Looking Past “La Dolce Vita”

The sweet life.


That’s the literal translation of the well-known phrase, “la dolce vita”. These three words are usually used to describe an idyllic idea of daily life in…you guessed it! Italy. The phrase came into popular usage in the English language when director Federico Fellini’s film of the same name won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1960. The film stars Marcello Mastroianni, a possible distant parente (relative) of mine and is worth a watch the next time you’ve got 3 hours to kill.

Oggigiorno, nowadays, most people aren’t even aware of the film’s existence, but the words “la dolce vita” conjure up all sorts of colourful (albeit stereotypical) images of living well in sunny Italy.

By giving my blog the title Not Just Another “Dolce Vita” I hoped to invite readers to take a glimpse into Italian life and see beyond the stereotypical “dolce vita” idea. Because while life in Italy may seem simple, stress-free, and always enjoyable to most North Americans (and Brits, and Aussies, and Kiwis, and whoever else…) the reality can be quite different. So please, take off your rose-coloured occhiali, and come get to know the raw Italy.

Picture a place that has had a whopping 67 governments since 1943. A place that’s still a little behind the times when it comes to equality between the sexes, both in the home and the workplace. A country that holds in its bosom the seat of Catholicism, yet has ever-declining faith in the institution of marriage. A place graced with much natural beauty, many World Heritage Sites and an enormous tourism industry, yet finds itself in the deepest throes of a financial crisis. A country where things move slowly and bureaucracy is beyond a nightmare. A country where one of the most beautiful, famous and historic cities is slowly sinking. A homeland where parents would love to have more children, but simply can’t afford to support them. A place where nearly-naked women (Veline) prance around as accessories on daytime tv. A country where fathers retire early so that their sons can have a chance at employment in their place.

It sure doesn’t sound like a very “dolce vita” to me. So why do we think la vita quotidiana (daily life) in Italy is so much sweeter than life in our home country?

Maybe it’s because most non-Italians are there for travel and tourism, so their soggiorno isn’t long enough for them to come in contact with these less-than-postcard-perfect aspects of Italy. Or maybe visitors to Italy cling so tightly to their stereotypes that they don’t ever get to see the real Italy.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because Italy and Italians do have a magical quality about them. And the magic isn’t that life in Italy is always easy and perfect, but it’s in the way that Italians approach life.

Case and point: when I asked a friend of mine what he thought about the financial crisis he responded with subdued pride, “Crisis? What crisis? As long as Italians can eat well with their family and friends, there is no crisis here.”

Life in Italy will always be sweet because Italians will always find the sweetness in it.

2 thoughts on “Looking Past “La Dolce Vita”

  1. Very well said. Casual visitors already have their minds made up by the time they get here. If I hear one more person say that Italians have long lunches under olive groves every day I swear I will scream.
    We love our lives in Italy, but that is because we have been able to earn our money in Australia and can come here and enjoy the unbelievable beauty and history and delightful people without the miserable daily grind of being underpaid for doing a job that is probably hated. I would not like to have to find a job here. The very thought of having to work in one of the government offices fills me with dread.
    The prospects for young people here right now are not good. I see a lot of underemployment in our area, particularly for women, where only menial jobs are on offer, with barely enough hours to provide a reasonable income.
    Luckily Italians do make the most of what they have and get by with family support.

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