Girl in Florence

A Tuscan Texan immersed in Florentine life

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North vs. the South | A United Italy

I’ve never been much for stereotypes. Probably this has something to do with being from a place that many people have an opinion about. The ‘lone star’ state of Texas definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea though I normally find more people delighted about where I’m from in Europe than in the states. Nico, my french partner in crime (and now fiance) has also undergone the same thing.

Being French in Italy isn’t really that easy. Plenty of people delight in ‘hating’ the French and I imagine it was hard initially for him to integrate into a company atmosphere that was as Tuscan as Tuscany gets. However, the good part is that it was ‘integrate’ or eventually move, and now wherever we go, whomever we meet, they just assume he’s Italian due to the lack of accent.

I only wish that was the case with me. I’m inclined to believe that people are people, they sleep the same sleep, share the same dreams, hopes , misery and love. But let’s get real here, people love to talk about why we are different, the reason we like to compare so much. That in itself is enough of a question for another blog post.

The reason I bring up preconceived notions people might have about you because of where you are from is all due to this month’s COSI blogger subject, focusing on the North and South of Italy, which naturally makes you think of the divide. You know, Northerners are the ‘hard-working’ ones, while the Southerners are a population rife with corruption and unemployment. Originally, I wasn’t too thrilled about this because I live in smack-dab central Italy in what can sometimes feel slightly like a bubble. It is a proper subject since so many of our COSI members are with significant others from the south or live, have lived there.

Truth be told. I really haven’t spent all that much time in either areas. Northern Italy, except for the odd trip to Bolzano which really was like being in Germany. Only recently have I visited the south of Italy, besides a school trip in 2006 to Naples, we visited Puglia last year for a fabulous 36 hours and I went for a work meeting in Sicily last December. Not exactly enough time to ‘feel like a local’ in either places. We plan on spending a week in Calabria and Basilicata in July for my birthday, also in part to discover this area of Italy that I know little about.

I do know however, about the problems that blight the south. According to citymetric: In 2014, According to the Bank of Italy, GDP per person is more than 40 per cent lower in the Mezzogiorno than it is in the center and north. To put that in context, it’s greater than the difference between the economies of the UK and South Korea. Pretty scary stuff. But then again before we called Italy, Italia ;-), foreign powers battled over and obtained many areas of the country, all of which can still be felt today. Which why it still remains difficult to combine ‘cultures’ in modern day society.

Duomo di San Giorgio modica
The Stunning Duomo di San Giorgio in Modica, Sicily

Italy was unified in 1861 (or well more like 1871) by people like Giuseppe Garibaldi, who once said ‘The hour of battle will find me with you again, by the side of the champions of Italian liberty. Let those only return to their homes who are called by the imperative duties which they owe to their families, and those who by their glorious wounds have deserved the credit of their country.’ The question is, has it all worked out for the better?

The eternal optimist says yes. Perhaps (and some may slap me) immigration and newer generations will create a sort of revival in an aging country. Despite reading books like Gomorrah, a non-fiction book about the author’s infiltration in the Camorra mafia ring in the area around Naples, at least we are having the conversation.

I know that there is truth to the problems in the south, because I have personally met so many young people who have moved from the south of Italy to Florence, Milan, Rome or abroad to find work. My friends from Calabria and Puglia talk about leaving as if it was a known fact and less of a choice.

Already they are underpaid in Florence, I can’t even imagine the working conditions in their home cities. These are hard-working nice people, easy to get to know because they too, know what it’s like their home. They talk fondly of the food, their families and insane weddings where the entire town is invited and 10 course fish dinners. My dream is to be invited to one of these incredible parties.

greek theater taormina
The glorious Greek theater in Taormina Sicily

When I was in Sicily I saw the magic firsthand, the beautiful Greek theater of Taormina, the excellent wine on Mount Etna (which I wish I would have brought back – volcanic soil really does have quite an impact) and charming towns. Yes I saw plenty of older people and much less young. But my god is it beautiful down there. You see the crumbling remnants of greatness, empires that saw this as the ultimate paradise and yet getting fiber optic internet, well, that’s another story. 

Pasta like this with excellent anchovies are more than enough reason to visit the south
Pasta like this with excellent anchovies are more than enough reason to visit the south


But what I suppose nags me the most is that it doesn’t do very well to blame the ‘south’ and immigration for all of Italy’s problems. We have plenty of corruption further north, just take a look at cough* the Expo in Milan. The sad thing is, doing a simple google search for ‘corruption Italy’ provides plenty of results.

My gut feeling is that this kind of ‘skirting-the-law’ attitude is so ingrained in all areas of society, so many people participate in small scale corruption, it’s a way of life really. Not invoicing a t.v, accepting a cash payment for a lesson, you see it daily, still. If you bring it up to someone, you seem like the naive soul.

I live in ‘fruitful’ Florence but it really has never felt all that promising unless you work tirelessly in tourism. Obviously for the hope of my own family and future I hope that changes. Every-time I go for a walk I see a new place open in Florence, a bar, a bistro, a sushi restaurant, a co-working center – stuff is happening but only time will tell. I read this nytimes article about the divide written in 1996, almost 20 year’s ago (crazy right) that seems like it could have been written yesterday..

I would like to hear your (probably more expert) opinions on North vs. South Italy, especially if you have spent time in both, I am really curious! 

This post is brought to you by a collective effort from our blogger group known as COSÌ.  For your ease and comfort, we’ve added a COSÌ Facebook Page so that you can access all of our articles in one location

Rick Zullo: North versus South issues in Italy

Surviving in Italy: Northern Italians Versus Southern Italians. Are They Really That Different?

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26 Responses

  1. Once again fantastic and thought provoking article!
    I cannot give an opinion on North versus South, as I am only a visitor from Australia but it always makes me so sad to see one of the richest countries in the world in terms of culture, heritage, natural beauty, people and food of course, cobbled by such corrupt influences from the highest levels of government!
    Imagine how much of a thriving country it would be today without those leeches!
    Its good to see the current generation standing up and trying to create new opportunities!

    1. Ciao Paula, thank you so much for reading and commenting, it is always much appreciated. It is pretty insane how far-reaching the corruption goes and it is most definitely not just the ‘south’ as many politicians will sometimes like you to believe. I just think how rich Italy is in design, passion, young people who are out there wanting to be PART of something but are often stopped by red-tape. On a small scale they do something like make it easy for you to open up a partita iva (to work for yourself and invoice people) but then don’t really tell you that you really should have (aka need) a commercialista which can cost a lot of money!

  2. Loved to read another perspective in this long talked of “divide.” I am irish living in oz but have spent many a July escaping the Irish “summer” time (before moving to oz) in Vico Equense, a half hour south of Naples and maybe 45minutes north of beautiful Sorrento. That is because my husband is irish italian, his dad from Vico (province of Napoli). My sister in law lives in the family home there having been reared in Ireland. Due to the tourism of the Amalfi coast the prices and cost of living down there is huge! 25euro for a tin of baby formula means a dear option if breast feeding is to fail. My brother inlaw does a mix of labouring and painting for 1000euro a month and thats to feed a family of four! Its tight going and opportunities are limited it would seem. Still it is just one beautiful sight after another and between “arangassi” and “cucina povera” they make it work somehow. I think of the south everyday and miss it being in oz now, it gets under your skin, the buzz and the people of Naples.

    1. Hello Karen! Thank you for commenting, you know I really fell in love with the south the first brief visit to Naples, there is a certain magic to the area which is utterly fascinating, every day breathes a certain something, and the seafood… Well that’s another blog post! I know what you mean about expensive prices, Amalfi is such a resort town now, and how could you possibly support a family on a 1,000 euros a month and almost no hope of a raise. I see it everyday, even in Florence, 1,000 is the average salary up here too but many friends I know get help from their family. The question is, what happens when the money runs out..

  3. I cannot add much to the actual topic in Italy but what I can add is that Italy is definitely not alone in this. One need not look beyond the borders of the USA to see the exact same divide, perhaps on an even greater scale here between north and south or urban and rural, or urban and suburban for that matter. Perhaps the most striking is in the Appalachia region of the US. Corruption is a problem everywhere, and has been throughout human history, political corruption, economic corruption, religious corruption…the list seems to be never-ending. It’s more about the human condition than about Italy I am afraid to say. If we all cannot learn from history we are bound to repeat it. It’s a shame really…perhaps I am getting too deep, I will stop there.

    1. Hello Tony, you bring up a very valid point. I thank you for that! I know what you mean about corruption also in the states, (how many times has Chicago changed mayors for example) and we are not immune to that at all. I do think it is more about human condition, I think when you are brought up and someone says it’s ‘ok’ to cheat the system on a small scale, well that is going to reflect much later. For example, I am not personally comfortable with how easy it is to skirt the system but then it seems like the ‘big players’ never get caught or just buy their way out of the problem. In any case this corruption hurts us all…

  4. I’ve spent some time in and around Naples, and what I discovered was the genuine friendliness of the Italian residents. I’ve had several go out of their way to help, assist and feed me with grace and thoughtfulness. I’m aware the organized crime is rampant in the area, but I feel that the people are basically very open and caring. I have noticed the south is poorer by the dress of the people as well as the general state of many streets.

    1. I agree with you Susan, I met some of the nicest, most generous people in Naples. They drove us around their town and proudly showed us some of the most beautiful areas of the city. Plus we even managed to boogie with a few with my girlfriends, it led me to believe that there is something about this place. It is impossible to go down south and not notice the deprivation, unless you hole up in a fancy resort in the Amalfi Coast. It is such a beautiful place though there is a continuing strong exodus of young people to the north and abroad which is quite frightening, I wonder how many ‘ghost’ towns exist down there…

  5. Great article, such good points. My boyfriend is from the south and while it’s beautiful, like you, I’ve heard the tales of how hard life is. I’ve seen it, too, since most of his 30 and 40 year old friends have never had a job (ones who didn’t move to larger cities from Rome and north.
    I think the problems are just really deeply rooted.
    I can imagine your fiance’s issues since I always hear crap about The French, anywhere I go in Italy. Lol. Mainly though it’s about the ones who only speak French to everyone, hahaha.

    1. Ciao! Thank you so much, I know you probably know a heck of a lot more than me. It is so sad to think of all of these people not having any opportunities if they leave home, and likely it is very, very far. I agree that the issues are so much deeper-rooted than we probably all know. I added that bit in the beginning because I know what it is like to have people judge you. ‘Oh well, you’re from Texas so you ride horses and shoot guns’ err….. absolutely not my thing — I prefer Mexican food and floating down the Guadalupe! Same with Nico, I realized that a lot of people get offended about the French language because as I am starting to learn, a lot of the words sound very similar which means if you say something even slightly wrong, it probably means that the person doesn’t know what your saying. You can only imagine what kind of misunderstandings this can lead to. Plus even if it is nice when people say “oh well you are not like the others” at the same time it is sort of an insult because that is where you came from, your family and friends are still there. I just think a little tact goes a long long way..

      1. Haha, ahhhh , the “you’re not like…..” comments. Yes, meant well, but rather backhanded, right? Sometimes I have to admit I like hearning “you don’t seem American…” (cut to scenes of stereotypical American tourists)….but then I get annoyed the more that I think of it. Every country/place has their bad apples that ruin the bunch, I guess.

  6. Great article! My husband and I are on track to move to Italy early next year. We plan live 4 months in the north, central, and south to get an idea of where we would want to live if we stay long term. He is close to all papers for dual citizenship. Our Italian immigration lawyer says once this is completed we ate good to go to the main Italian consulate for our visas.

    1. Hello Ilene, that sounds like quite the interesting adventure! I think that is a pretty sound idea to try all three areas, especially if you can work remotely, otherwise finding a job could be tough. I wish you luck through the dual citizenship process which I know can be tough but so so worth it in the end.

  7. I lived in Italy for 7 months and although I was living in the north, which is much more profitable than the south, I was still surprised by how difficult things still are in terms of jobs. I was also surprised by Italian friends talking about the corruption in the North, I had just assumed that it was all in the South because we hear about the Mafia and things, but they were talking about corruption in business and industry which the North is known for.
    But I’ve seen it in every day life as well, like you were talking about, just little things like having to pay my rent in cash so the landlord could avoid the tax. Of course not everyone is like this but if just seems to be so ingrained into the culture, which is really sad because Italy is such a great place to live (in terms of culture, food and generosity of people e.t.c).

  8. Interesting topic, I think in all countries there is this divide of one generalized area with another. We have our own with the n vs. s in the states. and in the Midwest where I live we note differences in east/west coasts as well as south! I think that the more you travel and experience people of different areas, the better understanding you have as to what differences really do exist. It’s futile other wise to generalize, but people still do it all the time.

  9. Hi Georgette! As mentioned here already, yes…it seems to be fact as opposed to option for younger people from places like Puglia and Calabria to move to Milan (or other more northern cities ) for work.

    On a personal note, my father is from Trieste and hubby is from Rome. And for my father, anything south of Florence is considered a “southerner.” They regularly harass each other….and hubby actually has the nerve to call my father “Polentone.” The north-south thing makes for fun times in my family. 🙂

    1. Buongiorno Diana! We are heading down south this summer to Calabria and Basilicata and I hope to at least get a glimpse of what it is like for people there, are there budding businesses, do you people only come back for summer vacation? How hard is to raise a family and just generally live in these places, I will definitely be trying to speak with locals during the trip.

      That is actually really funny regarding your father and your husband! I laughed out loud when I saw ‘polentone’ I am going to have to remember that one ;-). I have heard all sorts of terms from people located all over Italy about what they thought of their fellow Italians, it is quite interesting even if I hope that the ‘negative’ parts of the connotations change in the future. We shall see 🙂 as you do first hand in your own family. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  10. Ciao Georgette!

    Excellent and thought-provoking article. I love your pictures, brava!

    I definitely have the same gut-feeling about Italy’s culture of “small-scale corruption” which I experience every day here in Sicily. They seem to have the “well, everyone’s doing it” mindset, which is definitely concerning if Italy ever hopes to progress as a country. Actually, I’m seeing less Southerners aspire to move north for work, but rather move out of the country in search of better opportunities.

    1. Hello Madeleine! This is definitely an interesting subject, perhaps motivation for another post perhaps with your inside knowledge of what it is really like in Sicily? I am so curious but I definitely have heard stories from friends who live and have lived there. I see what you mean regarding the ‘brain drain’ extending more to Europe rather than Italy, I see it too..

  11. Southern Italian towns under Borbon rule, weren’t in as sad state of affairs as their northern counterparts. Actually life in Italy was much harsher under the rule of the Popes than that of the Borbons. And what happened afterwards was that the Savoia family proved to the Southern Italians that, in the end, they weren’t much better than the Borbons. the book The Leopard, by Tomasi di Lampedusa, clearly details what happened in Sicily after Garibaldi.
    However, if the south became the cradle of the mob, it has a lot to do with Mussolini and the aftermath of the American invasion of Sicily. Many mafia bosses, which had gone into huding during the fascist era, resurfaced to reclaim their power and rule of the territory, thus becoming a sort of trait d’union between the Allies and the new local Italian goverment. The most well known mobster was Genco Russo, from Caccamo, which became mayor of Caccamo.
    Ofentimes Sicily is referred to as the land of “omertà. As an American Sicilian I only have to think about the endless list of names of the people killed by the onorata società, to realize that is Sicily is many things. But definitely not the land of omertà.

  12. Hello, I’m a northern Italian. I really enjoyed your blog, you’re the first American blogger who writes many sensible things about Italy and Italians. I appreciated you have talked about how much the salaries are low comparing to the cost of living. 90% of foreigners make me get mad because they know nothing about us, they hear that we live with our parents until they day we get married, assuming we’re mama-boys and stuff.
    As far as this topic is concerned, this is your first article I don’t like that much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just a little bit annoyed by the fact you have to find something bad in northern Italy. First of all, you should know that Italy is very diverse region by region, even among the 8 northerner regions. I, personally, like French people very much. I live in Piedmont and I’ve been to southern France several times. I feel southern French very similar to us northern Italian and I’m not being rude but I feel more close to them than to southern Italians. I’m not being arrogant, racist or intolerant, this is just a matter of fact.
    Maybe in northern Italy there is that large amount of corruption as you’ve written, but I have lived here my entire life and I’m very thankful for my luck. Before the crisis, once you got a diploma was very easy to find a good job, I was able to refuse many job’s opportunities. As a woman I can do whatever I want. The reason why a lot of northern Italians can’t stand the southerners is given by the fact they do in southern Italy all the government employment examinations, for this reason most government jobs in the north are occupied by southern Italians. We northerners have nothing against southerners that move here to work hard in factories or something. You will find that most people of southern Italian roots that live in the north, can’t stand the south more than real northern Italians do.

    1. Helo Giulia, first of all I wanted to thank you so much for your support and that you even read my blog, which means a lot to me. I really like to get feedback from Italians and appreciate anything, negative or positive so that I can best approach subjects in the future. Regarding the salaries, a lot of people think I am rich because I work and live in Florence but when I tell them my actual salary, I get a deafening silence and it’s pretty much a conversation stopper once they realize that I get the same as they when they babysat or something like that.

      You know I read the article over and over and I am struggling to find where I mention being annoyed with Northern Italy – maybe you read something wrong? I have nothing but love for all areas of Italy, besides commenting that I had been to Bolzano (and actually the Veneto region quite a bit) there was no mention of not liking the North or the Northerns other than highlighting the fact that you can find corruption there too (since people always think it is only the south). I should have probably said that there is plenty of issues in Florence too, it is a country-wide problem. I have so many friends from up North and they are lovely hard-working people.

      You are very correct in mentioning that Italy is very diverse, in fact that is what I was trying to explain as well, that regiom by region and even city by city, dialects change completely and even cultural norms. I understand the frustration that you might have up North but at the moment the country is unified and thus must work on solutions to either fix the country as a hole or what would be the alternative? Splitting up once again? I have too met many people who have left the south for work (which I also mention in the article) and they talk sadly about the beauty of the place they are from and the lack of jobs. I want to iterate that I mention many times that I am not an expert, nor pretending to be, this was the topic of our roundtable and I just wanted to showcase my own personal feelings about this divide which I am sure will change over time living here.

  13. Hi, I am Italian. I confirm lots of things you’ve said in this article. The corruption is very high, everydai on newspapers there are news which tell about corruption, mafia and our politicians (I am very ashamed of them). I’m a son of Southernerns emigrated in the North. I love Italy, but I think that we Italians are too much divided. I’ve had a classmate who have very bad ideas of the South. A classmate has called me “terrone”, an offensive terms which means rude. A tourist which comes to Italy watches the beauties of my country, but it’s very bad to live in. There isn’ musch work, especially in the south, and the public opinion now is against immigrants; they say “Prima gli Italiani” (The Italians before!), because lots of people aren’t very rich and they see immigrants with a roof on their head and almost a meal every day. In 2011 there was a “political earthquake” so now we have a not-elected government which promise (something has been realised) but the economical crisis remains. I hope to have given the right idea of a country devastated by mafia, bad politicians and an interminable economic crisis, which has provocated lots of poverty, especially in the south (which was poor also before the crisis).

  14. I am an American with grandparents who emigrated from southern (Salerno) Italy. What I do know is that most of the other southern Italian immigrants who came from this country in that late 19th early 20th centuries were extremely hard-working, and were quite successful financially after they arrived in the US. I have not visited southern Italy very much, but I have spent a considerable amount of time in the north-central regions. I found these Italians to be quite rude and unwelcoming to Americans. They made fun of us for our lack of fashion sense and said that we went to the gym because we did not get any exercise otherwise. I have friends from the Veneto region, and their disparaging comments about southern Italians bother me very much. (When I visited Spain, I found the people extremely polite and helpful.) The north/south divide is common in other countries (Netherlands, Germany, US). It is something that is inevitable, perhaps. There needs to be in Italy a leader who can unify the regions so that the country as a whole can profit from each region’s strengths.

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Georgette Jupe

Welcomed to my personal blog by a curious American girl with a semi-confusing name living and working between Zug, Switzerland and Florence, Italy with my husband Nico and our beagle Ginger. This blog is primarily to share about my love for Italy (currently on a 13 year romance) with afar amount of real talk, practical advice, travel suggestions and adjusting to a new culture (Switzerland).

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