French poet and novelist Jean Cocteau once said "French people are Italian people in a bad mood." After having lived in Paris for over 11 years and being married to an Italian whose home has also become my own, I can attest to the more positive outlook of the Italian people. But where does this come from? Is it due to upbringing? Is it cultural? In my quest to uncover what’s behind French moodiness and Italian lightness of living, I consulted with French natives who have spent time in Italy as well as Italians who call France their home.
Delphine Icart, an intellectually-minded Niçoise who is fond of crossing the border into Italy, explained, “It is due to education. French education is based on contradiction and debate elaboration. This is Descartes’s heritage, you have a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis. It makes us always ready to debate, challenge, question... that’s great to elaborate new ideas, brainstorm, or strengthen a point of view. But to learn to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, it’s not the best. We will always question, seek for better or different. This is how we miss the joy of life sometimes.”
Culturally curious Interior Designer Valerie-Anne Creps shares, “French people are often serious. You ‘have to’ be very good at school (in the first tier at least), you ‘have to’ behave as a child, you ‘have to’ follow the cultural rules. So with all these statements, there are many opportunities to be reprimanded or punished.” Creps continues, “This pursuit of perfection and being proud makes French people more demanding towards themselves and others. The French often see by default the glass half empty.” When I asked her about the lighter side of her compatriots, she admitted, “The French can also have fun, be kind and loving and light even if it is a lesser character trait. That’s for when they have less to prove when there is an official occasion: a wedding, a birthday, a moment with friends who do not judge you.”
All of this may well be true, but how much does geography play a role? Doesn’t the sun affect our moods? Growing up in Lyon and summering in Cannes, Creps admitted, “In the south of France, people are happier. Maybe they simply have a better life with the warmth and colors of the sun, the beauty of the flowers, the sea… not to mention the delicious food and tasty produce!” Having visited much of France, I will admit that locals in the south do smile more freely, even when they move north.
What about the Italians? What contributes to their lightness of living? An adopted Parisian for nearly two decades, Interior Designer Claudia del Bubba believes that “Looking into the history of Italy is a place that can offer some insights to the Italians. Italy has been divided, invaded, shaken up by so many countries and cultures but for me growing up in Italy it never felt like this was a problem. On the contrary, it felt like a sense of pride.” del Bubba continues, “It’s as if every time a foreigner came in, Italians took advantage of it, seeing the positive side to see what they could get from it. Traces of the Roman Empire are everywhere in Europe and North Africa, giving a sense of security and confidence to the Italians. But it also failed and fell, giving a sense of humility and self-irony.”
Milanese Photographer Mara Zampariolo, a Paris local for well over a decade, shares, “My idea is that the French are moody because their culture suppresses anger and straightforwardness in a goofy attempt to translate egalité into egalitarianism. In a culture where expressing your wants and needs is frowned upon, and anger must be avoided at all costs, it's no wonder that many become salty.”
It is safe to say that the Italians take a lighter approach to life than the French, non? This is where my theory of why the French love Italy so much comes in. Stepping into the Italian lifestyle allows French natives to let go of the “heaviness” that permeates their culture. What does Giorgio Poggi my Riviera-born husband have to say about this? “The French and the Italians are very similar in their life approach, enjoying food, beauty, heritage, drinking without necessarily getting drunk and so on, besides the culture of pasta that is a side dish for the French—this is blasphemy for Italians! Nonetheless, it is true that in similar situations, Italians are often “lighter” than the French. Climate could have a role, but it could also be that the French have built a lot of their modern society by means of revolutions and protests. On the other hand, Italians became passive and skeptical through the events of history. They accepted to be deceived by the institutions and focus on enjoying the small daily pleasures of life and family, until the next invasion….”