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on June 25, 2002
Beppe may be the most important Italian explorer of America since Veranzano, well at least the most amusing. As a visitor to the US for a year, he leads us through the wilds of American cultural peculiarities and excesses, from "servers" in restaurants who want to be your best friend to mattress super-stores, where the salesmen encourage you to jump on the beds to try them out. Always good-spirited about his observations, he allows us to see many things in America we think are quite normal from a very different perspective, one that makes for a very funny book. I read the original book "Un Italiano in America" several years ago and wasn't sure if the English version would translate well. I am happy to report that Beppe is as funny in English as he is in Italian.
My only criticism is that the book is based on experiences from more than 7 years ago, and so while we have been enthusiastically exporting the many objects of his humorous observations to the rest of the world, we have been busy creating material for another book. Come 'on back Beppe, you need to check out vanity license plates, rap music, cappuccino with your Big Mac, and, of course, Dr. Phil.
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on June 6, 2002
I agree with the previous reviewer. The text is a bit light for a full hardback, i.e., expensive, volume. Realizing that the English edition follows the book's appearance in Italy, it now seems somewhat dated. Taking place in 1994/95, parts are like reading last year's newspaper. Bill Clinton is no longer in the White House and the Democrats are now the majority in the Senate.
Some of the ground covered is well-worn and has been brought up by numerous authors and other European observers. Yes, Americans are fat. Yes, we eat disgusting junk food. His French friend was "nauseated" after observing what fans at a basketball game ate? Then go back to Provence! Bill Bryson, a Yankee himself, does a better job of describing his native land's dietary idiosyncracies.
At points the details get a bit dry. I don't care if Americans mispell the author's name. That seems a bit self serving. Discussions on how an Italian views the machinations of Washington politicians don't interest most Americans. A more fitting subtitle would be: "An Italian Discovers Life Inside the Washington Beltway." Georgetown is hardly Main Street, USA.
The above criticism aside, I must say that the author has produced a light hearted and, at times, humorous look at the difficulties of establishing a household in Washington through European eyes. It's a quick read, perfect for a plane trip, which is where I found myself laughing at some of Severgnini's trials and tribulations. I suspiciously wonder, however, if the text has been watered down for its American audience. I'd like to get a look at the Italian version!
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on June 1, 2002
This is an interesting reading for italophiles. I would rate the book higher except that the hardbound volume is padded with numerous blank pages and title pages (two separate pages that say nothing but "Ciao Italia" for example), so I would recommend waiting for the paperback edition.
Severgnini's impressions of America are interesting if not profound. Not a lot of detail really. At least a couple of his observations I now see are typical of the Italian world-view, things I thought were specific to people I know personally. For example, he mentions that the native Americans (Washingtonians) are quick to shed their winter clothes in the middle of a winter warm spell, but he and other Italians would never think to wear spring clothing out of season. He is appalled that Americans cannot spell, and lists two pages of mispellings of his own name, which most Americans will not find remarkable. Nor will Americans be surprised that journalists in the USA don't know Italian.
The book suffers a little bit from a narrow view of the U.S. based on living for one year in Washington, D.C. A lot of what he describes as typical american life will strike Americans as "inside the beltway" stuff. He even overestimates the significance of the National Spelling Bee, which most Americans think of as a kind of camp event, presumably because (as we all know) it is held in Washington.
But the wrong impressions, of which there are few, make for fun reading. There really isn't a cult of people who like to eat Spam, nor is it really an integral part of American cuisine.
On the other hand, his observations are often right on, for example he truly understands what sort of people gorge themselves (and smoke) at a house of pancakes.
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on April 27, 2004
As usual some italians never miss a chance to complain and bash about things they either don't have or don't understand. Clearly the author has been living in the stone age far too long. What does he mean with "How many people have actually ever bought an airline ticket over the internet?". Probably every single person I know! Or "How many people have actually ever sent data over the internet?". Practically the entire US population! His observations are not only shallow and over analyzed, most of them are just not accurate. Further, he fails to capture the true underlying issues embedded in the American way of life. The social and cultural issues that are ripping this country apart. A very poor analysis of non-issues that are, for the most part, just a result of his ignorance. His arrogance. Money NOT well spent I must say. P.S. I am an Italian living in the US.
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on June 16, 2002
Witty, humorous but absolutely true. Severgnini outlines a picture of the U.S. from the point of view of a cultured Italian who accepted a temporary relocation in Washington DC as correspondent for the major Italian newspaper.
The book does not aim to be a sociological portrait of the U.S. society, not at all; it is rather focused on explaining some urban legends that the European media have created along the years on America and the Americans.
I believe that any European or Canadian citizen will find this book amusing: when they will eventually relocate in the U.S. they will find that it is also sadly true.
Although I consider this book a "must read" for any foreigner (more so before you accept a relocation to the U.S.), I would like to suggest it to US citizens too, provided that they can stand some criticism.
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on February 5, 2004
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 America. Instead, for the most part, it was over-simplistic and too general in its writing and over-exaggerated in its complaints (even though I'm far from being an apologist of American social behavior). Mostly it was fairly shallow observations from someone who I heard was an extremely introspective and intelligent author. My flatmate assured me that he writes much better in Italian as he's less confident in translating his witticisms into English, so I guess his works in English will always leave something lacking. There were some chuckles in this book, but as far as satirical social observations go, I wouldn't put this near the front of the pack.
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on September 3, 2003
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 clerks' smiling helpfulness, and bemused by such American institutions as the pancake house, political correctness, and love of pointless gadgetry. It's not exactly hilarious stuff, but it's intelligent and informed, and Severgnini obviously has a lot of affection for the New World, despite our very real penchant for leaving air conditioning at frigid levels. He's a literate, bilingual journalist, yet he looks on with amusement and understanding at even our appalling informal spelling ("C U L8R," "E-Z-Brite" --- argggh!). We Americans couldn't ask for a more sympathetic observer.
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on November 27, 2002
A good book to read if you want (1) a book you can finish in a day and (2) to feel grateful to be an American. The author generally praises America in a variety of ways; the most interesting parts praised corporate customer service and government bureaucracy- both objects of frequent criticism among Americans who have never seen how badly other countries do it.
One weakness: the author views America through rose-colored glasses. Poverty, crime, etc. get short shrift.
But I disagree with the commenters who accuse this book of "Beltway bias." Many of the things the author discusses (the idea that "no one walks" and obesity, for example) are much, much truer in the rest of America than they are inside the Beltway.
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on July 2, 2002
I have read the Italian version of this book while spending the summer of 1999 in Washington DC. For me and my other Italian friends who were with me at the time this book was like the "Bible" for Italian travellers in the US. Finally we felt like somebody understood our experience and our feelings, I never read anything that mirrors so closely my own experience there, expect for the fact that I went there as a student at Georgetown.
I advise everyone to read this book, as it it interesting and funny both for Italians, who will recognise themselves into at least some of the situations, and for anybody else, who will be able to have a better insight into the Italian mentality.
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on December 10, 2003
"Ciao America" is an OK book for all the people that know Italians, their daily habits and problems with the "Italian system". Beppe Severgnini is an ok writer that, for a period of time, was considered a good kept secret. But when success came about with the Italian version of "Ciao America" I believe he lost track of reality. I consider him a "fan" of the Italian opposition party (socialist/communist) and I believe he betrayed his former editor, Silvio Berlusconi Now the Italian Prime Minister & strong US allied, for opportunistic reasons. Now he betrays the USA by campaigning against the US coalition. Not good! Do not support him!
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