What kind of country is Italy? What are the Italians like?

Despite its many problems, such as inflation, unemployment and political unrest - shared, by the way, by most countries of Western Europe - Italy is still the gayest, most vital and pleasant country in Europe. Medium and small industries and artisans are doing well, hard currency earning exports and tourism are booming. The streets are full of well dressed, happy looking, gesticulating people, lots of children everywhere. Traffic is heavy, shops are full of good quality, attractive and not too expensive articles, the restaurants are crowded. Individuality, ingeniousness, love of anarchy and joy of living make Italy a country which cannot be kept under cover and which seems to thrive on government crises.

It is an undeniable fact that the number of foreigners visiting Italy is increasing year by year.

Why this peaceful invasion, this eternal pilgrimage? Some of the reasons are imaginary or exaggerated, based on worn-out slogans about eternal sunshine, spaghetti, gondolas, mandolins and Latin lovers. The comparatively low prices - subject to changes and fluctuations - are not always determining factors.

The motives driving foreigners to Italy are sometimes contradictory. Some like the relaxed, friendly ways of the people; others love the food, the wine, the comfortable hotels, the service, the sunshine, the landscape; many of them take delight in culture, art and history. In any case, it is an irrefutable fact that there is no other country in the world so densely packed with attractions of every kind, for every taste, just 1 - 2 hours away from each other: towering mountain peaks covered with perennial snow, glaciers, fine ski slopes, scenic lakes. Long stretches of sandy beaches, verdant hills and forests, castles, vineyards, gardens, quaint villages, all within easy reach; and folklore, monuments, bustling cities, society events, operas, concerts, ballets, lectures, art and history. And no wonder! We have to consider that until not long ago the country was divided into several states, duchies, principalities, kingdoms (some under foreign rule), each with its own history and different development, and that its major cities are all former capitals: Turin, Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples, Palermo, Genoa and Rome. So there is no town which does not boast some historical remnant or art treasure. And there is no other country capable of producing such a dazzling array of its inhabitants' achievements throughout the centuries. Italians, on the whole, are hard-working, peaceful, generous, modest, tolerant, family-minded people. They have fought bravely in many wars, often under foreign colors, and died in great numbers.

Still, Italy's performance as a nation is never as good as the sum of  its inhabitants' individual accomplishments. The single Italian is almost always wise, while his country has been poorly run and has made many fatal mistakes throughout the centuries.

Italians have always been - and still are - politically divided (there are about a dozen political parties, from far right to far left), reluctant to accept other people's views, somehow unable to unite their efforts, to do things together and make sacrifices for the achievement of a common goal. There is no sure way to ascertain the Italian character as a whole.

Italians talk incessantly about their own national virtues and vices. The debate goes on and on, in newspapers, in train compartments and cafés about this subject: why are we the way we are? There is no conclusive answer; it can only be said Italians agree that some habits, traits, practices and compromises are typically Italian.

And, of course, there is soccer: need we say more?

These characteristics of Italy and the Italian people always win over tourists today as they have the millions that have preceded them.

The «fatal charm of Italy» and its people have enticed people to explore this fundamentally gay, friendly, effervescent, exciting country, which has so much to show and to offer.