Long life

What Italy made of the result of the British general election (not much)

16 May 2015

9:00 AM

16 May 2015

9:00 AM

On election day I was in Puglia in the ‘heel’ of Italy, where interest in British politics could hardly be lower. One local news website that I consulted appeared to give higher priority to the fact that Italian penis-enlargement operations had increased by 20 per cent during the past year than to the electoral bombshell in Britain. I was staying with friends in their beautifully restored house — a former olive-oil press — close to the sea and below the remarkable hilltop town of Ostuni, between Bari and Brindisi, known as ‘la città bianca’ for its white medieval walls and palaces. At dusk it seemed to glow as in a dream.

Puglia has a feel of greater antiquity than practically anywhere else in Italy, mainly because of its vast plantations of huge and ancient olive trees. With their enormous gnarled trunks they vaguely reminded me of the oak trees in Salcey Forest near to where I live in Northamptonshire. These, too, are hundreds of years old and look as if they might be immortal. It was in a house surrounded by such trees that we learnt of David Cameron’s shock election victory and of the SNP triumph in Scotland. We couldn’t follow the election on television, but we could keep up with developments on the internet and could listen live to the Today programme on Friday morning.


Britain’s political drama also seemed rather dreamlike from that distance, but by the weekend the Italian newspapers made clear it was real. There was an analysis in Corriere della Sera claiming it to be part of a shift to the right in politics across Europe; but mainly the Italian press seemed to use it as an excuse to promote its usual image of Britain as a quaint, class-ridden society full of weird traditions. It told us with relish all about the Bullingdon Club, for example; and you could have got the impression that the most important things about the election were that it had achieved victory for Dave over Boris and revenge for David Miliband against his brother Ed.

La Repubblica, a left-leaning daily, ran a headline reading ‘Dave and Sam, the snobbish couple addicted to power and clothes: they celebrated at Mark’s Club in Mayfair (better not to ask the price)’. The article below described Samantha Cameron as ‘the daughter of a baronet and descendant of a king’ who had given up her job as creative director of the posh stationery firm Smythson to devote herself to her husband and ‘his wardrobe’. Quoting Dave as having said in a pre-election interview that his wife chose his clothes for him at Gap and chucked them at him to try on in the shop dressing-room, it commented, ‘Well, one has to tell a few lies if one wants to stay in power.’ Rather than at Gap, it went on, it was much easier to imagine this couple dining at Mark’s Club, where ‘if you ask what a dish costs, it means you can’t afford it’.

One reads a lot about Italy’s dire economic plight, its high unemployment, and so on, but even in Puglia, one of the poorest of the country’s 20 regions, the signs of deprivation are well hidden. Ostuni and the splendid baroque city of Lecce to its south look spic and span, and the Ostuni fruit and vegetable market that we visited last Saturday was not only enormous but also crammed with more delicious produce than it seemed possible for the city to consume. No British city, not even London, has anything to compare with it. Whatever their circumstances, Italians cling as best they can to their enviable lifestyle.

Puglia may seem rougher, tougher, less verdant and less civilised than, say, Tuscany, which the British traditionally so adore; but its 500 miles of coastline, much of it unspoilt, and its strong southern feel have made it increasingly popular with British visitors looking for somewhere cheaper to go since the financial meltdown of 2008. A new word ‘Salentoshire’ (Salento being the name of the mini-peninsula that forms Italy’s ‘heel’) has sprung up in succession to ‘Chiantishire’ to celebrate this new trend. And it’s not only tourists who go there; there is now a surprisingly large number of Britons who are actually resident there. In Ostuni alone, there are 145 of us who have officially taken up residence, making us the third biggest foreign group after the Moroccans and the Romanians. There are, for example, only 38 Germans and eight French people living in and around the town.

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Show comments
  • I will start with a few very simple facts for you. It is easy to watch BBC World if you have a satellite TV connection – for free. You don’t need a “Sky box”, which you will have to steal from the UK (as many immigrants to Italy actually do). You just need a satellite decoder – a bit like a “free to view” box in the UK, but without any restrictions (or branding) at all. BBC World ran an “election special” all night long, if you were inclined to stay up all night to watch paint dry. So, that is the first simple factoid for you.

    Secondly, the interest which was shown in Italy for a British election was undoubtedly exactly the same as the interest shown in the UK for an Italian ‘general election’. The UK elections were not going to affect anyone’s life here in Italy, save for the British immigrants that have chosen to live here in Italy. Look to my first point to find the simple solution for them to ‘keep in touch’ with British elections – at least until the British right-wing find a way to sell off the BBC to Murdoch, that is.

    Thirdly, can you be surprised at the lack of interest shown toward the UK when the only thing that the UK has to say about Italy, and the EU, is negative and insulting? Just look through the British press and you will see the reasons, writ large and, usually, in CAPITAL LETTERS, to boot.

    So, there you have it. Putting it really simply for you, if you are a British immigrant in Italy then you should adapt and integrate – rather as the British press constantly demand immigrants into the UK should do.

    • Freddythreepwood

      I think you are confusing this travelogue with political comment. Nobody in Britain gives a toss what Italy made of the British election result. Much less the EU.

      • ill-liberal

        Got a real stick up his ass this guy ! A lot in common with the briitsh left, mind you, quick to blame Murdoch for everything that isn’t going their way. I love Italy, have never equated my disdain for the EU into anything but that, wonder how he came to that conclusion ??

    • Suzy61

      I wonder how many British immigrant families in Italy, or anywhere else, are demanding their own parliament, demanding free housing, healthcare and education for their huge families? Demanding special funding for their ‘cultural pursuits’? Demanding ‘faith’ schools for their children? Demanding their children are taught all lessons in English? (All at the expense of the native taxpayers, of course). How many are committing electoral fraud, raping and torturing underage native girls, trafficking sex/domestic slaves into the country and imposing their own legal system? I could go on, and on..

      These are the reasons we ask for integration from the immigrants to our country. If you care to research a little more you will see that we simply do not question integration from European immigrants.

      Cannot say the same for you. Your sneering disdain for us seems to stem from British migrants in Italy using their ‘Sky boxes’ (which, incidently they still have to pay a subscription for).

      Simply put, lucky old Italy if this is all that worries you.

      • Malcolm Stevas

        I don’t think Pietro evinced anything resembling “sneering disdain” and like one or two other respondents, you’re over-reacting. Just re-read it, and his post was quite reasonable and well balanced, I thought.Try to be less thin skinned.

        • Suzy61

          I have read it again, as you suggest.

          Reasoned and well balanced regarding the interest in our General Election I agree, but what of the totally unnecessary poking at Brits living in Italy for using their (stolen?) Sky boxes? The dig about the British right-wing? The dig about us expecting our immigrants to integrate? The inability to distinguish our dislike of the EU from our love of Europe?

          No need for any of that.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            Sorry, I meant that I’d read it again, not suggesting you should. I still don’t think anything he wrote was much of a “dig” – and he’s right to be cynical about our own pitiful inadequacy/backwardness re any attempt to integrate the enormous diaspora from the Subcontinent. I fear too many Brits abroad (I’m a part-time one myself, France) are desperate to cling onto UK TV – quite possibly via Sky, I wouldn’t know since I watch virtually no TV…

          • Suzy61

            Well Malcolm, we have something in common. I too lived abroad for a while (Spain). Yes, we had Sky TV – much like all immigrants, in every country, who like to keep abreast of the news back home but I hardly think that is an example of an unwillingness to integrate.

            For my part, all the ex-pats I knew in Spain were either working (and speaking fluent Spanish), running businesses and employing locals or were retired and spending well at the local establishments. None were a drain on the Spanish tax-payer. All contributed to the local economy.

            My point being, as immigrants go, Italy could do a lot worse than the British.

  • JohnC

    The Italian media is not obsessed with class, you are. The fiction you have quoted from the Italian press says nothing about “the British class system”.

    • Because they haven’t got any.

      • tompiper

        What about the counts?

        • Malcolm Stevas

          As John Wells said memorably in ‘Anyone for Dennis,’ “Who are you calling a Conte…?”

  • William_Brown

    We’re all so very pleased that you hade a nice holiday with your friends and then got paid to write about it.

    • Gerschwin

      I am – he’s a good writer.

  • Gerschwin

    Italians were born to worry about penis size, about Mama, what Mama thinks of them, about the girl next door and watching her every move, about the latest hair products, pointy shoes and never quite growing up, leave politics to the Anglo-Saxons.
    Latins needs dictatorship – they’re quite hopeless and unruly under any other system, just like the Slavs, they only function well when Big Mama tells them what to do and think.

    • huggatory

      Yes, but one good thing about them is that they don’t see us as arrogant, patronising buffoons who think we’re better than any damned johnny foreigner

      • Gerschwin

        Good thing eh? No danger you’ll better them so just as well.

    • Suzy61

      Pointy shoes…lol

  • davidofkent

    Puglia is, of course, in the Greek half of Italy. Like the other Greeks, the Southern Italians just take life easy. And why not? Why should our silly election bother them? Until, perhaps, the time comes when we decide to take our country and our EU contributions out of the EU. Southern Italy, being a net recipient of EU money will possibly feel the pinch.

  • john

    As a Brit, I totally agree wth the Italian press view ” its usual image of Britain as a quaint, class-ridden society full of weird traditions”. Seems about right.

  • spidermite

    Ostuni is nice, had a great meal there one night.

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