Don't Go to Italy: They'll Shoot You

12/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sometimes I wish I didn't come from such a recognizable country like Italy. I wish I were from one of those small central European countries like Liechtenstein. Nobody knows or thinks to know anything about Liechtenstein: if I introduced myself that way, I'd have a blank canvas to describe what I am and what I like. It would be such a relief! I wouldn't have to justify the fact that I'm always "scarily on time" like a friend of mine used to say, or even unfashionably early. Italians are supposed to be late, right? Why am I on time?

Italians are also supposed to drink espresso (I don't), wine (I do), go to the Opera (I do), drive scooters with no helmet on (I've never driven a scooter). Everybody thinks they know what we do: even some Italians (Northern) have opinions about other Italians (Southern), and vice versa, sometimes without ever having been there. Like: "Don't go to Sicily, they'll shoot you." I swear I heard that sentence both in Italy and the US.

Now, Sicily is one of the most beautiful places I've been in the world: great landscape, incredibly rich history and art, fantastic food, and... mafia. We all know that. It is the curse of a blessed region. But I've been there several times and I'm still here to tell the tale. Mafia is a criminal organization with the purpose of making money and controlling the territory. You little tourist, with your little camera: they can't care less about you. There are as many chances to be killed by organized crime in Sicily than in any other place in the world. Also, now that we're on the tourist-in-Italy subject: you do get mugged in the subways in Rome. You have a better chance, though, if you're foolish enough to leave your wallet in your back pocket, or perhaps absent-mindedly leave your backpack unzipped (and that can also happen in subways in Paris, London, Barcelona and New York). I'm not saying that in Italy everything goes well... far from it.

I know, especially in this global society, it is comforting to give labels and it is only human to have a personal pre-conception of somebody because of where they come from: "Ah, you're French. You must hate Americans, put on a beret on Sundays and go paint naked women in their bedrooms while chain-smoking Gauloise cigarettes". Don't get me wrong: I believe that reality is crazier than imagination and that it might be possible that such a person really exists, not only in someone's mind. And I also know some Italians who seem to embody in more than one detail the typecast the world has labeled us. But do we really want to keep stereotyping? Isn't the juice of globalization the wonder of meeting a person from a country you've never heard of, or that you thought you knew all about yet hadn't a clue? Isn't it great to discover?

If you want to stick to the comfort of common places, stay tuned for more info on how Italians eat and drink, dress and talk. More stereotypes? Yes, but from an authentic Italian!