recently watched a likable enough Adam Sandler movie called “Grown Ups 2” with my children. If you haven’t had the pleasure, one plot line involves a feud between the “grown ups” (middle-aged men) and the local college fraternity that culminates in a huge, Wild West-style, punch up. “That would never happen here,” my eldest son piped up suddenly, “they’d all just have fun together.” And he’s right. One of the endearing characteristics of Italian life that generations don’t part like the Red Sea at social functions or go to separate places for entertainment purposes.
The situation is quite the reverse in Britain, where clear boundaries exist between clubs and pubs for youth and those with a middle aged clientele, never the twain shall meet. More often than not, elders view young people with deep suspicion and as a potential nuisance. The result is that kids find their own entertainment and once they turn rebellious often go over the top.
It starts early. Children are not particularly welcome in restaurants, cafes, churches or museums. In fact they’ve only recently been allowed in pubs that sell food (a great step forward among those of us who remember sitting outside a pub in the dismal “garden” with a ginger beer and a bag of crisps while our parents enjoyed a cozy pint inside).
It’s fairly common to receive a wedding invitation in which you’re told your children are not welcome. Can you imagine that happening in Italy? I can’t — and their civilization is all the richer for it.
We should learn some lessons here.
From the moment Italian children come into the world, they are adored, celebrated and made welcome. There are no separate tables or different menus. They’re simply accepted as a part of society deserving of the same consideration as everyone else. I tried explaining this once to my father, who’s spent a considerable lot of time feeling acutely embarrassed by our children’s behavior. I got nowhere.
At the time, we were chatting outside a restaurant in Italy as my three-year-old wheeled round on a small tricycle. My father was livid, all the more so when my son ran over a man’s foot. At this outrage my father was ready to lock my son in the car. But the man with the sore toe just continued chatting and ruffled my son’s head with a friendly smile. “Now do you see?” I asked.
In my eyes, the Italian approach to life, which the British often envy, is as much defined by its approach to children as it is by the sunny climate. The British people love their children just as much as everybody else but they resist the more relaxed (and healthier) southern European outlook.
They shouldn’t. They need to calm down a bit about the way children behave in public. They need to learn to include children in adult social life while accepting that they are children and will behave accordingly.
Our life here is so much richer as a result. Teenagers are confident, helpful and charming. I can go out for a drink with a friend and end up talking to twenty-year-olds without feeling in the least middle aged or unwelcome. And if (God forbid) I want to take the whole family to a nightclub, there’s one just down the road where my teenagers can thrash the night away under disco strobe lights while I enjoy a meal and a bit of line dancing. Or I can frolic with my eight-year-old without anybody turning a hair.
Best of all, in the 11 years I’ve lived in the Italian countryside I’ve only ever seen a group of young Italians very drunk on one occasion. Admittedly, I don’t go out as much as some, but if any of you’ve visited any English town on a Saturday night (or joined Adam Sandler in dealing with a fraternity) you’d know what a blessing this is.