Argument - In Asia and in Italy

Andrea Berrini
Jul 18th, 2014

My few weeks back in Milan have been long enough to give me a rough idea of what is happening in my country (and the West, in general), after about two years absence in China and eastern Asia. There have been loys of surprises, but what has surprised me most is how my friends have changed.

After suffering the worst recession in 80 years, and being now on the edge of the end of it all, with some clear signal of recover, anger is still at dangerous levels. When I meet people for dinner, I expect to have a discussion: someone raises an issue and others quietly answer and express their different opinions. In the light of that, perhaps, we may all reconsider our views.

At least, this is what I have been used to in Asia, and two years ago it was the same in Milan. Once in a while, of course, you may fall into a heated argument. That’s to be expected.

But things have changed. Now the process is as follows: my friend A start complaining about something he read in the newspaper, and my friend B do not wait for him to finish his statement; she interrupts and tells him that something else is much more important. If friend C asks for a logical explanation of one fact, friend A will not respond, analysing the words of friend C, but rather start on a completely different issue so as to convince the audience that his complaints are more sensitive than B’s.

Then, we have dessert and sweet wine from Sicily.

It seems that nobody is using their brains (and, perhaps, their hearts) to find solutions, It’s the liver that is most deeply involved, and social occasions are taken only as opportunities to raise voices in often angry complaint.

When I note that I am not used to such behaviour, everybody turns to shout at me: Oh, it’s fine for you to distance yourself from all this, over there in Beijing. Do you assume you are better then us because you have the chance to live so far from here?

The mood is the same when I meet people in the publishing industry, a sector much more affected by recession than many others (a drop of almost 30% in the last 3 years, expected to hit bottom at 40% before the end of this year, with some recovery predicted after that). Responses to the crisis have been implemented by big, mid-sized, and small publishers (the latter being the least affected). But when you mix discussion with a good bottle of wine and food, people end up spouting the same sort of muddled nonsense.

I try to explain to my friends how fascinated I am that in Asia, where economic growth is still the trend, people are prepared to discuss issues calmly. The fast pace of change Asian countries are experiencing forces everyone (and especially writers, filmmakers, artists and intellectuals) to identify solutions for a social environment that is rapidly evolving, and this affects everyone directly and at a personal level.

I thank you, Asia, for that. I thank you for the possibility that I may still trust in the minds and words of others to help me understand what is happening around me, and what is happening to me.

And let me add a short appendix to all that: watching television I have realised how many TV series (from the USA of course, but commanding a large audience in Italy) are going back to the sixties, the fifties, and even before. Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Master of Sex. Italian TV series focus very often on 50s and 60s crime gangs, or 70s political fights.

Does it mean that in the West we are all going back to the roots of our current way of life? The years when it was conceived? And how interesting it is to know that so-called emerging Asian countries are possibly experiencing a similar time: the change from rural societies to highly industrialized and technologically aware ones, where everything is changing: ethics, families, job conditions, relations among human persons, between males and females, between parents and children.

We certainly have a lot to share. We must talk. We must build bridges between cultures, between East and West. 

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Andrea Berrini
Italy
Last blog date: Jul 18th, 2014

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