Friday, March 16, 2007

Ciao America!

I just finished reading Ciao America! a delightful book I heard about a few years back. I ordered it for the school library hoping it would contain insights I could use in my culture class.

Beppe Severgnini, an Italian writer, brings his wife and 2 year old son to Washington DC to get a look at life in America. They get a charming apartment in Georgetown (would be nice to afford one there) and he chronicles his adventures shopping, dealing with the phone company, reading the enormous Sunday papers, grocery shopping, etc.

He delights in what the average American finds mundane, which is an advertisement for living abroad as a means of staving off boredom. I found his writing style and observations funny. Yet I wanted more depth and find it hard to believe he had no serious frustrations. He found dealing with customer service agents a pleasure compared to doing so in Italy. Well, they aren't known for their efficiency so I guess that makes sense.

Beppe didn't have to work in the US and possibly deal with cross-cultural conflicts that might drive him nuts. Seems he just had half the expat experience. Either that or the Italian version is more comprehensive.

He does get somethings wrong. For example, he writes about Americans' love of SPAM. Really? I've never had it or wanted to. I don't know anyone in the US who likes it. I've never seen anyone put SPAM in their shopping cart. He also mentions Americans' use of phone cards. Again, not too many people I know used them even in the 1990's when Severgnini was in Georgetown. Perhaps phone cards were popular there locally. What this shows and reminds me is that inevitably expats will come to the wrong conclusions. Not a bad lesson as I try to figure out life here in Seoul

Still a fun read.

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