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Culture Clash a useful debate

Success for last night’s encounter organized by The Florentine at Le Murate. With around 50 people in attendance – some Italians, lots of TF readers – the discussion was friendly despite differing opinions about the topics discussed. Editor Brenda Dionisi kept everything under control while polling our panelists Edoardo Lusena (Corriere Fiorentino) and Deirdre Pirro (The Florentine) and involving the crowd with their many observations.

An article in today’s Corriere (see below) by Paola Monticelli sums it up in Italian as a ‘scambio vivace di opinioni’ with many differing opinions but all in the name of a possible and necessary point of encounter between our cultures.
The evening opened with the steriotype of the ‘closed’ Florentine, using the city’s blockage of Jersey Shore filming as an example of its unwillingness to accept outsiders, a topic that immediately inspired audience members to throw in their two cents’ worth.
Beyond Anglo cultures, we also discussed the hot topic of openness (or not) to ‘extracommunitari’ – cultures from outside of Europe; here the question that launched the debate was ‘Why are sushi restaurants trendy but kebab stands limited in Florence and other cities in Tuscany?’ Barbara, an audience member, suggested that many Italian shopkeepers are against immigrant-owned businesses because they take over a physical space once used by a local, perhaps artisan, business. However, Lusena, who produces a weekly column on artisans, brought in various factors that he says have led to these artisans’ more naturally going out of business, amongst them the closed traffic zones, prohibitive safety legislations, and the lack of apprentice training. All seemed in agreement that artisans provide an important part of Florence’s authentic character and deserve saving.
Talk turned to the value brought to Florence by American students who Alexandra Lawrence (TF editor at large and audience member last night) maintains contribute even to cleaning up the physical space of the city. Aimee Bateas, a masters student finishing up her studies in Florence while interning at The Florentine, suggested that the bad image of American students needs to be reevaluated in consideration of the culture shock that these very young (sometimes even 18, 19, or 20 years old) people feel – often it is their first time in Europe, or even on a plane. Despite this, we know that there are many ‘good ones’, and just a few bad ones. One problem that was noted in the absence of students from this event is that many American university students would love to attend things like conferences and aperitivi – important aspects of Florentine social life – but they have dinners with their host families every night, an equally important element that helps them integrate and learn the language.
Tommaso Olivieri, in the audience, asked the panelists for more examples of positive contributions on the part of foreigners in the city, and the biography-writing side of The Florentine Press author Deirdre Pirro came out as she brought up some interesting historic examples including the German consul during WWII who risked his life to save Ponte Vecchio (and is commemorated on a plaque there). Not to mention the many expat initiatives in fundraising for the arts, or simply the outside opinion that we can offer this city to help in its positive growth.

New friends were made as discussions continued over a glass of wine and some cous cous. Let the debate continue… feel free to comment below!

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