Vita is not so dolce as empty fridges echo for millions of single Italians

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The Independent Online

Italy is not what it was. The large, jolly, chaotic family of post-war Italy has long since disappeared, killed off by tiny city flats and women's careers. For the past 20 years, the typical Italian family has been not all that different from its British counterpart.

Italy is not what it was. The large, jolly, chaotic family of post-war Italy has long since disappeared, killed off by tiny city flats and women's careers. For the past 20 years, the typical Italian family has been not all that different from its British counterpart.

But according to a report published this week by the National Institute of Statistics, Italian society continues to evolve in new and startling ways. Even the nuclear family is too much of a struggle for many: millions now decline to breed altogether, preferring to find permanent asylum in their family home, under the protection of their parents. Those who do stray beyond, both men and women, often remain single.

"Alone," writes Michela Tamburrino in La Stampa newspaper, evoking the Italian style singleton life, "with the fridge so empty it echoes, the TV on, the idea that one might die from the condition of being single, if not of hunger, depression permitting. Dinners, holidays and obligatory feast days become a nightmare ... on the couch, with slippers, herbal tea and sniffles ..."

The family remains the lodestone of Italian society, even in its modern, shrunken form; a life without the joys and torments of children and grandchildren remains for many Italians no life at all. That's why singles in Italian society seem more painfully, more dolorously single than elsewhere. Milan, a city grimly dedicated to the working week, is the place to spot them en masse, strap-hanging on the Metropolitana, eating small, balanced suppers in self-service restaurants while reading a book.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, there are now more than three million single people in Italy, excluding widows. Huge numbers of singles continue to live with their parents: the percentage of Italians aged 25 to 34 still living at home has jumped from 26 per cent 10 years ago to nearly 35 per cent in 2003, overtaking the number in the same age group who live as married or cohabiting couples. And hundreds of thousands of other singles live alone, learning to cope with the echoing fridge.

Now, spotting marketing opportunities, the Italian refrigerator manufacturer Miele has come to the rescue. Last Tuesday in Italy's capital of singles, Milan, it inaugurated a "Single School" on how to survive life alone with a modicum of panache. It includes segments on how to prepare a dinner for 10 guests in 20 minutes and how to look after one's home.

And, in a further onslaught on the stigma of solitude, a hot-springs resort in the Alps staged a beauty-cum-talent contest to select "Mr and Miss Single d'Italia 2005". The winners were Sergio Schilloni, 48, a biologist from Piacenza, and Nadia Mutti, a 45-year-old company employee from Bergamo. The highlight of the evening was an aphrodisiac dinner with secret, allegedly potent ingredients: because not even the most confirmed Italian bachelor is allowed to forget for long that food and babies are what life is all about.

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