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Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. Hardcover – May 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767912357
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767912358
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 2.3 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,125,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I was looking forward to reading this book - an "outsider's view" (a genre I love) written by a professional journalist, and about a city and country I have some acquaintance with. Alas, I emerged disappointed. To begin with it's dated - the author is describing his time in Washington DC in the mid 1990s so we we have a fair bit about the politics and popular culture of the time, about this great new thing called the Internet, and about the wealth-producing possibilities of the industries. This might not matter so much if the author could bring to the book the charm or humour of, say, Bill Bryson - but he does not. Indeed the impression is of a very dilute Bryson, with the occasional episode that amuses or informs, but mostly it's rather bland.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 59 reviews
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
America from the outside 31 July 2003
By Ivy - Published on
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." All Americans know that "grace," in real estate terms, means "tiny, inconvenient rooms where no furniture will ever fit" and that "charm" means "kitchen and bathroom built in an unfortunate era for appliances and décor - say, 1954 or 1976 - and never remodeled since." Apparently foreigners don't know this. Someone should tell them. Before they get here, or at any rate before they sign the lease.
Severgnini also misses a few points. He notes the widespread existence of tributes to Spam - t-shirts, hats, holiday notecards - but takes it at face value. He doesn't realize we don't actually like the stuff, or eat it; we buy the t-shirts because they're campy and funny, not because to express undying devotion. He claims that people in America drive 55, and I'm willing to entertain the notion that in Washington maybe they do, but to me that sounds like a tourist opportunity right there: go to Washington and see rustic natives drive 55!
But even when it's wrong, Ciao is fascinating, sometimes just for the way it's wrong. Americans rarely get an external review of our country, and when we do, it's hopelessly biased. Severgnini's approach to American culture is just like any ex-pat's, anywhere in the world - he has that same mixture of appreciation, frustration, and confusion that makes living-abroad memoirs so appealing. And for those Americans who are a bit sensitive to criticism, don't worry. Severgnini may not understand us, or like everything about us, but he certainly appreciates us.
Read this book. Savor it. It's fun, funny, and surprisingly interesting. And every American should, at least once, have the experience of hearing Washington, D.C. described as friendly.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Just as funny in English as the original. 25 Jun. 2002
By R. Goldman - Published on
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.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Interesting, light reading, wait for the paperback 1 Jun. 2002
By Thomas B. Gross - Published on
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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Fantastic read! 8 Aug. 2004
By G. Jones - Published on
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 has them on offer on the website so that Americans may enjoy a chuckle about the people on the other side of the pond!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Funny look at America 13 July 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard the author interviewed on NPR and bought the book to see if it was as funny as he was. I loved the book and have sent copies to friends and relatives. Reading this book as an American, I can't tell you how funny and true it is. I think it is valuable to see yourself through others eyes, and this author sees America with all our faults with loving eyes. This is a laugh out loud book which I think Americans should read. After all we need to laugh at ourselves every once in awhile.
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