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An Italian in America Paperback – 22 May 2001

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3.9 out of 5 stars 13 reviews from

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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: BUR Biblioteca Univerzale Rizzoli (22 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8817125539
  • ISBN-13: 978-8817125536
  • Product Dimensions: 12 x 1 x 20 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 749,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Beppe Severgnini is the narrator of the integration of two different cultures, in many aspects so distant but at the end similar. Through the reading of the pages you will either laugh on Italian behavior or as an American you will be able to understand the Italian perception on the average US way of doing.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 3.9 out of 5 stars 13 reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why one year in Georgetown doesn't explain America 14 Aug. 2003
By Govindan Nair - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was intrigued to find this book by an Italian writer (which I picked up in a bookstore in Rome) whose book title seems to subtly harken back to one of his compatriots who preceded him to America - in 1492 to be exact!
I am sure this book will be viewed differently by American and non-American readers. The author may be conscious of this, inviting, perhaps even provoking, the reader early on to make his or her own judgments on his final conclusions about the United States (which gave way to the author's inital "stupor of the early months" of his stay)
Certainly, the English translation is witty, funny, and entertaining, and I can only imagine that the original in Italian is the same. He likens Italians' encounters with bureaucracy in the United States to a "matador faced with a milk cow" because "having trained on the Italian is a pushover." He marvels at consumer choice in America, describing the experience of Europeans at Potomac Mills, the enormous shopping mall outside Washington DC with numerous factory outlets, as follows: "After one hour, Europeans are enjoying themselves like spoiled children. After two hours, they are scooping things up like refugees from the former Soviet bloc."
Much of the book reads like a manual of how to deal with the practicalities of living in the United States - like getting a social security card, driver's license, telephone, and the like. And he is mostly admiring in his descriptions of these experiences, which include getting free advice late at night from a toll-free service number for his computer.
But this admiring tone belies some questioning about American institutions and attitudes to which he only alludes, but clearly avoids discussing in any depth. Certainly, his references to other commentators on the United States, stretching back to the early days of the republic, and his frequent sprinkling of statistics in the text, make for interesting reading. Yet, absent a certain depth of analysis, many of his conclusions sound more like familiar European stereotypes of the United States than the product of thoughtful comparison: "..this is a nation of optimistic self-improvers, convinced that happiness is above all a question of mind over matter" or "But in Italy, the family is still central and, at least in comparision with America, still works fairly well."
For those familiar with or residing in Washington DC, the book evokes familiar place names, including shopping malls, schools,and streets. But in describing his year spent in the Washington D.C. area, the Italian columnist who is the author -- and is also well known in Italy for a best-seller on Britain --unflinchingly extrapolates his observations to the rest of the United States. He builds his final conclusions on the United States around five 'C's - control, comfort, competition, community, and choregraphy. Some of his conclusions will strike American readers as bizarre - as, for instance, that Americans have a much smaller comfort zone in terms of body space between strangers than do Europeans (I have always heard and also most observed the exact opposite).
I found myself constantly asking whether the audience he has in mind is non-American, and especially European. I cannot tell if the author really intended this book to be read beyond a largely Italian, or even European audience. In the end, this book may probably be more telling of Italians, or perhaps of Europeans to some extent, than it is of the United States as a whole.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Italian in Georgetown 14 Sept. 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is very witty and had me laughing out loud. Phrases such as a "matador with a milk cow" to describe an Italian used to grappling with bureacracy dealing with the US system and a "pepper mill" as big as a Bazooka in US restaurants are priceless.
However, his analysis of US culture, based on a year in Georgetown, an upscale and very ethnically and nationally diverse area of Washington, DC (hardly representative of America as a whole), is somewhat glib and panders to European stereotypes of Americans.
In attempting to "explain" Americans, he makes many blunders. He assumes the candy free checkout line is for obese Americans who want to avoid temptation, when it is for parents with grasping children. He says Americans have a smaller personal space and talk closer than Italians, which flies in the face of all socio-cultural research. He tries a few brief forays into the "real" America only to making a sweeping judgement of working class people as unattractive without getting to know them. And he calls Dominos the best takeout pizza???
In summary, the book is entertaining as the musings of a talented journalist but should not be taken seriously as providing cultural insight into Americans or Italians for that matter.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The lighter side of cultural clashes 3 Aug. 2004
By Andrew W. Johns - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book might be better titled "An Italian in Washington, DC" since Severgnini's experiences (at least as presented here) are largely limited to the Metro DC area. In addition, his experiences are somewhat dated and don't really reflect the current reality (in particular, his comments about the traffic don't ring true).

However, the clash of cultures described here is amusing, and Severgnini does provide some interesting insights into American culture, as seen by an outsider. Overall, this book is sympathetic to America, and it seems to go out of its way to avoid any appearance of mean-spiritedness. Perhaps a little criticism might have balanced the book and provided a more realistic assessment of how we appear to others.

An enjoyable light read, especially if you find culture clashes amusing, but if you are looking for a more detailed critique of American culture and society, you'll have to look elsewhere.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but I wanted more! 19 Nov. 2001
By Genevieve M. Ellerbee - Published on
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading the book, and did enjoy it a great deal, especially as a counterpoint to the many books on Italy I read by Americans and British authors. I was vaguely unsatisfied with the book, however, probably because the issues that were touched upon had so much more to be explored. I'd love to meet the author to discuss some of them in greater length. Some interesting points were made, but so briefly that I was left wanting more. (This sort of thing probably happens in all the books by foreigners about Italy, and I'm just not catching them, but there you have it.) At any rate, the book is very worth reading, and I do wish it had been longer. (For what it's worth, I also hate shows like Politically Incorrect, because just as the topic gets interesting, you have to cut to a commercial break.)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable, funny, "true" 14 July 2001
By Stefano Santilli - Published on
Format: Paperback
A wonderful book. I read it before going to study in the US. I found it funny, enjoyable, intelligent. I read it again after several months of "American" experience and I found it astonishingly "true". The best aspect of the book is that Severgnini describes Americans as they appear to the eyes of an Italian, but he does not judge. This is an amazing book, but not for everybody. If you have never been to the US, you will smile, laugh, frown your eyebrows, think "that's crazy". If you are not American but you know the US, you will smile, laugh and think "that's so true". But if you are American, you may think "What's so funny"?
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