Sunday, October 14

Get the Big Babies out of the House

Well, if Italy’s Economic Minister didn’t finally tell the Emperor he had no clothes, this came pretty darn close. Here he was, Mr. Padoa-Schioppa, telling a country which prides itself on having raised an entire generation that does not know how to make a dental appointment without mamma’s intervention, let alone work as one, that the economic development of this country depends on … getting the Bamboccioni out of la casa. He might as well have stated that Italy no longer needs a diet of pasta & olive oil. But, at least, while no one has a real solution, a lot of lively debate has ensued.

Economists & sociologists and the like have been weighing in ever since. But, they’ve got it all wrong. In an article in last Sunday’s Sole24ore, the WSJ of Italy, two writers made the case that it’s because of the school system. To them, I say: you have got to be kidding me. It seems ‘La Mamma’ is still as solid an institution as the very marble columns which hold up the Ministry for the Family itself.
Following, is my response:

Dear Sirs,

While I appreciate your astute examination of this cultural phenomenon of the so-called, ‘Bamboccioni’, I believe your analysis, that these kids are born in the classrooms, is strikingly off the mark. The Bamboccioni are made, nurtured, and developed much earlier—and within the four walls of their very homes. And, while the school system does play a minor role in this phenomenon, it is only an accessory to the crime: the true culprit being La Mamma—a figure who has devoted her entire existence to assuring that her little pride & joy (after all, there is only one) stays attached to her apron strings … for the rest of her very (very) long life.
From the time that child enters her world, everything - everything - is contrived to give La Mamma her haloed role in his. Even after the kid is grown and ‘flies the coop’, there she is, keeping a watchful eye from the apartment upstairs. I have a friend whose husband, post-marriage, refused to purchase a washing machine; he wanted his mamma to do his (& now her) laundry for eternity. Needless to say, the relationship didn't work out.

In psychology, this pathetic result is what’s known as ‘Learned Helplessness’.

The treasured bambini are spoon-fed, washed & clothed until well into their school years. Their mothers pick up everything they drop, proudly declaring, ‘Boys will be boys’, rather than teaching them to do so for themselves. La Mamma carries their book bags to and from school, and, I imagine does much of their homework, so as to ease their burden further.

How many times have I heard, ‘Giovanni, don’t run!’, when the child is simply just trying to be one. He learns to stay right in her sight, never venturing on his own. And let’s not even mention the single mothers-all of whom share a bed with their ‘little man’ right into puberty, under the guise of ‘protecting’ him, when it’s she who needs comfort. Even pea-brained birds know that they must throw their offspring out of the nest in order to see them fly.

I am convinced that Italy, now the flag-barrier for a pacifist state, does this out of the most base instinct for self-preservation. Should a calamity come like those of the past World Wars, these kids would not be like their forefathers; scavenging for food or joining the resistance—they’d be found cowering in a kitchen corner screaming for their mamma.

Growing up in the U.S., my brothers & I all had paper routes by the age of 9. We understood the idea of responsibility (waking up at 5am every day), good service (to get those tips), and the worth of a penny, which is exactly what we were paid per paper. Three feet of snow, my dad would roll over in bed, mentioning that he already had a job, and it did not involve waking up at 5am. So, off to work we went. We did it, not out of necessity, out of an almost knee-jerk reaction for independence.

At 14, we worked in restaurants or ice cream shops or babysat. They say that 1/3 of Americans have, at one time or another, actually worked at McDonalds. Italians, on the other hand, pride themselves in not having kids who work. Great training for a bright future.

At school, exams are oral & based on theory, not practice. You are taught to regurgitate the facts on page 339, but never allowed to actually use them. Passive learning by Professors is the rule of the day; there is no translation for ‘engaging’ in the Italian language.

Once in college, there are no internships that allow you to practice your trade; likewise, jobs are not assured when you get out. So why bother? As a student of psychology, I worked through University in the world-renowned Institute for Social Research. I was given so much responsibility, I rarely met the person in charge of the studies. By 19, I was writing Corporate Communications for Burroughs (Unisys) while a friend handled the night desk for a local TV station. In Italy for an internship at 20, I was responsible for stapling papers for 3 straight months in a large bank – and probably the first case of carpal-tunnel syndrome ever documented here.

If you manage to find a job out of college, (usually through daddy, and not through your own talent), you are almost paralyzed in it; while you wait for your manager-mom to tell you how to do your job, in which way, even what to write in that report. You do not bring new ideas to a meeting. My Company director friends complain they feel less like motivational managers and more like babysitters. I can’t tell you the number of times I have even fielded calls from La Mamma to set up interviews for their little bundles of joy—I usually respond that if La Mamma has to call, it is highly doubtful that I wish to employ her son.

Is it any wonder that one of the most successful businessmen this country has ever seen, Leonardo Del Vecchio, the founder of Luxottica, was an orphan? It makes perfect sense to at least one observer.

Aside from being orphaned, there are other exceptions to this rule, especially those who grew up with divorced parents or working mothers. But, these, sadly, are not the norm.

Even laboratory rats if rewarded with a piece of cheese, will repeat the behaviour endlessly. Well, not only do we reward these bamboccioni with fresh parmigiano (grated) on their daily pasta, but a roof over their heads, no monthly payments for rent or utilities, housekeeping service, & even a personal shopper and a fabulous car; not to mention health clubs and long vacations in the Maldives with their girlfriend…And you expect them to go against human (and rat) nature & simply turn and walk away? Come on. So no, dear Minister, it is not a question of providing for cheaper rents; these kids still need to cough up all of their other living expenses to boot.

But, I do not come with only complaints; I offer you a solution. Dear Mr. Padoa-Schioppa, forget lower housing rates. Why not bring in those incredible, dynamic, multi-taskers, financial planners and amazing personal relationship managers? Why not, start a campaign & start hiring La Mammas.

You’d not only kill two birds with one stone, you’d light the economy right on fire.


Anonymous said...

have you read 'mamma mia' by blini?
a friend sent me the title but i havent had a chance to pick it up yet.

Anonymous said...

From the author of the ilSole24ore article:

thanks, I am sure you have a point
although I suspect that la mamma was not very different in the past than for current generations...

Irreverent Italy said...

Yes, La Mamma has always figured BIG. But, examining not just the socio but the economics... times have changed. Immigrants of yore encouraged their kids to get out & work, or get educated. Post-WWII, they caught the reconstruction buzz. Rampant economic expansion up to the '80s came screeching to a halt but by then, the damage was done. The little darlings had learnt they didn't need to leave the comfort of home, nor did they need to bother with an education as no jobs await them upon graduation. And that's why, we need to Hire the Mammas!!!