Useful Notes / Italy
Europe's boot

"Italy is a nation of craftsmen - here, we won't take a shit unless the toilet seat is made of wood."
Carlo Riva, creator of the Riva Aquarama (a very Italian Cool Boat)

Italy (Italian: Italia), officially known as the Italian Republic (Italian: Repubblica italiana), is the country which gave us two popular foodstuffs (pizza and pasta), the Latin alphabet (used by Romance, Germanic, Celtic, and many other languages), opera, ballet, the Renaissance, the Republic (the form of government, not the book), musical notation, the university system (started in Bologna in 1088 A.D.), eyeglasses, Humanism, Roman Catholicism, and The Mafia. Despite importing its two major religious influences (the Greek gods influenced the pre-existing Roman religion in classical times and Christianity was imported from Israel), Italy has been a major center of theological thought.

Member of The European Union and NATO. Now has the Euro, so Ridiculous Exchange Rates jokes no longer work. One of the top 8 largest economies in the world by GDP, and easily in the top 20 by any economic measurement, despite corruption, few natural resources, a backwards South, an archaic political structure and incompetent (at best) politicians.

Much like Germany, Italy for most of its history was pretty much just a geographical expression like "the Balkans" or "Scandinavia". There were many reasons for this, but the largest have to do with geography (it is hard to unite a peninsula divided by so many mountains), the individual wealth and power of many regions making it hard to unify the country by force (Venice or Genoa by themselves were major global players, for instance, and Milan to this day is richer than many countries), and the fact that every region spoke a different dialect that was hard to understand by other Italians living elsewhere in the peninsula. Actually, some of the so-called "dialects" are not variations of standard Italian, but real languages with their own grammar and pronunciation: the differences between them can be so huge that, ironically, an Italian living in Calabria would have an easier time understanding, let's say, a Spaniard than another Italian living in Piedmont if both Italians spoke their respective dialect. However, all Italians learn Standard Italian (based on the Florence variety of the Tuscan dialect, as the Tuscans will proudly tell you) in school.

All these languages reflect the different local cultures: in fact, every Italian region has its own unique traditions and foods, and it's not rare to notice a bit of rivalry between regions, each one of them claiming to have the best people, or the best dishes. Hollywood Italy erroneously tends to portray all Italians as dark haired, olive-skinned folks note  either living in Rome, Naples, Tuscany or Sicily, but real Italy is actually a diverse country with radically different people everywhere you go. This has often led to stereotypes even between Italians themselves, especially during the 1950s and 1960s, when many southern Italians emigrated to northern Italy; northern Italians weren't pleased and (very) often looked down on them, labeling them as lazy and poor; in turn, southern Italians considered their northern fellows stuck-up and boring. Luckily, it got better with time and nowadays these stereotypes are usually played for laughs, as no one really takes them seriously anymore (mostly). An unfortunate side effect of all this is that regionalism is still quite strong in Italy, and as a result Italians tend to have a weaker, more fragmented national identity compared to people in other countries. In other words, regional identity often comes first, and there's a quite evident distinction between Northern, Central, Southern Italy and the islands.

Another common stereotype seen in media is the sunny, pleasant Mediterranean weather everywhere; while this is mostly true for the coastal regions of peninsular Italy, the landlocked central and northern regions tend to have duller and colder weather (for example the Po Valley, Italy's largest plain, is infamous for its thick fog banks, and while snow is a relatively rare sight in southern Italy, the central and northern part always gets snow in the winter).

For some reason, foreign media tend to miss the fact that Italians tend to sarcastically mock anything and anyone if given a chance - even themselves (an ancient tradition dating to the Romans, who, to stave off haughtiness, had the habit of having victorious generals getting mocked by their own troops during their triumphal parade and having a slave follow the general during said parade just to tell him "Remember you have to die"), and are extremely hammy, especially in the south (to the point that they sometimes can't tell when a foreigner is being hammy because it's little different from how they normally act). Another national quirk is complaining: Italians definitely have a love-hate relationship with their own country, and will quickly point out all its flaws and passionately complain about all the things that don't work (politics, infrastructures, the long list goes on), often joking that these things could only happen in Italy because we can't manage anythingnote . While there's definitely some Truth in Television—as this page explains—to many people it's just a normal conversational topic, kinda like Brits talking about the weather. It's a land of snark indeed (which might be why the Brits and Italians have historically gotten on rather well—particularly as regards Italians moving to Britain).

Despite all of the Self-Deprecation, if there's one thing italians are proud are their cousine, especially everything related to pasta, and messing with their traditional food is a huge Berserk Button (Like pasta with ketchup or pizza with pineapplenote ). They also eat coffe in tons of different ways.

The country was eventually united in 1861 by king Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy, with the aid of patriots like Giuseppe Garibaldi and Count Camillo Benso di Cavour but it wasn't until the 1920s that the majority of Italians started speaking standard Italian - the biggest contributions being the advent of mandatory schooling (1859), radio (1924) and television (1954). This means that only older generations can really speak their local dialect, which is used mostly at home or in informal contexts anyway; dialect usage among younger generations is very rare, although it's still extremely easy to figure out where anyone is from just by how they pronounce standard Italian, as the accents vary tremendously across the peninsula - it often takes as little as few kilometers to hear a noticeable difference. Speaking any local dialect is nowadays considered a quite provincial and (at times) a gross habit.

As with Germany, where strong Prussia took the initiative in uniting all the weak states, in Italy it was the Kingdom of Piedmont (ruled by the House of Savoy) that ended up uniting the Italians. The colour of the House of Savoy was blue, which is why Italian sports teams play in blue to this day.

Italy was a late-comer to the scramble for Africa, but it eventually managed to acquire some hard-scrabble colonies (Somalia, Eritrea, Libya) between 1882 and 1911; World War I brought a chance for the new country to shine on the world stage, and Italy was persuaded to leave its previous alliance with Germany and Austria (it should be noted, however, that said alliance was purely defensive in nature and that the majority of Italians despised the Austrians, who had been their long-time enemies) and join the Allies (1915) in exchange for some territorial gains at Austria's expense.

They got it, but still felt short-changed, ushering in Benito Mussolini's era, which led to the second unpleasantness and another change in government.

Modern Italy manages to be one of the world's leading economies, despite the country having all the political stability of a pyramid of cards in front of an active fan (seriously, since the birth of replublican Italy, the government lasted less than a year in average!) and an (ex, for now) Prime Minister convicted and still under investigation for all manner of corruption, white-collar crimes and rather more interesting crimes. The main Italian car company is Turin-based Fiat, which currently owns Chrysler (marking the second time a European car company owns Chrysler, the first being German Daimler corporation); ENI and ENEL are two major players in the oil industry and electricity, respectively, and Italy's Unicredit is one of Europe's largest banks. It is no surprise that just about every major Italian company is headquartered in or north of Rome.






The Italian Flag
The flag's colours date back to the Napoleonic era, combining those of the flag of Milan (red cross on white field, similar to that used by England) and the green uniform of its civic guard; the flag itself dates back to 1796. Following the fall of Napoleon, the tricolour became the official banner of the Italian patriots, and was adopted by the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Until 1946, the flag was defaced with the coat of arms of the House of Savoy.