Plugs on trains and good food

When it comes to being accutely embarassed about their country, nobody does things quite like the British. Whilst the American’s are all gung-ho when it comes to the conflicts that they have embroiled themselves in around the world – they may not like them, but they’re not going to apologise about them; they are simply going to quietly elect a new leader – the British feel, at a certain level, some responsibility for many of the world’s ills. As well they might.

When I was studying at university, I somehow earned the nickname “Mr Sorry”, for my need to constantly apologise all the time, even when I hadn’t done anything wrong.

But I’m starting to discover that many Italians feel the need to apologise about their country, too, which, since I love Italy, feels even more bizarre. They apologise about the Mafia. About Berlusconi. About the (perceived) lack of democracy in their country. About corruption. About the state of the economy. They even seem to feel the need to apologise about the weather (now, that is something the British would never do. You don’t like endlessly grey skies? Tough. Move to Spain.)

I had four meetings in Milan yesterday and two of them began, almost from the very beginning, with an apology. “So, how are you liking Italy. Sorry about the Mafia/Berlusconi.” These seem to be the most common themes in the Italians’ apologetic repetoir.

In dismissive fashion, I simply shrugged and mumbled something about it all making for interesting journalism. Not very much else I could say, really.

But here are two things I have discovered that I really love about Italy. There are lots more, of course.

One is that many of the mainline intercity trains (such as the one between Turin and Milan) have electricity points, where one can plug one’s computer. How sensible is that?

The other is about the Italian’s love of food. And I don’t just mean that when you go to a decent restaurant, you are going to get something pretty good. No. I mean that, even when you go to a really awful dive, you are going to get something edible. In the UK, if you ate at a railway coffee shop (not including some of the chains that you now find in the big cities, such as Deli France), you’d be pretty hard pressed to finish whatever you had ordered. Not so in Italy. You order some fried tit-bit in an Italian station, and you get something that’s actually not bad. Not excellent. Not something you’d usually order. And definitely overpriced. But at least enjoyable. I suspect that, even in stations, Italians simply wouldn’t put up with really bad food.

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