Italy is a wonderful country to visit.
The people are lovely, the food is delicious, and the history and art is beyond compare. Anyone given the opportunity to travel there should jump at the chance.
Recently I visited there, and I enjoyed the trip immensely. I also learned a lot. What I discovered there was not, however, entirely what I expected.
Everywhere we went, I would inevitably ask my guide or host, “How’s the economy doing here?”
I already knew the answer, but I wanted to get the perspective of the people who live there. Consistently, I received the same answer and it was actually a little shocking.
“Lots of suicides,” they’d all say.
Then each would tell me basically the same story. The taxes are far too high and the regulations are impossible to negotiate. A lovely gentleman drove my husband and me around Rome one afternoon. Trying to make small talk, my husband asked him about the taxes in Italy.
“Don’t get me angry,” he replied.
Wisely, my husband dropped the subject since it was our vacation, and we really didn’t want to ruin it by riding around with someone we’d made mad.
During our travels, we noticed that many people conduct business in large sums of cash. For example, when we wanted to rent an apartment in Venice, we were instructed to bring 450 euros to the leasing agent upon our arrival there. They wouldn’t accept anything else. Since I’d read quite a bit about the very sophisticated pickpocketing operations in Italy, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of carrying around that much cash unless I taped it randomly across my body. Fortunately, we cancelled that part of the trip.
For a tour guide in another city, I had to carry 300 euros all day long to give the guide at the conclusion of the tour. While it was a wonderful tour and the guide was fantastic, I can’t lie that I could have enjoyed it a little bit more if I hadn’t been worried about being robbed most of the day.
At one point on the trip, I decided to pamper myself and get a facial at the spa in our hotel. I looked forward to an opportunity to relax and recover a bit from jet lag.
The woman giving me the facial was extremely nice. We started talking about rather mundane things and then I asked her if she’d ever been to the United States.
She told me she visited California once (which seems to be the primary destination for Italians visiting the United States). She said it was her dream to live in the United States one day.
Then she told me how bad things are in Italy. She said it was especially bad for people who make their living giving tours to and catering to people from Greece and Spain because people from those countries are even worse off and don’t vacation anymore. She told me how bad the economy is and again shared with me the large number of suicides in the country.
At one point, she asked me if I like President Obama. I told her I’m not a huge fan. This seemed to surprise her which kind of surprised me. When she complained that problems in Italy resulted from high taxes and overwhelming regulations, I assumed she’d understand why someone wouldn’t be a fan of a president pushing for these very things. The fact is, I don’t think she knows what Obama stands for.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a very relaxing spa treatment, but it was very instructive.
It is this woman’s “dream” to live in the United States. While I loved visiting Italy, my experience there made me once again very appreciative of my life in the United States and more determined to do my part to assure that we never become like countries in Europe where when asked about the state of the economy citizens can only uniformly reply, “Lots of suicides.”