possess monarchist chromosomes.The reality of those years automatically brought us to favor England as the dream European country. France couldn’t engender comparable admiration, least of all Germany that devastated Europe with Nazism, or fascist Spain. In the eighties and nineties, it was the English who admired Italy due to our fashion and soccer, food and design, good taste, artistic beauty, and natural landscapes. Anglophile Italians martyred their feet with Church shoes, flaunted tweed blazers, and regimental ties; the English sought Armani, Valentino, Corneliani, Versace, and Ferragamo. Even the radical chic and far left closed a blind eye to the Thatcherian revolution that demolished miners, forced entire communities to change their lives radically due to unemployment, crushed unions, and aggravated the divide between London’s yuppies and the unresolved social problems in the north.
Many Italians are convinced that they know London and England (two very different things, like New York and the United States) after a three-day trip; they’re ready to glide right past the negative aspects with an unshakable “it’s worse at home,” even when this is not true at all. Italians have a right to enjoy the changing of the guard, Big Ben, and all that. And we can add the Anglophile trends in the Italian media, which is ready to report any tidbit of gossip from Buckingham Palace. The rest can wait, especially now that London is full of young Italian waiters.
Comparing the most esteemed population (English) to the most self-critical (Italian), there’s no competition. One example: an Italian living in London hears his friends and compatriot tourists say, “lucky you to live in London.” A spaniard, on the other hand, gasps, “how can you live in a country with such shitty weather and even worse food?”