5.0 out of 5 stars You just might learn something...
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...
Published on Jan. 30 2004 by Matt
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 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...
Published on Feb. 5 2004 by pma
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4.0 out of 5 stars America from the outside,
This review is from: Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. (Paperback)
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." All Americans know that "grace," in real estate terms, means "tiny, inconvenient rooms where no furniture will ever fit" and that "charm" means "kitchen and bathroom built in an unfortunate era for appliances and décor - say, 1954 or 1976 - and never remodeled since." Apparently foreigners don't know this. Someone should tell them. Before they get here, or at any rate before they sign the lease.
Severgnini also misses a few points. He notes the widespread existence of tributes to Spam - t-shirts, hats, holiday notecards - but takes it at face value. He doesn't realize we don't actually like the stuff, or eat it; we buy the t-shirts because they're campy and funny, not because to express undying devotion. He claims that people in America drive 55, and I'm willing to entertain the notion that in Washington maybe they do, but to me that sounds like a tourist opportunity right there: go to Washington and see rustic natives drive 55!
But even when it's wrong, Ciao is fascinating, sometimes just for the way it's wrong. Americans rarely get an external review of our country, and when we do, it's hopelessly biased. Severgnini's approach to American culture is just like any ex-pat's, anywhere in the world - he has that same mixture of appreciation, frustration, and confusion that makes living-abroad memoirs so appealing. And for those Americans who are a bit sensitive to criticism, don't worry. Severgnini may not understand us, or like everything about us, but he certainly appreciates us.
Read this book. Savor it. It's fun, funny, and surprisingly interesting. And every American should, at least once, have the experience of hearing Washington, D.C. described as friendly.
4.0 out of 5 stars An engaging addition to a growing genre - BEING THERE,
By A Customer
This review is from: Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. (Paperback)
In the style of Bill Bryson and Peter Mayle, Beppe Sergnini has done a job on Americans in general and Washingtonians in particular. If you like seeing a culture through an alien's eyes, you'll enjoy this book. And if you do, I can unabashedly recommend another - ROMANCING THE SCONE - FINDING OUR WAY IN A LAND FULL OF BRITS
2.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant side table book,
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars cute and fluffy,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Cheerful and good-natured,
It is easy to agree with those who note that book feels distinctly out-of-date (notes on internet and cellphones, for example) - but this is the only drawback.
The book reads beautifully and author's skills as newspaper columnist are evident. Yes, columnists tend not to linger on subjects for too long and the quest for readability often does not allow for deeper analysis - but then again this is not an analytical book.
Many compare Beppe Severgnini with Bill Bryson. I think, frankly, that Severgnini has a distinct advantage of being much more good-natured than Bryson. The latter often gets annoying with his moralistic ramblings and who shamelessly exploits cheap stereotypes and cliches ...Thank God this book knows better than that.
In addition, Severgnini - despite being able to laugh at himself - does not assume the role of being stupid and proud of it, which Bryson loves so much. This is probably because, again, Severgnini is very, very good natured, this is something that endears him to a reader.
I was very pleased I bought this book. I hope you will be too.
5.0 out of 5 stars Ciao, America: An Italian Discovers the U.S.,
By A Customer
In the tradition of Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself and In a Sunburned Country, Ciao, America! Is a good natured but sharp-eyed look at American culture from the point of view of an Italian foreign correspondent who spent a year in America's capital.
1.0 out of 5 stars Provincial,
By A Customer
and oh, so 90's. The author's trenchant observations are on the level of: <Americans are fat. Black people say "ax" instead of "ask." And who is going to use this wacky new invention "the internet" anyway?> I give the book one star for the discussion of air conditioning; my European friend got a massive head cold this August from the alternating blazing DC sun and the freezing DC interiors. A book for supercilious expats, leave the rest of us alone.
5.0 out of 5 stars Stranger in a Strange Land?,
A stranger in a strange land? I think not. I get the distinct impression that Mr. Severgnini--and I do want to get his name spelled correctly since he says we Americans can't spell-- really had a good time the year that he spent in Georgetown. I know I certainly had a good time reading this often very funny book. He pokes fun at Americans and all our foibles with great wit and little or no mean spiritedness.
There are few aspects of America that Mr. S.-- I'm not taking any chances on misspelling his name-- misses. He covers malls, freeway drivers, obesity, casual attire, overly friendly waiters, political correctness, our obsession with shopping, being in control, being organized, numbers and air conditioning, to name a few.
One of my favorite paragraphs from this book is Mr. S's take on America's bad taste or what he calls "large-scale wanton tackiness." "The hero figures of this America are Mae West, Liberace, Muhammad Ali, Joan Collins, and Ivana Trump. Larger than life personalities who at first sight, and often at second or third, are beyond comprehension. How can they like that stuff? The sacred places of this America are Las Vegas, Atlantic City, every bar in the state of Texas, and every swimming pool in California, as well as 90 percent of official ceremonies and any sports event you care to mention." This is a statement difficult to dispute.
I'm not completely convinced that this writer could get an objective view of the U. S. from hanging out with Washington types. I wouldn't say that people inside the Beltway, as the media would have us call them, are good examples of what Americans are like. I wonder if he would have sung a different tune if he had spent a year, for instance, in Nashville, Kansas City or Miami or some other large U. S. city besides Washington. At any rate, this book is a great read. I recommend reading it during these Dog Days of summer in a very cold air conditioned room!
5.0 out of 5 stars Ciao Bella!,
At first reading of the first chapters, each named for a month of the one year of transplanted residence of the author and his wife from Crema, Italy to the Georgetown suburb of Washington, DC, the laughs come so readily that the beauty of the message seems secondary. Beppe Severgnini relates his encounters with "America" with such finesse that it is jolting to realize that we are reading a translation (kudos to Giles Watson for his inherent understanding of aphoristic Italian!) instead of hearing the author just speak to us. Once the comedic vein is established, then we are able to thoroughly enjoy laughing at our own American foibles. What a bizarre culture we have when mirrored through the eyes of so astute an observor. This is a terrific little book to pass along to friends who are about to embark on a European sojourn....or better yet, to share with new neighbors on your block who are recent imports to our crazy country. Much to be enjoyed here: more to be learned about ourselves. A fine summer read.
4.0 out of 5 stars Witty and astute,
Arriving in April, 1994, Italian journalist Severgnini chronicles his year in Georgetown with sardonic humor, enthusiasm and affection. "You don't go to America. You go back, even if it's only your first trip. Our brain is so full of American information that the country offers a never-ending sequence of déjà vu sensations."
And yet, for us, the American reader, never has the familiar and everyday seemed so odd.
From shopping to dining out; from frequent flier miles to motels, from Independence Day to Christmas, from church services to yard sales, Severgnini plunges into America with gusto, noting our puzzling penchants for comfort (buying a recliner), air-conditioning (finally won over during a Washington heat wave), too many breakfast cereals and ice (resistant to the end). He moves from puzzled to enthusiastic, from appalled to amused and softens his criticisms with humor.
Shopping and bureaucracy get special attention. The mall: "After one hour, Europeans are enjoying themselves like spoiled children. After two hours, they are scooping things up like refugees from the former Soviet bloc." The generous returns policy stimulates a heady urge to cheat ("hand them back when the new model comes out), disarmed by the amazingly helpful, cheerful and energetic service people vying with each other to offer the best deals and the friendliest service in the spirit of American competition. (This may surprise the average consumer, but in a postcript added in 2000 Severgnini notes that service has deteriorated.) American bureaucracy is even better: "the greatest satisfaction....because, having trained on the Italian version, we feel like a matador faced with a milk cow."
Of course, he's not always so enthusiastic and while it's much more fun to be marveled at than criticized, or worse, ridiculed, (political correctness, euphemisms, an inability to spell), he keeps the tone light and clever and savages his own countrymen with equal enjoyment.
While the Washington setting is somewhat culturally limiting and it's amazing (and very American) how much has changed in seven years (this was the height of the Gingrich era and the beginning of the internet explosion), Severgnini's skewed European view (Spam? Law abiding American drivers?) is a delight.
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Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. by Beppe Severgnini (Paperback - May 13 2003)
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