Lisa Markwell: Politics - the Italian way

FreeView from the editors at i

Share
Related Topics

For complicated reasons, I found myself on a ferry in rural northern Italy this week. I struck up a conversation with a friendly middle-aged Italian lady who was travelling the same route as me and after small talk about the weather, the region and where we were both headed, the conversation turned to politics.

It was the morning of the day that Mario Monti announced his austerity measures for Italy, and my companion talked, at length and fluently, about the mess that her country was in. She also – to my amazement – defended Silvio Berlusconi's tumescent reputation, saying she could forgive him for his sexual peccadilloes, just not his greed and mismanagement of the nation's fortunes.

But what really astonished me was the depth and breadth of her knowledge of the finer points of the eurozone crisis. She could name all of the key players, and knew Mario Draghi's every career move, going back decades.

Now one might argue that since Italy is in such a parlous state, it would be a strange citizen that wasn't paying attention. But contrast it with the conversation my friend Alice overheard on a train to Swindon a couple of days ago...

A group of youngish business folk were obviously travelling to a conference or similar. Two of the women broke away and started chatting. "I know it's odd, but I quite fancy that George Osborne," said one. "Who's he?" asked the other. "You know, the Chancellor," said woman one. Blank stare. "Ed Miliband's not bad," she continued. "Actually not him, his brother, can't remember his name." Blank stare again.

Now, I work for a national newspaper and sometimes I struggle to keep tabs on every cabinet move and (frequently bogus) initiative. So I wouldn't expect Britain's citizens at large to be political experts, but the inability to recognise the name of the men who are at the top of the country? Rather deflating.

It would be wrong to make sweeping generalisations about one European nation being more engaged with politics than another – no doubt there are plenty of Italians who are too busy bunga bungaing to get acquainted with Super Mario's slightly underwhelming fiscal strategy. But I tried a few more exchanges and eavesdropped on others and (halting language skills allowing) each person was clued-up and passionate about their fate, and the fate of their currency.

Here, the main topics of conversation are the military wives choir vs. X Factor and the weather. Just a little knowledge wouldn't – in this case – be a dangerous thing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention