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Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. Paperback – May 13, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (May 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767912365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767912365
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Ciao, America! is fun, but that's not why Americans should read it. For us, the real fascination of Severgnini's book is the perspective it provides, one English-speaking travel readers seldom get. Instead of finding out what another country looks like to an American, Brit, or Australian, we get to find out what America looks like to an Italian. It's a surprising experience, and I, at least, found myself filled with both sympathy and envy for the Europeans who have been reading outsider perspectives for decades.
Which isn't to say this book is always easy to get. Lots of passages leave Americans saying "As opposed to what?" Will everyone who reads this book understand why Severgnini lists the cost of things like hooking up his telephone and getting a social security card? And I admit to being totally mystified about the reasons Severgnini's mattress-buying experience was so traumatic. He went to a mattress store, inspected his options, picked one (without thinking to measure it first, unfortunately), and bought it. This seems natural to me. How do they buy mattresses in Italy? This book should have a second writer for the American edition - someone who can explain what other options there are.
The Italian edition should have a second writer, too - one to explain where Severgnini went wrong. Every American reader of the book will cringe extravagantly when the author pays sticker price for an automobile - there should be a footnote in the book explaining why you don't do that. The Italian edition also needs to explain why you never rent a house when the ad says "grace and charm.
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Format: Hardcover
Beppe may be the most important Italian explorer of America since Veranzano, well at least the most amusing. As a visitor to the US for a year, he leads us through the wilds of American cultural peculiarities and excesses, from "servers" in restaurants who want to be your best friend to mattress super-stores, where the salesmen encourage you to jump on the beds to try them out. Always good-spirited about his observations, he allows us to see many things in America we think are quite normal from a very different perspective, one that makes for a very funny book. I read the original book "Un Italiano in America" several years ago and wasn't sure if the English version would translate well. I am happy to report that Beppe is as funny in English as he is in Italian.
My only criticism is that the book is based on experiences from more than 7 years ago, and so while we have been enthusiastically exporting the many objects of his humorous observations to the rest of the world, we have been busy creating material for another book. Come 'on back Beppe, you need to check out vanity license plates, rap music, cappuccino with your Big Mac, and, of course, Dr. Phil.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an interesting reading for italophiles. I would rate the book higher except that the hardbound volume is padded with numerous blank pages and title pages (two separate pages that say nothing but "Ciao Italia" for example), so I would recommend waiting for the paperback edition.
Severgnini's impressions of America are interesting if not profound. Not a lot of detail really. At least a couple of his observations I now see are typical of the Italian world-view, things I thought were specific to people I know personally. For example, he mentions that the native Americans (Washingtonians) are quick to shed their winter clothes in the middle of a winter warm spell, but he and other Italians would never think to wear spring clothing out of season. He is appalled that Americans cannot spell, and lists two pages of mispellings of his own name, which most Americans will not find remarkable. Nor will Americans be surprised that journalists in the USA don't know Italian.
The book suffers a little bit from a narrow view of the U.S. based on living for one year in Washington, D.C. A lot of what he describes as typical american life will strike Americans as "inside the beltway" stuff. He even overestimates the significance of the National Spelling Bee, which most Americans think of as a kind of camp event, presumably because (as we all know) it is held in Washington.
But the wrong impressions, of which there are few, make for fun reading. There really isn't a cult of people who like to eat Spam, nor is it really an integral part of American cuisine.
On the other hand, his observations are often right on, for example he truly understands what sort of people gorge themselves (and smoke) at a house of pancakes.
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Format: Paperback
I first heard about the Author and this book on NPR and laughed out loud listening to Beppe relate some of the stories to the Interviewer! I nodded my head in agreement several times and decided that I must have this book. The book by no means makes fun of Americans, but gives an insight into their lives from a foreigners point of view; the way of Americans isn't wrong, just different.

Being a Foreigner in a foreign land myself, I was able to relate to the Author and his observations of America and its inhabitants 100%. It is interesting to me that no matter where the foreigners come from, be it from Italy, Germany or England, they all tell the same story. It is still a country I am glad to be living in and am grateful for it's opportunities it has given me.

There are more of these "types" of books from this Author, observing characteristics of the English and Germans. I hope that Amazon.com has them on offer on the website so that Americans may enjoy a chuckle about the people on the other side of the pond!
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