Four years ago, I wrote about the difficulties of making friends with Italians. I already had online (and offline) friends in Italy, but most of them were expats. I have Italian colleagues with whom I get along well at the office, but we don’t socialize outside (quite the opposite of my experience in American companies).
Turns out I was looking in the wrong places: I should have been seeking Italian friends in my other country beginning with I, the Internet.
I had one Internet-derived Italian friend, Alice Twain, but I didn’t start reading Italian blogs until last December, when I met Lele Dainese and, through him, various other Italian bloggers. Not surprisingly, the number of Italian blogs that I read jumped after barCamp Roma, and again after the Girl Geeks Dinner and rItaliaCamp.
I didn’t need more reading material, but these people are now friends, or on the way to becoming friends, so I’m genuinely interested in what they have to say. And I’m attending every offline get-together I can manage, to see the people I already know, and meet new ones.
Last night in Milan we had a Pandecena (see video) – so named because organized by Luca Conti, whose main blog is called Pandemia (cena = dinner). Italian netizens gather around Luca because he’s a highly influential and well-known Italian blogger, so a bunch of people who mostly had no previous acquaintance were happy to turn up at a dinner to meet him and each other. (NB: Upon meeting Luca, one also learns that he’s a thoroughly nice human being, so seeing him again is always a pleasure.)
To save me the hassle of commuting back to Lecco late at night after a long day (I had come in to the office early to avoid a train strike), Sara/Piperita had invited me to stay at her home in Milan. She issued this invitation although our acquaintance to date extended only to chatting briefly at the Girl Geeks dinner, and then some emails to organize a LikeMind event in Milan next Friday. This is extremely unusual behavior for an Italian: you just don’t up and invite strangers to stay at your house! (Well, I do, but I’m a weirdo and I’m not Italian.)
So I went over to Sara’s place after work to drop off my backpack, and spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking with her and her French husband. Aside: We could have spoken Italian or English equally comfortably – they have both spent a lot of time in England and are fluent in English as well as, of course, French (I don’t speak French, but can follow a lot of it).
I already knew that Italians who have travelled and lived outside Italy are generally more open to new people and experiences (this is also true of Americans and others who travel). It had not occurred to me (duh!) that there is naturally a strong correlation between Italians who have an active online life and Italians who travel. Like me, they have friends in other parts of the world, whom they keep up with via the Internet.
Which is not to say that every Italian online has travelled. But even those who have not exhibit a wide-eyed curiosity about the world very different from the average Italian attitude. Italy has one of the lowest rates of Internet use in the developed world (fewer than 50% of the population), because many Italians see no use in it except perhaps to buy cheap airline tickets. Most Italians are uninterested in making new friends after their school years, and, to these, the idea of making friends via the Internet is completely outlandish.
The Italians who are online, however, are open to – indeed, actively seek – new ideas and people. They’re the kind of people I enjoy knowing, and who enjoy knowing me.
Of course there’s the geek angle. People who show up to barCamps and so on are generally techies one way or another, or at least bloggers, so they find plenty of geek stuff to talk about. At last night’s dinner I heard far more about Python (a programming language) than I needed to know, and may have got myself into interpreting a speech (via video link) to be given by Alan Kay at Italy’s first PyCon, to be held in Firenze in June. (Modestamente parlando, they would have a hard time finding anyone better qualified than myself to do it. <grin>)
On the whole, it was a very enjoyable evening with a nice group of people, all of them Italian except me, some of whom are destined to become friends (not that I disliked anyone there – just talked to some more than others).
Two of my countries beginning with I, Italy and the Internet, are coming together – an unexpected but very happy development.
How do you make new friends in Italy?