Why You Want to Live in Italy

Freeze-dried gnocchi from Trader Joe’s isn’t the same as the ones made from an Italian Nonna.

Roman Vai
3 min readMar 28, 2022

I’ve lived in a hostel for the past five months. Living in a hostel for an extended period feels like hacking the European systems. It is experiencing the full breadth of a country’s culture with beds that remind you of ‘Squid Game’. The closer I get to feeling accepted in Europe, I realize that there will always be a hidden divide between myself and the people who live here. It is an implicit, collective joke that everyone agrees on. I call this The Joke of Europe.

Europeans are allowed to have opinions and judgments. They can do hedonistic things that are bad for their health but help them savor the present.

There is no equivalent “joke of America”. American culture no longer allows for opinions and judgments. Americans cannot agree on a collective joke about our culture; ours is too polarized and young of culture that no one even agrees on what comprises it.

Instead, we’ve replaced culture with politeness. We’ve traded opinions for pleasantries, and swapped philosophies for niceties. We are polite to our bodies too: only allowing the baseline sustenance to maintain ourselves without appreciating the inherent pleasure of destructive things. Freeze-dried gnocchi from Trader Joe’s just isn’t the same as the ones made from an Italian Nonna.

The “Joke of Europe” is that money isn’t God. In America, you need to be wealthy before being happy.

We have somehow internalized our Calvinist roots to conflate our human purpose with our work, and the irrational accumulation of money to warrant our significance to posterity. This disease has spread into many countries of industrialized Europe. But, deep down inside, the infection of capitalism hasn’t overcome Europe as it has to America.

In Europe, it is okay to be broke. Being broke can be a dignified lifestyle. You can work in a creative field and sustain yourself to an acceptable level using grants and frugality without ever crossing the boundary that separates modesty and poverty. You can be broke and still, as sociologist Max Weber would say, “satisfy your material needs”.

There is a trade-off to this type of lifestyle. European restaurants may not have the mise-en-scène of an urban-planned Chik-Fil-A. More often, you’ll eat a meal next to a fish market as stray dogs and cats come up to your table with pouting eyes.

That’s why I’ll be moving to Europe. Because I can imagine myself being completely content, even as a young man in a small one-roomed flat, specializing in some unpretentious venture like gnocchi sauce. Only the psychology of European culture would allow me to live this kind of simple life: I could make enough to get by and wouldn’t be scolded for not having larger ambitions, or for not extending my efforts higher and higher towards an unreachable level of wealth, hoping that if I could only make it there, could I then be happy.

Maybe humans aren’t meant to control vaults of wealth that extend into twelve decimal places. The humans that do have that type of wealth seem just as unfulfilled as the rest of us.

Ambitions are wonderful, but as MF DOOM says in his song “Rhymes Like Dimes”: only in America can you find a way to earn a healthy buck and still keep your mind on self-destruct.

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