How Not to be a Wino

The same evening we attended that marvellous performance of Così Fan Tutte described at the Montecarlo Festa del Vino was in full swing. Montecarlo is the wine-growing area par excellence near Lucca and its wines are well on the way to achieving DOCG status. Fortunately, we arrived on my scooter and were able to park quite close to the town centre unlike those who came by car and had to park literally miles away.

The wine festival this year commemorates the 680th anniversary of Montecarlo’s founding by Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia in addition to its place on the world’s cycling championship route which will pass through the charming hill-top fortified town this September 29th.

The wine festival event is lively and an absolute must on one’s yearly calendar of events. There are stalls galore from artisan’s creations to pellet stove merchants, from African bag traders to cake and sweet sellers. There are several musical and artistic events in the festival period which goes from 29th August to 8th September. Of course, the core and most enjoyable activities are wine-tasting and gastronomic sampling.

As we were heading for our opera we did not spend too much time in wine-tasting, preferring instead to be inebriated by Mozart’s music. But I did note three significant features of the festival: one, all ages were present from babies to pensioners and the majority were in family groups. Second, there was merriment but not drunkenness. Third, the only three police present were directing motorists to the car parks.

It was certainly not like the notorious Friday nights of British urban centres with vomiting nymphets and knife-slashing yobs surrounded by riot cops standing outside their black Marias.


In Italy there are still unwritten and well-adhered rules of convivial social interaction and to become blind-drunk and violent is not among these.

Why not? In her book watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (2004) anthropologist Kate Fox examines the rules of English behaviour very much in the way that other anthropologists would write about head-hunters in the New Guinea highlands or initiation rites among the Amazonian Indians. The chapter headings sum up the topics covered: Conversation Codes, The Weather, Grooming-Talk, Humour Rules, Linguistic Class Codes, Emerging Talk-rules, The Mobile Phone, Pub-Talk,  Behaviour Codes, Home Rules, Rules of the Road, Word to Rule, Dress Codes, Food Rules Rules of Sex, Rites of Passage,

I want to concentrate on the part of the book where Kate Fox discusses the British “dis-ease”. Note carefully how this word is not written “disease”. A social “dis-ease” is indeed at the heart of many encounters between the English. Whereas in other cultures there are well-defined procedures for meeting, greeting, addressing and conversing, in English culture this not at all clear. George Mikes the Hungarian satirist and refugee from the second world war in his dated but still incisive book “How to be an alien” writes:

The aim of introduction is to conceal a person’s identity. It is very important that you should not pronounce anybody’s name in a way that the other party may be able to catch it. If the person you are introduced to stretches out his hand in order to shake yours, you must not accept it. Smile vaguely, and as soon as he gives up the hope of shaking you by the hand, you stretch out your own hand and try to catch his in vain. This game is repeated until the greater part of the afternoon or evening has elapsed. It is extremely likely that this will be the most amusing part of the afternoon or evening, anyway.


The main way to oil this dis-ease and make it less dis-easeful is by the plentiful use of alcohol, it seems! Underlying all this, however, is the continuing existence of class distinctions and loyalties – not surprising when the UK has had no revolution on the scale of France, or nationalism on the scale of Germany or campanilismo (or loyalty to one’s bell-tower) on the scale of Italy. Even the recent influx of different ethnic groups from other continents has done little to reduce classism in the UK – new groups are merely added on as another caste, Indian-style, rather than being integrated into a national melting pot as in the USA.

Anyway, I far prefer Friday (and any other) nights in Italy than I ever did back in blighty. Binge drinking has only had a slight take in the country’s largest urban centres. At least we can enjoy ourselves here without fear of retribution for the wrong sort of look or the misunderstood phrase, although I would not go as far as Voltaire who described Hamlet as  “the outgrowth of the imagination of a drunken savage”


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