In Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds I had a discussion with the Commentator about how South and North Europeans see one another. Since I was planning a few posts on this topic, such a discussion can work as a starting point. Texts are abridged and edited a bit.

The Commentator

[This post] further reinforces my suspicion … of this attraction between Italy and Germany. It seems Roman civilization had a great influence on this.

Which brings me into another question. England (UK) was invaded by both Romans and Germanics (Angles, Jutes, Saxons). Yet, I do not feel there is anything that connects Britain to Italy in any way. In fact, I usually get the distinct feeling the UK has a somewhat condescending (if not superficial) view of Italy. You read it in their history books and in some cases how they interpret Italian soccer.

[…] I realize there are some Germans that hold similar views (I read somewhere that the Italian community has never been accepted in Germany) but as a general discussion, where does Britain break off from Germany when it comes to Italy?

Man of Roma

First of all, when dealing with foreigners, one has to accept bias and some sort of racism, this not being avoidable, for a number of reasons. Every person should be proud of his/her heritage, without becoming a nationalist though. […]

Thus said, I think there is a general attraction-repulsion among the folks from North and South Europe. This includes the UK and Germany and other northern European people vs South Europe and vice versa.

It is in fact a two-way thing [we’ll focus on repulsion now]: not only many North Europeans dislike us, but it is also many of us disliking them. We (Italians, Spanish, Portuguese etc.) admire some of these people’s qualities, but we generally disapprove of their lack of taste and style and often see them as a bunch of depressed (and rude) drunkards. Of course this is not my view but there is some truth in this (like there is some truth in the flaws North foreigners see in us).

Goethe, a great lover of Italy, – Kennst du das Land … Do you know the land where the lemons bloom? – writes at the end of the XVIII century that he forgives ‘the Northern people who criticize Italy because these people (the Italians) are really so different from us’. It is interesting how he explains this ‘difference’ and his Italian Journey is a great book also from this point of view (see above Goethe as painted by Karl Joseph Stieler).

How can in fact exist an easy mutual understanding between the people of the Mediterranean and the Hyperboreans, namely the northern folks living in a realm of clouds, rain, cold and darkness? Such diverse climate (together with a different history) is a potent factor for creating marked differences in behaviour, mood, disposition of soul etc., all of which makes intercourse difficult (Hyperboreans is how the Greco-Romans called the people living ‘beyond Boreas’, eg the North wind, and it is sometimes used to indicate folks from cold climates in general).

I read somewhere that the Italian community has never been accepted in Germany.
I’d say the Germans have now worse problems with non-EU immigrants. In any case they had this invasion of such different people, the Italians from the Mezzogiorno, it is understandable. And there is always a difference of attitude (towards the Italians) between the so to say romanized Germans and the non romanized ones. In many parts of Northern and central (Protestant) Germany [where the Romans never arrived: see my post Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds] Italians are often disliked, it is true. The Protestant Germans, the Dutch etc. for example, didn’t want the so called Club Med (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece) to become part of the Euro zone. They basically said: “These places are just nice for a vacation, that’s all …”.

Where does Britain break off from Germany when it comes to Italy.
Well, Germans are our neighbours, while Britain is far. But I would say Britain breaks off from the entire Continent. They are islanders, they do not feel European in my opinion [a few Brits said this also here], and many people from the Continent (Italians included) return this feeling and find it hard to love them, I don’t see how it could be otherwise, since the British feel superior to continentals, not to mention Southern continentals.

But I wouldn’t say “there is nothing that connects Britain to Italy in any way.” First of all their literature is often like a hymn to Italy (take Shakespeare, Byron or E. M. Forster with his A Room with a View). Additionally many seem today very attached to their Roman past. There is like a Roman frenzy now in Great Britain. Tomorrow [last July 22] the British Museum opens up an exhibition on the Roman emperor Hadrian, the one who built the Hadrian’s Wall. Very complex and modern personality, Hadrian (see the exhibition trailer). Hundreds of UK web sites celebrate Ancient Rome. is one of them. Also popular culture and movies (King Arthur, The Last Legion etc.) reveal like a (subterranean?) feeling that they are (well, they were) somewhat the heirs of the Romans.

Finally Italy is admired by them in many other ways, and I am convinced – also because many Brits told me – that they are a bit envious: our culture and history are richer, our food and clothing better, our towns immensely more beautiful, people here possess more charm, joy of life etc.. Ooopss, I forgot the climate lol.

Thus Byron sang in a period – the beginning of the XIX century – when Italy was at the top of her decline while Great Britain was at the apex of her world power:

The commonwealth of kings, the men of Rome!
And even since, and now, fair Italy!
Thou art the garden of the world, the home
Of all Art yields, and Nature can decree;
Even in thy desert, what is like to thee?
Thy very weeds are beautiful,
thy waste
More rich than other climes’ fertility;
Thy wreck a glory, and thy ruin graced
With an immaculate charm that cannot be defaced.

[I love Byron, certainly not because he likes Italy, no, not for that]

As regards soccer, well, we won the World Cup, not them. Someone told me Italians are now upset because Perfidious Albion is hiring a lot of young promising Italian players. We pay a lot to raise them, then they arrive and buy them. No, I wouldn’t say they don’t like our soccer, it’s just they realise it is so different from theirs. Soccer, like any other sport, is revealing. We really ARE different people.

So what, is that a problem? Differences create richness & complementarity. They make the world a better place to live in.


If you want to know more:

Us and the Hyperboreans. 2
Us and the Hyperboreans. 3

But also:

Isn’t the British Trojan Horse a Short-sighted Animal? (around which an extensive discussion developed about the UK vs Italy and Europe)
Ups and Downs
From the two Sides of the Roman Limes
Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

18 thoughts on “Us and the Hyperboreans. 1

  1. “The sport is called football, not soccer.”
    This comment, reiterated by my husband, “the bloke”, gives us a beginning understanding of the Brits and how they feel about other cultures 🙂
    But the food! Ah, the food, they have to admit, is much better made by an Italian!
    As it should be! 😉


  2. @Maryann
    Ahah, so to ‘your bloke’ your cooking magic is a constant reminder of how refined Italian culture is: I like this, I’ll confess 😉

    But it seems these hyperboreans from the British isles also like other things about us. In Apulia, for example, they are buying a lot of farms and land (trulli etc.), exactly like they used to do in Tuscany years ago (I am repeating myself). Soccer? I like the American term, American English having been my first love. Ciao!!! 🙂


  3. @man of roma

    Just a small question…
    >>Every person should be proud of his/her heritage, without becoming a nationalist though. […]
    Why not a nationalist …lol


  4. @Falcon
    We mentioned this topic in one of our discussions. It’s complicated. A few hasty notes.

    According to an old doctrine (XIX century), all humans are divided into nations, namely communities that share a common identity, culture, descent, language (not always) etc. It is an ideology that can motivate people, nothing more. There is a good and a bad nationalism in my view. It can be good when a nation has to liberate herself from oppression, for example. It is to be condemned when it favours intolerance, scorn, hate of others, genocide, conquest (or hatred) war etc. (pretty obvious, isn’t it).

    In Europe nationalism has become a backward force in my opinion. Apart from the fact that it is responsible for two World Wars (no little fault), we now need a more united Europe and the various nationalisms (France, UK, Poland etc.) are hindering that.
    I am for a more united Europe (for survival reasons) and, on a larger scale, for cosmopolitanism (the contrary of nationalism).

    It can be that now in India nationalism is a good thing, hard for me to say. It can keep your huge state together (made of sub-nations?), it can be a sort of compensation for what you had to suffer because of foreign imperialism – it can be many things. But you should be careful not to repeat our dreadful European mistakes ….and no more wars because of nationalism, pls 🙂


  5. @Man of Roma

    I believe that you didn’t notice the word “Lol”. The comment was more of a jest rather than serious. Hence the reply was least expected…


  6. @Falcon
    Well, maybe it was just a jest, Falcon, but are you sure it wasn’t meant a bit seriously as well? I remember we even had a sort of quarrel (so to say) about this topic.
    LOL 😉


  7. @exposrip
    The Commentator? A nice and creative person, so similar to you btw you would jump out of your chair 😉

    Yes, nationalism is a backward force here. I remember the good times at the IEHEI (Institut Européen des Hautes Etudes Internationales), in Nice, France, where I met the prophet of European Federalism, Alexandr Marc, and good old Claude Nigoul, president of the Institut, apparently emotionless but in truth very warm and helping.


  8. I read somewhere that the Italian community has never been accepted in Germany.

    The problem with Germany is that foreigners are rarelly accepted. You can live in Germany for 20 years, have a decent job, speak the language well and you’re still going to be considered as a foreigner.

    The UK on the other hand is different. As English is a much more widespread language than German the UK has always had it’s share of people move here to live and has accepted it. Six years here and no one cares I’m not English.


  9. @Cat
    Interesting contribution, especially from a person who though with some Italian origin has lived (was born?) many years in Germany and now lives in the UK. Thank you, grazie Cat.


  10. Well, I’ve not been in the UK that long.

    My mother was for the most Italian, but lived in Germany her entire life and the only relation I have to Italy is spending 2 months a year there until I was ten years old and my parents couldn’t take me out of school for longer than the designated holidays any more.

    I’ve been in the UK for five years which considering I’m somewhere in my twenties isn’t all that long.

    As much as the English may or may not have a bad reputation abroad [the ignorance of bothering to learn other languages for example], they are much more friendly than the German’s in their own country.

    And my Italian is very much non existant, I can’t even think of ‘Have a nice day’ in Italian any more!


  11. the English … they are much more friendly than the German’s in their own country

    Dear Cat, I’m afraid my reply will be verbose.
    I never lived permanently in these two countries. What I can say is that I always had a good relationship with the Germans probably because I always showed a sincere interest for their language and culture. It produced a kind of magic. Germans really melt when they feel appreciated and especially loved. Let’s face it, their civilisation is impressive, not so difficult to appreciate them. But real love? I think they still have this sorta complex of being always considered the bad guys etc. It is fading away (I wrote many posts on this) but deep inside they still think they are respected though seldom loved. Sometimes they are a bit pedantic, true, sometimes they show this too alles-in-ordnung kind of conduct – but they are awesome. I do not only respect them, that’s for sure, this making things so much easier.

    And yes, the English, they are more … international, no doubt, but no easy people at all seen from abroad. Sometimes they come to the Continent with this sort of you-inferior-unruly-people type of behaviour, and Europeans note and remember. This is changing. Flights are cheaper. People are mixing. I have met tons of lovely people from there (I’m getting into the touristic business).

    Although I’ll confess in the past it took me some time to understand them a bit. What a weird mixture they appear: collective behaviours admirable, ok, though sometimes mean sometimes great, easily irritated but tolerant, melancholic but capable of the best humour (stole this from Augias). Man, really a peculiar folk indeed. This being probably a factor of their past great achievements.

    my Italian is very much non existant

    I’m sure it is ingrained in your mind. It will pop-up when you need it. Ciao! 🙂

    All the best
    from South West

    I have flooded you. I ask for pardon 😦


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