To tell the truth…

I hate blogging, I really do. I don’t particularly like writing, and photography bores me. I don’t care if anyone reads my blog, either, because what difference does it make? It’s just communication, and that’s not high on my list of “What’s Important in Life.” Also, how does anyone know if I’m telling the truth? Or if I’m just lying lying lying, my pants burning to cinders, like I’m doing right now?

Yep. Lying. That nasty art that Italians are said to be very adept at. There are (1) big, political lies, (2) little white ones, and (3) that other type that takes the form of creatively working your way around various rules and regulations. (I once heard that a great deal of money was made in Naples selling t-shirts that had life-sized, fastened car seat belts printed on the front).

I’ve not had much first-hand experience with the first variety, though the papers are full of them. Meanwhile, little white lies are a dime a dozen and an integral part of everyday life, not so much because deceit is admired, but because hurting feelings is not. (If you’re ever invited to a party here and you’d rather not go, the American “I’ll try”—usually followed by non-attendance—or “Y’know? I just don’t really feel up to it” will not do. You must create, on the spot, a damn good reason why you cannot be there, even if there isn’t one. The third variety of lie is often so ingenious that it seems to qualify for admiration. Except you have to wonder: what if all that creativity were put into something truly positive and constructive? And besides, wouldn’t it be better to actually wear a seat-belt then just to have one printed on your shirt?

That said, I’m fairly certain there’s a strong link between bureaucracy-laden society and creative rule-breaking. It’s a way of maintaining your sanity and your dignity when every inch of your life has been codified. This axiom is a given in Italian society. It’s why traffic cops turn a blind eye in the face of small infractions, and why Milanese citizens feel free to discuss and negotiate with the very same men or women in uniform when they don’t.

Why bring this up now? Because, with Christmas upon us, one of Italy’s most famous liars is back in vogue, and seeing him has brought all this to mind. If you go to the lovely Antica Cartoleria (paper, office, and school supply store) in Via Ruffini, he stands sentry at the door. He sits on the Christmas wreath. He adorns wrapping paper. And he comes in miniature to hang on your Christmas tree at €2 a pop. His red cap and wooden body are Christmas-y by nature, but he’s a national treasure all year round.

It’s not that dishonesty is well-regarded. It’s that lying is understood, especially in children. It’s also understood, as the story of Pinocchio tells us, that, aside from the little white lies that are invented to save feelings, dishonesty isn’t generally a good trait in the adult of the species. Best to nip it in the bud. All the above, in my opinion, makes Pinocchio an odd and rather complex symbol to hang on the Christmas tree, but I’ll do it nonetheless. Despite his tell-tale nose, he’s undeniably cute.

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12 Responses to To tell the truth…

  1. Debra Kolkka says:

    Pinocchio was written in a village called Collodi, which is quite close to Bagni di Lucca. There is a Pinocchio park there. We have not been. I have no idea why he would be brought out at Christmas.
    A trait I find very difficult to deal with here in Italy is that people let you down if they get a better offer or they just don’t feel like doing something on the day. If I say I am going to do something, a major catastrophe would have to happen before I back out of an obligation, but people here don’t worry about small details like that. I have been let down so often, I no longer believe anything I am told.

  2. Mary says:

    Good one, Charlotte! In my course on sustainable development the students use the Pinocchio Award, given to corporations caught lying, as one of the indicators of greenwashing in their communications.

    I also found it interesting that the culture of excuse-making when you don’t wish to accept an invitation is similar here. The accepted formula is always that you have a “previous engagement planned a long time ago.” Everyone knows it’s a lie but it’s nicer than saying, “No, I don’t want to come.”

    So glad you’re back!

    • Thanks Mary. It’s good to be back. I love it that you’re giving “Awards” to lying corporations…reminds me of a great show here called “Striscia La Notizia” where they give “Il Tapiro d’Oro” (The Gold Tapir), an utterly absurd and made-up award, to companies or individuals that GROSSLY cheat and/or lie. It all comes off as a joke, but in actual fact, it’s better investigative journalism than you get on the national channels. They uncover amazing stuff. Good for you guys.

  3. Mom Moore says:

    There’s no significance in the last picture, I assume, in the proximity of the image of Pinocchio standing to our right, with a picture of DaVinci’s “Last Supper” to HIS right. Wonder what your Italian compatriot and Pinocchio-creator Collodi would have made of that!

  4. Actually, the significance is this: the store in question (where Pinocchio is standing) is within a stone’s throw of the Santa Maria della Grazia, the church where Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” is displayed. THAT’s why you see it there!!

  5. Anna Harrison says:

    Beautiful illustrations and images too, thank you Charlottie. One of my all-time favorite movies remains L’avventure di Pinocchio directed by the great Comencini (with Nino Manfredi as Gepetto). I absolutely love it.

  6. ron says:

    i remember telling folks years ago, in the excitement of the moment, that i’d LOVE to come to their party (or whatever they just invited me to). the day would come, and my enthusiasm had completely gone. so i wouldn’t go. got to be a regular thing. now, i’m more tempted to just say, “no, thank you.” and on some occasions, i’ll make something up but it’s usually a stretching of something that IS true – cancer, work, or previously scheduled family obligation (this is when my wife’s seven brothers and sisters kinda come in handy).

    and now, during the holidays, it feels worse. i just don’t want to go. but i/we do, and it’s….okay. not great, but okay. i come home exhausted, though, and look forward to january 2nd.


  7. ceciliag says:

    Wow.. love pinocchio, can’t lie to save myself and enjoyed your post.. c

    • Thanks. I just looked at your blog. It’s lovely. And it made me feel homesick…living in a foreign country is a constant mix of strong emotions…so when people write of living in the country I left behind it often gets to me. I love what you and your husband are doing. The best of luck to you. I will follow your story with interest.

  8. PEIROUX says:


  9. PEIROUX says:

    Well i try hearts but it is really “raté” so : I LIKE !!!!!!!

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