Space. Lots of it.
These are just a few of the things I miss about home (my loved ones, of course, go without saying!). The more time I spend in Italy, though, the more accustomed I become to the lifestyle here. Sure, I can do without sweating in my sleep during the hot, summer months. I also wouldn’t mind going to a restaurant and not having to ask three times for a glass of water. However, as annoying as the little things are, they pale in comparison to the big ones–you know, the things that actually matter and give substance to our lives.
One such example, which really pervades every aspect of most European societies, is the sense and significance of community here. Whether it’s with neighbors at the park, a Friday night out with life-long friends or a long lunch with family on Sunday, Italians enjoy others’ company and truly value human connection. It’s not rare to find groups of friends who have known each other since elementary or high school; in fact, it’s quite the norm. This is usually not the case back in the States. Part of the reason why is because the country is much larger; so, people move away and friendships fade. However, I think it goes deeper than distance. In the U.S., there’s this “every man for himself” mentality that irks me to my core. I mean, just compare our healthcare system with those of most developed nations and there’s your proof.
Now, regarding healthcare, I understand that Americans have a history of being slightly wary of big government, and with reason. The American Revolution, after all, was initiated by the Founding Fathers to overthrow oppressive, British rule; therefore, the root of this general independence and somewhat selfishness of many Americans dates back to 1775. However, I believe, this attitude can be also attributed to the great yearning of immigrants who arrived to the States from every corner of the world for the ‘American Dream’. Since the first colonists arrived from England, immigrants have been making their way to the “shining city upon a hill”, as Reagan once famously said. Everyone who succeeds in climbing the hill recalls what it was like to be at the bottom of it, and they refuse to go back down.
So, what happened? Well, people became successful, and with success, comes dollars. With dollars, power; with power, greed.
Whereas in civilized, developed countries all over the globe–where taxes pay for most public and social services; thus, allowing the citizens to live a life of dignity–the U.S. isn’t so generous. In Europe, (most) people are happy to have contributed some of their income for the good of society, otherwise known as welfare. You see, back in the States, welfare has evolved into an extremely dirty word because–according to some folks–it is simply a hand-out. In the States, you work hard! You can’t be poor! Poor people stay on welfare to milk the system! They’re lazy and undeserving!
While it’s true that 24% of our federal budget is allocated towards Social Security and another 26% for healthcare of those most vulnerable, it is still an absolute tragedy that more of our taxes go towards our military/defense (16%) rather than, say, education (2%). The above-mentioned greed is to blame for our military-industrial complex, the source of many evils in the world today. (If you want to read my feelings on THAT, here’s my post from May!)
This greed hinders our social progress. It brutalizes, bloodies and blinds us. It doesn’t know right from wrong, and will most likely never retreat because it is embedded into our society, trickling down from the top and permeating every sphere of civilian life.
Living in Italy has reminded and reintroduced me to the importance of companionship and social cohesion–concepts I learned in kindergarten and seemed to abandon in my adult life. In fact, the first kindergarten (literally meaning ‘garden of children’ in German) was instituted in 1837 by a German man named Friedrich Froebel. Froebel utilized various techniques, toys and activities that emphasized the importance of learning through play and socialization. During the vast migration of Germans to the States during the late 1800s, they brought with them the concept of the kindergarten, which has spread and flourished since.
Now, just to be clear, not everyone in the States began his or her new life in America as a good, moral person and is now an anti-social, money-hungry asshole. We’re not all selfish and refuse to embrace our own friends, family and community. (We’re actually a very lovely, friendly bunch!) It’s just that our values and circumstances surrounding our nation’s conception and in the centuries following were–and, today, still are–very different. Still, we can definitely stand to learn a thing or two about human decency from our European allies (if I’m still permitted to call them that)….