Beppe Severgnini on Mapping Stereotypes

It’s the concern of repeating old mistakes which has taken away the pleasure to study diversity and laugh about it.

Beppe Severgnini is a prominent Italian writer and journalist. Needles to say, I feel genuinely honored to even see my name in an article written by him, not to mention seeing my Mapping Stereotypes project as the main theme. His essay, wonderfully titled Quegli stereotipi che ci ricordano il bello delle differenze, takes a serious look at my maps. Not because Mr. Severgnini didn’t get the humor in them but because he truly got to the root of it. And he does it with finesse, eloquence and clarity of thought I am not capable of achieving. I hope if he ever discovers this page, he won’t mind that I published a translation of his essay in English. I honestly believe that the more people understand this message, the better the European future will be. So here it goes:

Those stereotypes that remind us of the beauty of differences

The maps designed by the residing in London Bulgarian Yanko Tsvetkov provoke reflection

How do our neighbours see us? Yanko Tsvetkov, a Bulgarian designer, who lived in London for a while, produced several maps in which countries and regions are renamed according to the stereotypes with which other nations see them. According to the USA for example, in Russia live “the reds”, the French are “stinky people” and the Germans make us think of “dirty porn”. Tsvetkov, a 33 year old, says the idea came up in 2009 during the gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine. “I made the first design just to entertain my friends” explains Tsvetkov “but then I realized it was quite liked. so I decided to continue”. Since he published “Mapping Stereotypes” Mr. Tsvetkov’s site received half a billion visits. Beautiful idea, to design the maps according to European stereotypes. It means that (a) that they exist (b) that we can joke about them. Anyone who has heard a Frenchman speaking of an Englishman, an Englishman describing a German, a German telling of a Pole, a Pole commenting on a Russian, and all of them talking about us, Italians, knows that people can be deceitful. If there’s friendship between them, it will be fun. If there’s animosity, it’s no longer a joke but the verge of a war.

It’s the tragic story of Europe which has taken away our taste of irony. It’s the concern of repeating old mistakes which has taken away the pleasure to study diversity and laugh about it. Political correctness has imposed a pathetic lie: there are no nations, only people! There is no national character, only individual ones!

Nonsense! Look at an Italian street and a German one and you will realize it. Someone would say: “But the Germans arrive in Italy and after a little while they become even less disciplined than us”. True, it´s a proof that it’s the environment which triggers behaviours, there is no anthropomorphic determinism. The people in Berlin are correct when they say “If they drove like us in Naples, it would be better”. In Naples people would respond “If Tasso avenue was as long and straight as Unter den Linden, we would probably do it.”

They are full of splendid and harmless ferocity, those maps of Bulgarian Yanko Tsvetkov, who resides in London. It took an outsider to remind us that according to many French people, we Italians are friendly and noisy, the Greeks are noisy and hairy, and there are many Polish plumbers. And according to so many English people, Europe in its entirety, from Calais to Cyprus, is the Confederate Empire of Evil. And according to so many Italians, the East of Trieste is inhabited by a mix of porn stars, babysitters, Byzantines, thieves, and beer drinkers. According to the Americans, French people wash themselves only occasionally, the Swiss only think of money, the Scandinavians are socialists and we are obviously mafia.

Then we cross each other’s paths, we meet each other, we get to know each other, we become fond of each other, we fall in love with each other, and work together. And all these stereotypes melt away over a beer. Or a glass of wine, we say. A glass of champagne, say others. A bottle of vodka, propose the Russians and the Polish. With a plain whiskey, say the Scottish.

And we start it all over again, luckily, to be diverse, polemic and suspicious. Europe, like life, is beautiful because it has variety. If we were all the same, like some people imagine us in Brussels, we would end up in a perpetual, big yawn. Bigger than the public debt, to say the least.

Published on 22.09.2010 in Corriere della Sera. Translated from Italian by Emiliano Barragán-Géant

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