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Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. Paperback – May 13, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
From his temporary home in the leafy suburbs of Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Italian newspaper columnist Severgnini turns a curious eye toward Americans, their bureaucracy and labor-saving gadgets. With the same critical lens through which he viewed England (in Inglese, which was a bestseller in the U.K.), the reporter sees through all America's gimmicks the fat-free, guilt-free, buy-now, pay-later mechanics of advanced capitalism but he is not adverse to her charms. Both repelled and attracted by the wonders of convenience living, he finds a joyous horror in channel-hopping, mall shopping and the pursuit of comfort, in our abuse of English ("La-Z-Boy is a veiled invitation to commit a cardinal sin") and our blatant lack of sartorial know-how ("The President of the United States jogs through the city in shorts that display his milk-white thighs"). In other hands, such a memoir could have been a jingoistic cliche-fest. Severgnini, though, is a master in the vein of Bill Bryson, and his every criticism is matched with admiration. Nor does he spare his own people from his caustic wit in fact, visiting Italians often come off as badly, if not worse, than his American subjects. The result is a sardonic tale of cultural bewilderment, an incisive peek into the mundane obsessions of our American existence that makes the commonplace be it a fixation with weather statistics or an air-conditioning complex seem not only insane but extremely funny.
From Library Journal
It would be difficult not to like this delightful book. Best-selling Italian author Severgnini, who is also a correspondent for the Economist and a columnist for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, here documents one year in America. The book is actually an English version of Un italiano in America now with a postscript five years later. Severgnini's encounter with America begins in April 1994 when he and his family arrive in Washington, DC, and settle in Georgetown, a neighborhood where he meets both college students and politicians. In a light yet poignant writing style, he chronicles renting and furnishing his new home and approaches routine tasks that Americans take for granted obtaining parking permits, choosing cable and long distance services with wonder and humor. He also tackles American customs and habits: Why are Americans obsessed with air-conditioning and ice? Why do they like their coffee scalding? Americans, he observes, are individualistic, and yet they also come together for a nationwide picnic on the Fourth of July. While the key strength of the book is the author's fresh perspective, the weakness is its focus on Washington, DC, and many consider America to start actually beyond the capital Beltway. Still, a good purchase for most public libraries. Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
It is a lighthearted, short book that is somewhat amusing. I actually quit reading it about 1/3 of the way through because it was outdated. Not the books fault; it was written in the early 2000's if I recall correctly. There was a lot of commentary on the internet, technology, etc. and things have changed so much that I just got bored reading it.
To his credit, Mr. Severgnini is a good writer, his pen is light and his text is charming and flows well, and his fascination with his subject is obvious. Sadly it did not translate into anything profound.
Bottom line - pros: well written and somewhat entertaining airplane book for people who never lived in the US; cons: Beppe Severgnini is not Alexis de Tocqueville
There are few aspects of America that Mr. S.-- I'm not taking any chances on misspelling his name-- misses. He covers malls, freeway drivers, obesity, casual attire, overly friendly waiters, political correctness, our obsession with shopping, being in control, being organized, numbers and air conditioning, to name a few.
One of my favorite paragraphs from this book is Mr. S's take on America's bad taste or what he calls "large-scale wanton tackiness." "The hero figures of this America are Mae West, Liberace, Muhammad Ali, Joan Collins, and Ivana Trump. Larger than life personalities who at first sight, and often at second or third, are beyond comprehension. How can they like that stuff? The sacred places of this America are Las Vegas, Atlantic City, every bar in the state of Texas, and every swimming pool in California, as well as 90 percent of official ceremonies and any sports event you care to mention." This is a statement difficult to dispute.
I'm not completely convinced that this writer could get an objective view of the U. S. from hanging out with Washington types. I wouldn't say that people inside the Beltway, as the media would have us call them, are good examples of what Americans are like. I wonder if he would have sung a different tune if he had spent a year, for instance, in Nashville, Kansas City or Miami or some other large U. S. city besides Washington. At any rate, this book is a great read. I recommend reading it during these Dog Days of summer in a very cold air conditioned room!
We don't see ourselves the way others see us, so Beppe's perspective is VERY refreshing and thought-provoking. Americans have some kooky idiosyncracies and proclivities, but then again... so do Italians, and every other ethnic group out there. His book gets me to thinking about all the years I lived in NYC. I wonder now how all the foreigners in that melting pot perceived us, and marvel at the adjustments they had to make to "get with the program" in America.
Thank you, Beppe... for a very enjoyable read. I'm now reading his "La Bella Figura," and I'll get back to you with more when I've finished that one.
I say, "Go for it, and have a good chuckle or two, or three, or four, or more."