This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.

Valerio "Lo Piccolo" Sperelli
Genoa, Italy

In June 2005, Italian ex Prime Minister Berlusconi said he charmed Finland's President Ms Halonen into giving up an attempt to site the European Union's new food agency there in favor of Italy. Well, that's what the news reported, because in Italy he actually bragged about his "playboy tactics" (he's 70 years old) and joked about the fact that "Finnish food sucks anyway". Europe was astonished, Finland enraged. Berlusconi, surprised, commented that "it was only a lighthearted, friendly attitude", adding: "of course I was kidding, SHE'S DAMN UGLY!". For almost an year, diplomatic relations with Finland were as cold as a corpse under the snow.

Now this is the Italian national character, like it or not. See? It's all about spontaneity! For example, saying random funny things at an utterly inappropriate time, thus causing embarrassment or, sometimes, even despair! This is the kind of genius without discipline that can make us loved or hated around the world, the one that built our history, the one that made us sadly famous. Oh, and please don't mind the French: they just hate us because they lost the World Cup final last year.

In case some of you wonder "if this is positive, what's the negative side of the Italian spirit?", you should probably know that Italy is also unique in preserving stupid old traditions and superstitions. Basically it looks like we're still living in the 19th century! Isn't that exciting? In Naples, people are still convinced that San Gennaro's blood miraculously melts twice a year and we also have some statue of the Virgin Mary weeping from time to time, which always gathers a big crowd. But it doesn't stop to religion. On a more serious note, women are still heavily discriminated for a western Country. I dare you to ask about equal opportunities in Italy: you'll only get old jokes and some hearty laugh in return.

Another big problem with Italian women is that they don't get pregnant. Maybe we're so busy enjoying our privileges as Mediterranean males (for example, not being interrupted while we talk) that we forget to do what a man's gotta do. Italy has the oldest population in the EU: very few babies are born every year, but most of all elderly people won't die no matter what. They just won't. We don't know if it's our fantastic food or the Almighty Jesus Christ who obviously lives in the Vatican with Pope Ratzinger, but either way, these old guys tend to survive everything.

I should talk about our monuments and our unparalleled artistic richness but I'd rather not make this article horribly boring, so I'll just throw a generic "yes, we're the most beautiful country in the world, come see Venice" and move to another Italian trademark: the Mafia. There's a thin line between reality and fiction in the rumors about this old and powerful criminal organization. In a sense, the Mafia created a legend and then became that legend. Ex mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano's favorite movie was The Godfather. He was nicknamed the "Phantom of Corleone" and some people say he tried to talk like Brando. Isn't that lovely? He killed 28 people and commissioned or took part in roughly 400 murders.

If the presence of the Mafia leads you into thinking that Sicily and southern italy are dangerous places, you're totally wrong. They're not. Actually, not only Italy is relatively crime-free compared to other countries, but you won't be in a place safer than Sicily. Since the Mafia controls everything there, people treat each other with the utmost respect. Petty crimes aren't tolerated. You never know who you're insulting for stealing your parking space, and chances are, if it's the wrong guy you'll get shot in the back of the head. If you live in Palermo and can accept the fact that you will be giving your tax money not only to a tax collector but also to some other guy (who's got nothing to do with the government but is much more friendly) then nothing bad will ever happen to you. On the other hand, you have to accept this state of things: if you don't, you either leave Sicily or get your house burned and family threatened.

Italians still like the U.S. Well, many of us are a bit baffled by the fact that sometimes your government decides to bomb random countries with stupid excuses, but that didn't diminish our affection for Hollywood, Ford cars and your excellent lesbian porn. We don't like burgin' though. Never did. You're the country of young fat people, and if we started burgin' we'd become the country of old fat people which would kinda suck.

I live in Genoa, birth city of Christopher Columbus, the smart guy who discovered America. My fellow citizens often talk about Americans with thinly veiled superiority and a creepy smile because, you know, "we created you". If you ever get into an argument with someone from Genoa who's evidently delusional and insists that you "owe him something", just nod and don't make any sudden move.

You owe us.

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