The Italian Experience

Let me tell you a story…  As most of you know, I am teaching high school English in Seriate, Bergamo.  This means my upper-level students are only 2-3 years younger than me.  In my fifth level classes I have been teaching lessons on American politics, which happily coincides with the elections in the US.

I remember in high school, my history teachers were always careful not to push their political views on students, and some even refrained from saying if they were conservative or liberal.  I have to say that Italian teachers are very opinionated and do not refrain from sharing their personal views in class.  I had a very interesting discussion with one class, when their teacher exclaimed that although she is very liberal, she believes that gay marriage is simply wrong.  All of the class except one student agreed with her, and so I asked if they had a problem with a man liking a man or a woman being with a woman.  The answer was a resounding no, but of course a legal and ceremonial bond between two people of the same sex is out of the question for many of them.  The class was shocked when I said that I voted for gay marriage in Maine.  It is discussions like this that really give me a look into Italian society and politics.

Meanwhile in another fifth level class, we were going through the process of electing a president.  We started discussing the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.  I then asked them according to their personal opinions to choose to be Republican, Democratic, or independent.  I was absolutely shocked when 80% of the class decided to be Republican, and only three students wanted to be Democrats.  Yes, we had about 6 independents, but were all these kids seriously conservatives?  It was kind of hard for me to believe.

Fast forward 2 class periods.  A week after Obama won, and time to hold debates in our class.  I asked the students to break into their parties.  Suddenly there were only three Republicans and the Democratic group had grown to four times its original size.  “What happened?  I’m glad you guys decided to become Democrats, but what changed your mind?”  Most of my students tried to explain that they had originally been confused about which party was which.  I finally got a straight answer out of one of the students who stated, “I don’t want to be on the losing team.”  This made me laugh, and now I understand, the Italian media had been predicting Mitt Romney to win after his performance in the debates.  This is why many students were originally part of the Republican group…  Needless to say, our class elections had the same result as the American elections, the Democratic candidate won both the electoral and the popular vote.  Our class elections weren’t even close, some of the members of the republican party wanted to vote for the Democratic candidate.

From this activity I have learned a lot not only about my students, but also about Italian politics in general.  Italians tend to have a huge number of political parties, which are quite fickle, changing their views or even the name of their party (Forza Italia) from election to election.  It makes sense then that my students see fit to jump from party to party, as it is quite common in Italy with their multi-party system.  This phenomenon brings to mind a video I once watched in my Italian class about Italian stereotypes.

This video may seem like an exaggeration to someone who has never lived in Italy.  In my opinion, it’s pretty on point.  Watch the elections section and you will see the exact phenomenon I experienced with our mock elections in class.  I’d say that the only section that isn’t exactly true is the coffee one.  Although there are many different types of coffee here, people pretty much only order cappuccinos in the morning and caffe (espresso) the rest of the day.  I think there are more options for coffee in the rest of Europe.  Watch and enjoy this take on Italian culture by a famous Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto.

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