ear Reader: You faithfully stuck around when I complained about sheep, ranted about fashion faux pas and voiced variously pitiful laments about the trials and tribulations of being the only Australian in the village, which is a lie, by the way. There is another Australian living the next town over, but I don’t like him. I don’t know him, but I know I don’t like him.
This month, I confess, I am taking the side of the group I normally belittle, berate, mock and deride: the native Italiano. I might be Australian, but I have a Briton’s sense of innate colonial superiority. Give me a moment to set it aside.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a petition to stop Starbucks from opening in Milan. Now I’m sure there are plenty of Italians simply losing their minds over this abomination, but this particular petition was being led by expats. Or perhaps I should be more specific lest I offend too many. This petition was being uninspiringly led by expats from English-speaking nations.
How they decried the travesty of the chain-that-shall-not-be-named! The expat forums and Facebook groups to which I belong were up in arms. A Starbucks in the patria of the espresso? Do those corporate fat cats have no shame?
It’s a battle cry I’ve heard before. American fast food chain + Italian city = shock, horror, disgust. Brought to you by Expats for Keeping a Tighter Lid on Italy’s Culinary Culture than a General in Soviet-era Russia. And yet how they gush about Eataly. Have you been to that store? It’s a bottle of asparagus water away from being a Whole Foods.
At this point in our correspondence, I should probably disclose that I have a vested interest in American fast food. I dream about KFC. I considered enlisting in the American army just so that I could get access to the base that happens to have the only KFC in Italy. Last Christmas, I gave it my heart when I heard the franchise was opening in Rome and the very next day, burst into tears when I found out it was hoax… yes, I just made a Wham! joke.
And, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t care less if every American fast food chain from Applebee’s to Zero’s Subs opens in every Italian city. And I don’t care for one very important reason — Italy is not a snow globe.
It is not something you can preserve on your shelf in perfect farcical posterity. It’s 2016 and most Italians have been outside their country’s borders. They want to wear Zara, listen to The Weekend and eat fried chicken.
Now I can safely assume a bunch of expats are going to read this open letter, so listen very carefully. Just because you love authentic pizzas and mustached men speaking dialect does not mean an entire country should be forced to live in the antiquated, stereotypical”Roman Holiday” fantasy that inspired you to move to the country in the first place.
Italy isn’t that 1960s Vespa-powered silver screen siren you thought she was. She’s a modern EU woman who doesn’t make tomato sauce, who loves George Clooney’s Nespresso ads just as much as the rest of the world and who chooses sneakers over stilettos every time.
Don’t complain about fast food in Italy when we all know you’re going to indulge in it the next time you’re back in your home country. And don’t moan about foreign brands when you grew up next to a shopping center with 500+ stores.
Even Italians just feel like a cheeseburger sometimes. Suck it up expats and let them enjoy the same crap you’ve been enjoying for generations.
Much love, Elisa