Some things I've learned here in Italy:
1) No one does TV as well as Americans do. It's not even close. We are the living gods of TV.
2) No one does cellphones as poorly as Americans do -- at least until the arrival of the iPhone. We'll see about that when I get home.
3) Yeah, the Renaissance was a . . . um, rebirth . . . of western civilization. But goddamn, do you think we have about enough paintings of Jesus? Renaissance painting worked off a very limited menu: a) Bible, b) Mythology, c) Rich guys. Did no one ever open a fucking window and think, "hey, how about a painting of some sunflowers? How about a starry night?" No. Centuries passed during which every discussion with an artist went like this: "I'd like a suffering Jesus with six cherubs, one Centaur fucking a virgin, and me looking thoughtful in low light and scratchy clothes. What? That'll run me eighteen gold pieces? Whoa. Okay, gimme Jesus with a halo and three cherubs, and maybe the Centaur and the virgin are just cuddling."
4) Here's every day at a Renaissance era framing shop: "Um, you know what? I think I'm gonna go with the gilt."
5) Here's every Renaissance-era interior decorator: "I'm seeing dark, heavy fabrics and a sort of lightless, gloomy, black hole kind of thing. In fact, let's see if by using wallpaper, tapestries, hammered gold and muddy paintings we can trap every last stray photon. I want no light in here, people! No light at all!"
6) The French can bitch about American commercialization. The Italians? Nah. Venice and Florence can throw down with Disney itself in terms of squeezing every last crap souvenir dollar out of the suckers. Disney marketers see Venice and despair. Their only ride is a fucking row boat and yet they've managed to turn the entire city into a souvenir stand.
7) Italians plumbers have signed a secret pact that forbids them ever to install a shower unless it sprays at least 25% of the water onto the floor.
8) Americans have gotten to be very good at hotels. Show me the European hotel thats better than the big three in Chicago. (Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Peninsula.)
9) Thirty years ago when an American didn't like a meal at an Italian restaurant it was because he was an ignorant nitwit who didn't know anything but Velveeta, vanilla wafers and corn on the cob. Now it's because he's getting better food in the average American mall than you'll find in one of the tourist restaurants in an Italian city. Hey, amici: time to elevate your game, we know when you're serving us shit.
10) No one in the entire United States of America -- counting all the Starbucks, Caribous, Peets, and trendy New York restaurants -- can squeeze out an espresso as good as an anonymous, autostrada rest-stop AutoGrill, let alone what they pour at a good restaurant.
11) Dear Italy: I love you guys, I really do, but thirty fucking signs stacked one on top of the other? When we're all doing 140 kph? Really? That makes sense to you?
12) Italians do public toilets so much better than the French. Better than the Americans, too. 90% of Italian toilets have been clean. 90% of American toilets -- and I'm including you, McDonald's -- reek. There's still about a 5% squat-toilet rate but I'm hard at work on a convenient portable conversion kit: toilet seat and porcelain drill that will fit in a backpack.
13) A grown man who wears capri pants has surrendered the legal right to file charges in the event that he's beaten up.
14) At the Duomo they make women wear a sort of blue paper poncho if their shoulders are bare. Evidently God is offended by bare shoulders. He's okay with overly-ambitious boob jobs and thin white slacks over black thong underwear, but He's not fond of the shoulders. The Lord has mysterious tastes in clothing.
15) Only one nation's citizens are so insecure, so pitifully needy they feel they have to announce their identity with prominent displays of their national symbol. No, not Norwegians, although they are indistinguishable from Swedes. Not Belgians, even though their country is so small they're lumped in with Luxembourg. Not even Slovenians who for all anyone knows are actually Slovakians. The answer is of course, Canadians. "We're not Americans, eh." No, you're not Americans. You're whatever a person is who is chiefly defined by what he's not. (Cough-pussies-cough-cough.)
16) White cowboy boots on women with shorts? And you're giving us shit about t-shirts and jeans?
17) You know your two car garage? An Italian could park nine cars, two trucks and twenty-three motorcycles in there.
18) Does no one have the sac to tell the Venetians that the Basilica di San Marco is tacky? It had to have been built by subscription. "For ten grand we stick a statue on the roof, for twenty-five you get a portico. Your choice of marble, any color you like. Okay, any nine colors you like"
19) And yet, goddamn is Venice beautiful. It's one of these places where you already know exactly what to expect, no surprises, nothing but cliches, you've already seen the pictures and yet, it gets you.
20) I've encountered not a scintilla, not a hint, not a suggestion of Anti-Americanism. There's not an Italian alive who doesn't know what I am at first sight. And not an Italian I've encountered who has been anything less than gracious. So if you're thinking of coming, don't pretend to be a Canadian. Be what you are. Just don't wear capri pants.