La Bella Figura

I was reading the other day an article in the Corriere Della Sera newspaper  written trying to describe La Bella Figura which is an Italian expression with goes further than most to describe Italy and the Italians. Grasp it and you have Italy but to most tourists and ex-pats it remains some thing of a mystery. The translation is easy. The beautiful figure but it is more than that. It is a style and a way of life too.

La Figura


He went on to say that if you want to understand the expression and therefore the Italians there are two sources of reading to ignore completely.

One is anything written by an American woman. They, he said, fall head of heels in love with Italy and everything Italian. They see no wrong in the country or the people and write gushing articles all the time which bear no relationship to the real country and its people but is a Disney like dream world within which they move and see the place.

The other is anything written by a British male. They believe Italy is a nice country with loads of history but populated by an unreliable bunch of people who in turn are governed by a shower of crooked and incompetent politicians who couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag let alone run the third largest industrialised country in Europe but  probably are the best the people deserve. He wasn’t really mincing his words was he.

I realised that he had in a few sentences dismissed almost all of the bloggers writing about Italy while living here. He also has taken out many more who write about Italy while living in the USA and visit it about as often as a Chinese panda has sex and for about as long.

My only repost is that the other day while driving with an Italian lady in the car she turned to my wife and said your husband drives like an Italian and he parks like one too. Rare praise I felt.

I was wondering if the charge against Brits was true when I came across this letter written to a newspaper by a British male living in Italy. He was writing about an article on soccer hooliganism and the articles suggestion that laws were needed to control it. This was his impression of the country he lives in:

“There are lots of laws against white-collar crime — bid-rigging, bribe-paying, cronyism — but the percentage of the prison population comprising business-suited swindlers is infinitesimal compared with that of other industrialized democracies. Municipalities have zoning and building codes regulating where and how houses can be built. Even so, most cities and towns south of Rome, and many to its north, have swaths of substandard housing erected and inhabited by people who simply ignored the laws, disdained the permits and never faced the slightest consequence.

It takes political will and effective institutions to establish the rule of law, and both are sorely lacking here. Mr. Severgnini notes the measures taken four years ago in an effort to stem the barbarian tide in the stadiums, and their total failure. The title of the writer’s book on “the Italian mind” is perhaps the best chiave di lettura to this story. La Bella Figura, which is all about making an impression, style over substance, is indeed central to the Italian way of being.

Douglas Mine, Fano, Italy”

And there it was again La Bella Figura though this epistolarian had added his own definition namely style over substance to describe Italians. So what is it?



Well that is another definition of it.

All Italians seem to have an innate ability to look good. They seemingly toss clothes on and turn out looking superb. I am still amazed that workmen arriving at the house to do heavy manual work still mange to colour code their oldest working clothes so everything matches and looks just right. But a telling part of the above definition is ” acting her best in every situation” This I think gets closer to the whole feeling of La Bella Figura because it isn’t just being your best it is more than that. If you are having to be perfect in every situation then clearly you can’t make a mistake nor it follows be wrong.

Suddenly a thing that concerns almost every tourist and ex-pat in Italy starts to make sense. Move this Bella Figure to say an Italian shopkeeper. He sells you a floor steam cleaner say. After two days it goes wrong and you take it back to complain.

Most ex-pats and tourist who complain are stunned by the way the complaint is ignored. Indeed many shopkeepers or hoteliers will furiously argue with you and refuse to accept any fault.

Well they can’t can they they are having to act perfectly and therefore like the Chinese cannot lose face and appear incompetent unless you are a Chinese panda that is but maybe the panda just doesn’t know that other animals are a little more active in that department.

So understanding La Bella Figura helps to make sense of Italy and in just one area their complete lack of any form of customer service and the lack of a complaints department in most Italian companies.

Well it is almost kick off time and my new adopted team Gli Azzuri  are about to play. I have adopted La Bella Figura dumped the English team and have on my Italia t- shirt, my Forza Regazzi hat and my Italian flag to wave. I will prove that journalist wrong. This British male is about to become Italian lets hope it ends like 2006






About hereinpuglia

Retired to Puglia after some 40 years in the travel industry working for P&O Lines, British Airways, Alamo rent-a-car,Abercrombie&Kent, owner of Quest Tours and Travel and finally with Thomas Cook North America. Married to Geraldine we now have a small house with too much land near the town of Martina Franca in Puglia. Two kids one married and living in Hong Kong and the other single and living in London. No dogs, no cats no animals.
This entry was posted in Driving in Italy, Expat in Italy, Expat Italy, Italian Living, Puglia, Puglia Cooking, Puglia Food, Puglia Guide, Puglia Lifestyle and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to La Bella Figura

  1. Jayne says:

    Mike, I’m with you – however, today’s lecture was a little difficult to follow. La bella figura is just to do things ‘right’, otherwise one fears to be maleducata. BUT, I did it first, on FB – Forza Italia, bravi gli Azzurri. I’m no football follower but I appreciate the joy of others as they fill the streets so one can’t move – roll on a repeat of 2006!!!!!!!!

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