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- Bella figura
Italy has a rich cultural heritage in art, history, religion and fashion. Its cultural legacies are romanticised across the globe and remain a point of pride for the nation. Italians themselves are commonly known for being flexible, persuasive and talkative people. Their lively communication style often gives Australians the impression that they are enthusiastic and appreciative of what life has to offer.
Italian culture puts great emphasis on an individual’s appearance as first impressions can be lasting impressions in Italy. A person’s attire can indicate their status, family background and level of education and is one of the easiest indicators of social class in Italian society. Italians tend to dress more fashionably than most Westerners and go to great lengths to ensure their attire appropriately suits the occasion. The upper classes usually come from wealthy families or have achieved business success. Their social distinction is often visible in the display of lavish clothes and belongings, unobtainable to those of lower status. For the most part, Italians of modest means still dress neatly but wear and own more inexpensive possessions.
This attention to appearance is founded on the concept of 'bella figura' (which literally means ‘good image’). However, bella figura is more than physical appearance; it extends to the aura one projects. It encompasses someone’s confidence, style, elegance and demeanour. What people say and how they act will affect their image-perception by others. As a result, most Italians have a noticeable grace and charm in their actions. They are generally very chivalrous and make small gestures of politeness consistently (for example, opening doors, standing up for people). As a contrast, the informality of Australian culture can appear uncouth or even disrespectful when compared to Italian courtesy. Nevertheless, though Italian etiquette is noticeably more polite and chivalrous than Australian culture’s, this does not normally translate to mean the Italian people are uptight about their conduct. Indeed, they commonly adopt a relaxed, warm and playful attitude and are effusive in showing affection towards those they like. There are some cultural differences between different regions in Italy. The North is perceived as being more modern, individualistic and industry-focused, whereas the South (below Rome) is often associated with more traditional and family-oriented values. However, these differences are often more centred on the urban vs. rural divide than a geographical one. The big cities of Italy have evolved to be fast moving to keep pace with the technological age while Italians from agricultural areas tend to favour a slower, more characteristically Mediterranean approach and pace to life.
Catholicism has been a point of unification for Italy as Vatican City (the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church) is located in Rome. Today, most Italians (around 83%) are Catholic, although not as many actively practise their religion. Of those who do practise, many still consider the Pope to be the ultimate source of leadership and advice. The Pope’s word and the creed of the Catholic Church have significantly shaped Italian attitudes and opinions on contemporary issues over time. However, while the Roman Catholic Church is still regarded as having a strong influence on Italian politics (or some political parties), today not all Italians agree with the Church’s stance on certain topics (e.g. same-sex marriage).
Italians in Australia
Italian migrants have been arriving in Australia since the 1800’s, with the largest influx occurring during the 1950’s and 60’s. Migration has been relatively minimal since that climax of arrivals. Consequently, most of the Italian first-generation migrant population is well established in Australia and older in comparison to other migrant
populaces. It is therefore important to note that those who have been settled for years and acculturated to Australia are not as likely to absolutely represent the average native Italian described above.