Of all the patience Italians possess, they seem to reserve the most for their visitors from the United States. That says a lot about the Italian character. Relations have been tense under certain administrations, sometimes even chilly when it comes to foreign policy. But Italians are the eternal masters of mediation, and, on a personal level at least, they and Americans regularly come to the conclusion that they share more values than they harbor differences. Any minor deviation from Italian cultural norms is greeted with immense tolerance.
This is also good business sense. The millions of dollars that Americans spend in Italy”one of our favorite foreign destinations, perhaps because we are treated so well”represent a good portion of the nation’s tourism income, which in turn is a significant source of total revenues. When Americans stop coming to Italy in large numbers, as happened in the months following September 11, 2001, and when the euro exchange crested 1.40 to the dollar, the service industry gets very jittery. Italians have hosted Americans and U.S. businesses for a long time now and are used to their quirks. After World War II, U.S. soldiers patrolled the streets of Rome and Naples, followed by the expat caf-dwellers of the roaring 1950s. The 1954 film An American in Rome is about an Italian so enamored with the United States that he pretends to be from Kansas City. The movie takes a few good-natured jabs at the baseball hat wearing, spaghetti-slurping crowd, but the nasal American accent of actor Alberto Sordi is still endearing to the Italian ear. In the 1980s, McDonald’s, basketball, and Coca-Cola were king, and to some extent they have endured the vicissitudes of style and the antiglobalization movement of the late 1990s. The symbols still conjure a Sordi-esque vision of a wide-eyed, youthfully energetic people.