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Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. [Paperback]

Beppe Severgnini
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 13 2003
In the wry but affectionate tradition of Bill Bryson, Ciao, America! is a delightful look at America through the eyes of a fiercely funny guest — one of Italy’s favorite authors who spent a year in Washington, D.C.

When Beppe Severgnini and his wife rented a creaky house in Georgetown they were determined to see if they could adapt to a full four seasons in a country obsessed with ice cubes, air-conditioning, recliner chairs, and, of all things, after-dinner cappuccinos. From their first encounters with cryptic rental listings to their back-to-Europe yard sale twelve months later, Beppe explores this foreign land with the self-described patience of a mildly inappropriate beachcomber, holding up a mirror to America’s signature manners and mores. Succumbing to his surroundings day by day, he and his wife find themselves developing a taste for Klondike bars and Samuel Adams beer, and even that most peculiar of American institutions -- the pancake house.

The realtor who waves a perfect bye-bye, the overzealous mattress salesman who bounces from bed to bed, and the plumber named Marx who deals in illegally powerful showerheads are just a few of the better-than-fiction characters the Severgninis encounter while foraging for clues to the real America. A trip to the computer store proves just as revealing as D.C.’s Fourth of July celebration, as do boisterous waiters angling for tips and no-parking signs crammed with a dozen lines of fine print.

By the end of his visit, Severgnini has come to grips with life in these United States -- and written a charming, laugh-out-loud tribute.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. + La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

From his temporary home in the leafy suburbs of Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Italian newspaper columnist Severgnini turns a curious eye toward Americans, their bureaucracy and labor-saving gadgets. With the same critical lens through which he viewed England (in Inglese, which was a bestseller in the U.K.), the reporter sees through all America's gimmicks the fat-free, guilt-free, buy-now, pay-later mechanics of advanced capitalism but he is not adverse to her charms. Both repelled and attracted by the wonders of convenience living, he finds a joyous horror in channel-hopping, mall shopping and the pursuit of comfort, in our abuse of English ("La-Z-Boy is a veiled invitation to commit a cardinal sin") and our blatant lack of sartorial know-how ("The President of the United States jogs through the city in shorts that display his milk-white thighs"). In other hands, such a memoir could have been a jingoistic cliche-fest. Severgnini, though, is a master in the vein of Bill Bryson, and his every criticism is matched with admiration. Nor does he spare his own people from his caustic wit in fact, visiting Italians often come off as badly, if not worse, than his American subjects. The result is a sardonic tale of cultural bewilderment, an incisive peek into the mundane obsessions of our American existence that makes the commonplace be it a fixation with weather statistics or an air-conditioning complex seem not only insane but extremely funny. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

It would be difficult not to like this delightful book. Best-selling Italian author Severgnini, who is also a correspondent for the Economist and a columnist for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, here documents one year in America. The book is actually an English version of Un italiano in America now with a postscript five years later. Severgnini's encounter with America begins in April 1994 when he and his family arrive in Washington, DC, and settle in Georgetown, a neighborhood where he meets both college students and politicians. In a light yet poignant writing style, he chronicles renting and furnishing his new home and approaches routine tasks that Americans take for granted obtaining parking permits, choosing cable and long distance services with wonder and humor. He also tackles American customs and habits: Why are Americans obsessed with air-conditioning and ice? Why do they like their coffee scalding? Americans, he observes, are individualistic, and yet they also come together for a nationwide picnic on the Fourth of July. While the key strength of the book is the author's fresh perspective, the weakness is its focus on Washington, DC, and many consider America to start actually beyond the capital Beltway. Still, a good purchase for most public libraries. Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars You just might learn something... Jan. 30 2004
By Matt
I ran across this book while looking in the travel section of a local bookstore, and after flipping through it, decided I had to have it - I was curious what a foreigner might have to say about us. I read the first few pages, and couldn't put it down until I was through. Beppe writes about our way of life, experienced firsthand when he and his wife moved to America for a year. He writes about things we take for granted and might never make any observations about, such as obtaining credit cards, our use of air conditioning, mobile homes, malls and even his new neighbors. He writes about "us". It's written with a healthy dose of humor, and I found myself frequently laughing out loud. But he does more than relate stories and anecdotes - he has theories (for lack of a better word) about why we are the way we are. I initially thought I would read this for its entertainment value, but I realized I actually learned something in the process. Read this with an open mind, a sense of humor, and you'll be surprised what you learn from this relatively short, but very entertaining book. Can't recommend it enough if you're interested at all in learning more about our way of life from a different perspective.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Ciao, Signor Severgnini! Jan. 11 2004
First of all, the author's name is BEPPE SEVERGNINI. Not Beppe Severgnia, Bepe Vergnini or Betty Sevegnini, as some American utility and credit card companies would have it. The imperviousness of Americans to correct spelling is one of the things that drove Severgnini nuts during his year in Washington, D.C. as a correspondent for the Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera. Among the other things were peanut butter; the hostility of American drivers toward other drivers who want to enter their lane of traffic; the inability of king-size American mattresses to fit minuscule Georgetown townhouses; and waiters who are anxious to tell you their first names. "Ciao, America!" is Severgnini's witty, appreciative but far from uncritical assessment of America and the American national character, following up on a similar book he wrote about the English. Though he does get some things wrong--for example, Americans don't obey speed limits as faithfully as he thinks, and he doesn't understand that the Spam memorabilia craze is an ironic kitsch phenomenon, rather than a straightforward tribute to a beloved food--he gets a great deal startlingly right. And he's honest enough to write the following: "Italians don't copy the important things about America, such as patriotism, optimism, and a sense of personal responsibility. Our passion, which is shared by three-quarters of the world's population, is to imitate the superficial aspects of American life, which include vocabulary, soft drinks, jeans, hairstyles, films, and songs." Tart, charming and at times unexpectedly poignant--particularly in the "Five Years Later" postscript chapter that demonstrates you can't revisit the past--"Ciao, America!" makes piquant and fascinating reading for any American. It would be great fun to read it right after finishing "Under the Tuscan Sun"!
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4.0 out of 5 stars America from the outside July 31 2003
By Ivy
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.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant side table book April 22 2003
There are some books which are destined for one chapter at a time reads: waiting for the school bus to come, for the half hour between lunch and dentist, time after work and before the evening news. Beats fifty-four chanels and nothing on, but it's not great, compelling page turning prose. That's what you'll find here. Not too shocking, not too sharp, and not a lot of garlic in the sauce.
Where the author is perhaps most telling is in the shared yet differing Italian/American institutions: commercial bureaucrats, ie.the phone company, communion in Catholic Churches, domestic architecture/drapery. Here he is as perceptive as witty, which earns forgiveness for Yanks /Brits pointers. We know 'em already. And please, no more discussions of "OK."
The author's suffering with the arctic nature of Washington supermarkets and theatres is understandable, but to some of us the appealing point may be nostalgia for the un-airconditioned forties and fifties when anyone who could left D.C. during July and August. Nice to recall those days of politicos on vacation. They caused a lot less trouble in ten months than twelve.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Clearly Politically Motivated
As usual some italians never miss a chance to complain and bash about things they either don't have or don't understand. Read more
Published on April 27 2004 by "mick77777"
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost In Translation
I picked up "Ciao America!" as one of my flatmates is from Italy, and I was thinking it was going to be a great satirical, sarcastic view of a foreigner living in... Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2004 by pma
5.0 out of 5 stars amusing
This book is full of interesting snapshots of what we Americans are like from the point of view of a European. Of course, living in D.C. Read more
Published on Dec 14 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars Friend or foe?
"Ciao America" is an OK book for all the people that know Italians, their daily habits and problems with the "Italian system". Read more
Published on Dec 10 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Bill Bryson with a little more empathy
I've just finished this book. Its clear that the author likes America but he's still compelled to provide the same sophomoric satire that irritates me about Bill Bryson. Read more
Published on Dec 7 2003 by Scott F Dudley
1.0 out of 5 stars Stereotypes never work and aren't funny
I thought this was going to be a fun look at American life, and some of it was, but the vast generalizations of Americas were supposed to be humorous but I found them inaccurate... Read more
Published on Nov. 13 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was hoping for
As an American living in Rome, I thought it would be interesting to get the opposite perspective. This book was charming at times but mostly rather boring. Save your money.
Published on Oct. 16 2003 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing and insightful
A light-hearted look at American mores and foibles from an Italian journalist. He finds himself amazed by the efficiency of American bureaucracy and telephones, encouraged by shop... Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2003 by ensiform
4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging addition to a growing genre - BEING THERE
In the style of Bill Bryson and Peter Mayle, Beppe Sergnini has done a job on Americans in general and Washingtonians in particular. Read more
Published on May 15 2003
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