28 November 2008
Drunken, Drug-sotted United States’ University Students in Europe
Furnishing US State Department with More than a Hangover…
Are you the mother and/or father of a university student studying abroad in hundreds of United States-sponsored learning installations? Well, you just might be interested in crossing “The Pond” to flash visit your childish person. And don’t be surprised if you stumble on your son or daughter sleeping it off on the sidewalk in front of a discotheque, or in trouble for having smashed a hotel’s sliding doors because they were locked tight at three in the morning when your small fry staggered to his room, or you just might miss your darling because he or she is playing hooky for a week and smoking legal marijuana and tripping on mushrooms in Amsterdam, or, worse, she is recuperating in hospital—the rape victim of a Northafrican, an Albanian posing as an Italian, an East European, a…, an….
This summer in Firenze, Italia (English-speaking residents and visitors to Firenze have
haughtily changed its name to the English “Florence!”), six female university students from the United States reported their experiences of defilement to Italian police officials. It is opined that many other rape cases were squelched because victims were reluctant to give police authorities an account of their assaults. These girl-women, often under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, were usually lured to Florentine apartments where they were taken advantage of by even more than one aggressor. Time and again they had been further drugged to make of them easier prey.
The United States’ consulate in Firenze has instructed university officials to warn youth of the possibility of being involved in unpleasant criminal happenings, but the forewarnings often go unheeded. Florentine police have also visited university nerve centres to coach new arrivals about the conventions normally abided by in the cradle of humanism cautioning them to be on the lookout…and for what. Juvenile scholars are advised not to travel alone, to be extra alert at night in the city’s danger zones, and undergraduates are directed to let up on the amount of alcohol they imbibe. Illegal drug-taking is, naturally, off-limits—but not in Amsterdam!
We can perceive two collective societal drifts which characterize the behaviour of both the residents of Italy and the Northamerican students who mingle with them as their guests: The Italians cannot understand the Northamericans; and, the Northamericans cannot be on familiar terms with the Italians! An eternal impasse. And one which is garnering little benefit for relations, both economic and political, between the United States and Italy.
It is frequently commented upon that there exists a love-hate relationship between the United States and Italy. When economic conditions favour the flow of dollars into the Mediterranean country, love is in the air. When that impetus ebbs, “hate” takes first place. But this explanation is too simplistic; and, one should right off get the picture that the Northamericans cannot, mostly, communicate in Italian, and the Italians share the same difficulty with the English tongue. Nevertheless, the rapport is far more complex, and might remind one of the psychiatric research on schizophrenia by Bateson and Laing who discovered a “double-bind” pattern which is based on false promises of devotion, affection or love and the terrible consequences when a failure to approve what one, or another, is doing by action thus creates a state of transitory confusion, anxiety or guilt. There is little habit of mutual endorsement by both Northamericans and Italians when they deal with one and other. A communications’ abyss exists…and at a very crucial juncture in the “give and take” of both nations.
A good example of the mutual seething steaming between the two homelands is the following chronicle: Years ago I was waiting my turn in a photo shop directly in front of the Mercato del Porcellino in the heart of Firenze when a loudmouthed Northamerican, in his late sixties or early seventies, after having put his credit card back into his pocket, blurted this barb at two Florentine salespeople who had just served him: “I was a pilot during World War II and bombed the other side of the Arno River and helped free your country from Fascism!” The two shop assistants were mortified, but they uttered not one word. When the man left the shop I tried to talk and commiserate with the two and make some sense of the war veteran’s emotions so that by-gones might become just that. There was no use. They clammed up to me as soon as they comprehended that I was a New Yorker. I went outside frustrated and truly disappointed. I grasped the fact, poignantly, that the set phrase “two sides to every coin” commanded my attention and would stimulate me further to get to the heart of this spirit of mutual blackmail which exemplifies the cross-grained alliance that currently exists between Northamericans and Italians.
For the Italians, World War II was a parenthesis in a history that draws back centuries upon centuries. While World War II was a terrible and disastrous digression in those times gone by—let us not forget that today almost fifty percent of the Italian population would revert to a fascist state and duly supports neo-fascist factions regularly—it was not, notwithstanding, the finishing off of the Italian palpability. Italians revel in their Past, and they demand respect for it. This fundamental point is lost on Northamericans—most of the time. To pull up the slack, the Italians scrutinize the Northamericans with severe standards. These peninsula people know that the Northamericans defeated them in World War II, but also realize that the Northamericans resuscitated them after the atrocious conquest. That the Northamericans push their culture on the Italians, but give them the business to survive. That the Northamericans are heavy-handed in their ways, but keep the Italians under their protective umbrella of military prowess. (The Northamericans are a wonderful people—if they are not bombing you!) And this is the twist, “double-bind” if you will, that has kept Italian politics and economics in a dizzy state every since the end of World War II—that perversion of a would-be healthy affiliation founded on mutual respect and admiration. Today, Italians smile broadly when Northamericans reach for their wallets, and once paid, the citizens of The Boot turn their backs and raise the middle fingers of both their hands. Magna servitus est magna fortuna. Northamericans often pay double the rent of other tenants when they occupy an apartment. When they buy a villa, forget it! Cooking classes? Wine tours? Hotel rooms? Italian classes? You name it, there is a two-tier price list in effect: the one written for Northamericans and the other unwritten for Italians and “friends.” Still, the Northamericans keep the husband-above position in this extremely unhappy marriage that has been suffering on pigheadedly now for almost seven decades.
Into this very special milieu of ruthful extortion are dropped about three thousand Northamerican university students each and every year. A huge network from across “The Pond” connives, pushes and buzzes to hook students into coming to the cradle of humanism to study art history, language and culture! Professors, both English-speaking and Italian, vie for posts in this lucrative, heavy-handed Administration of Educational Business. Anyone fixed in this “mafia” romps around Firenze happily and comfortably. Beer-drinking rascals from Northamerican universities (California State University, University of Connecticut, Eckerd College, Florida State, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Kent State, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Middlebury College, Pennsylvania State, Rutgers, Smith College, Stanford University, Studio Art Centers International, Syracuse University, University of Texas, Brown, Dickinson…) bop into Firenze for four-month or eight-month clips and go about giving staid Florentines the opportunity to doubt about what an imbecile Mussolini really was. The babyish intellectuals are arrogant, so sure of themselves, on the rampage now that they are across “The Pond” and far away from mom and dad or their dormitory prefects. They pass by in groups glued to each other, and one needs a Vatican miracle to fall upon any of them conversing with an Italian. They go to restaurants and night spots that most Florentines cannot even dream of patronizing. They hop on trains and planes and cavort around Europe on weekends and become scholastic truants at the drop of a hat.
These “tolerated ones” pour millions into the Tuscan economy each year, and they will stick in any Tuscan’s mug the fact that Camp Darby in Livorno (Leghorn) is the most enormous United States’ munitions deposit in the world—beyond continental United States—and that the Tuscan perks extracted from the United States’ government and the employment opportunities the base gives to the lucky citizens of the region, should be something “you Tuscans” appreciate with all your heart and soul. (“Once you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”) Shared esteem and friendliness? Reciprocated unjust exaction?
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This article was not written to count beer bottles and/or weeds that stimulate the nervous system. Nor was it created to list the number of rape cases in Firenze. (My heartfelt sympathy goes out to any woman in the world who has suffered such a heinous episode.) No. I want to say that more terrible than any disgusting event that transpired the past summer in Firenze is the fact that both Italians and Northamericans have squandered a magnificent chance to get to know each other and profit from each other’s experiences. They should not continue to do so. This missed opportunity should shame all of us because there is no reason to believe that things are progressing so well for both Northamericans and Italians that they can frolick in an imaginary Adam-Smithish-type playground, nor that they should feel confident that their goings-on are capitalistically awe-inspiring.
I believe that the United States’ ambassador to Italy, Ronald P Spogli, and his daffy wife, Georgia Beth, should be summoned back to Washington where their ignorance and incompetence will do no further harm to the Italian and Northamerican liaison. The state of affairs that they promulgate cannot go on forever depleting the fragile connection that now exists between the two countries. A new diplomatic stance is required and modifications must be effectuated immediately. And, Ronald, take the Central Stupidity Agency’s agents in Italy with you, too!
Yankee, go home?
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Written by Anthony St. John on 1 January 2007