Best of Sicily
Food & Wine
Map of Sicily
This is part a series dealing with specific aspects of Sicily's travel and tourism industry, presented in the
interest of providing realistic insights and information for travel agents, tour operators and anybody interested in visiting Sicily.
Our editors have invited persons having professional experience in the industry to write about it. Best of Sicily is not associated
with any public tourism bureau. Articles in the series:|
Tour Guides in Sicily
Hotel Ratings in Sicily
Golf in Sicily
Sicily's Bed & Breakfasts
Sicily for Children
Imagine that you
live in Italy, or maybe you're just visiting for a while. And you see something
that seems, well, strange. There are times, when a person lives in a country
far away from the place where she was raised and educated, that she sees
things done a certain way and asks herself: "Why doesn't that happen
where I come from?" Often the answers lie in differences in government
and law, even if it's social practices that create the environment for certain
habits in the first place.
The recent trial of a young American woman, Amanda Knox, for murder in
Perugia highlighted the many differences between American and Italian law.
To a great degree, it is the differences in legal practices that make societies
themselves different from each other. Of course, we all hope that those
differences will not affect us directly in an adverse way, but it's sometimes
helpful to at least know what they are. (It is my unabashed opinion that
anybody planning an extended stay in Italy should read this page and commit
parts of it to memory, but that's just my self-serving view.) No politically
correct commentary here, no pandering to Italian "sensibilities,"
no "cross-cultural tolerance." No public relations nonsense from
Italian officialdom. Just the cold, hard (and pragmatic) facts required
for survival. Yours, that is. Caveat viator! (Let the traveler beware!)
What makes Italian law --which you'll encounter in Sicily-- different
from the legal principles applied in other G-7 nations? It's not just the
actual statutes present in Italy's penal and civil codes but, equally often,
the procedures and application of these laws.
That's why an Italian jurist
might take issue with some of what you are about to read here. (Funny, though,
how Italian law schools usually present information on the United States
Constitution and English Common Law as models to be studied, while nobody
outside Italy bothers learning much about Italian law.) Yet laws are only
as effective as the men and women who uphold them. Let's separate fact from
it's easy for police to obtain permission to search one's home, and
roadside 'spot checks' of motorists' vehicles are, in effect, on-the-spot
searches made for no directly-related cause."|
In general, our point of reference will be federal and state law in the
United States, as well as British law (although those two systems differ
to some degree). It behoves any foreigner living in Italy, even as a student
residing here for just a few months, to understand how things actually work
in this country; they often differ considerably from what she may be accustomed
to. First, some (brief) historical and cultural background.
Italian law evolved from Roman law, enshrined in what came to be highly codified Church
law, in stark contrast to the Germanic legal practices --and in certain
instances perhaps even Muslim-Arab legal principles--
which form the broader foundations of English law. Emperor Frederick's Constitutions are often cited as one of the medieval
turning points in Italian law, effectively an effort to distance it from the realm of the Papacy.
Later, a number of nineteenth-century penal, civil and commercial codes
were more enlightened than what existed in the Papal State. Those which
evolved during the reigns of Carlo Alberto of Savoy in Piedmont (the Kingdom
of Sardinia) and Ferdinando II in Naples (the Two Sicilies)
are usually cited in this regard. Despite what is perceived abroad, little
of France's Napoleonic Code influenced Italian law directly, though there
some "borrowings" from it. It is true that Italian law evolved
somewhat following the fall of Fascism, but less so than you might expect.
| "Fascist-era statutes relating to freedom of speech
are still on the books."|
Certain governing principles, though very real, don't influence everyday
life very much. In the United States, a nation established by free-thinking men of the Enlightenment,
individual rights are believed to derive from God (or from human nature itself), while in socialist Italy they are "given"
to citizens by the state, much as they were granted to subjects by the grace
of past popes and kings. A subtle matter, to be sure, and not one that keeps
most Italians awake at night. But concepts such as this one serve to explain
the entire point of view of Italian law, and particularly its civil and penal codes.
Amazingly, considering Italy's supposed conformity to European Union
law, a number of Fascist-era statutes (some relating to matters such as
freedom of speech) are still on the books; a favourite is the one which
prevents a person from speaking to a few people on an archaeological site
unless he is a licensed tour guide.
It's simplest to consider broad legal principles individually, explaining
the differences. What follow are simply generalities,
points certainly don't constitute a legal treatise or legal advice. Let's cast a glance over
Italian legal realities.
| "A civil case or criminal trial
can take months or even years. The concept of a speedy trial
simply does not exist in Italy."|
Habeas Corpus: This idea takes different forms in different places
and in various contexts. In criminal procedures, it usually implies, among other things, that
a person cannot be held in custody beyond a reasonable period without being charged
formally with a crime --in America typically a day or two-- unless a judge
issues a specific order to the contrary. (This is one reason why holding suspects for years, typically without trial, in the
Guantanamo Bay detention center sparked legal protests from some Americans.) In Italy habeas corpus means almost nothing.
Police in Italy can detain a person for days or weeks on the pretext that
they are "gathering physical evidence" against the suspect, whose
release they purport would permit him to destroy that evidence. Yes, law-enforcement
procedures in Italy are tricky.
Search and Seizure: In the United States evidence obtained illegally
(for example, without a specific search warrant, or during an unauthorised
interrogation) cannot be introduced in a court of law. British law permits
somewhat more latitude in this regard (a drug charge might be made if cocaine
were discovered during a search even though the police were officially searching
for something else). In Italy, however, it is fairly easy for police to
obtain permission to search one's home, and roadside "spot checks"
of motorists' vehicles are, in effect, on-the-spot searches made for no
directly-related cause (i.e. probable suspicion is not present). Likewise
personal searches, even of a person walking down the street - though this
is relatively rare.
Right to Legal Counsel: In some countries a suspect has the right
to have an attorney present during a police interrogation. This is not always
the case in Italy. Furthermore, in Italian courts the judges have wide powers
which make them, in many situations, de facto prosecutors as well as presiding
Trial by a Jury of Peers: In Italy juries, in the rare cases that
they even exist, are usually small councils of four or five attorneys. This is a good
example of an early-medieval Germanic principle (a jury composed of tribal
elders) which never found its way into law south of the Alps over the centuries, despite
the lengthy Longobardic rule of the Italian peninsula.
Double Jeopardy: Defined as a defense that forbids a defendant from being
tried again on the same or similar charges following a legitimate acquittal
or conviction, this exists in Italy in theory but not always in practice. In a felony case
such as murder, there's the trial (Primo Grado or 'first step'), automatic first appeal (Secondo Grado or 'second step') and possibly
the second appeal to the High Court or 'Cassation' (Terzo Grado or 'third step'). One normally thinks of the (convicted) defendant seeking appeal, but
the prosecution may also appeal. Therefore, a murder conviction may be overturned on first appeal (and the
defendant released) but subsequently appealed by the prosecution to the High Court. Effectively, the defendant, who
has been found 'not guilty' and released 'unconditionally,' is being re-tried for the same charges. In the UK and US this would
be considered double jeopardy; in these nations a conviction judgement (of 'guilty') can be appealed by the person convicted (the defendant), while
a 'not guilty' judgement is final and cannot normally be appealed by the prosecution except in rare instances such as mistrial. Occasionally a defendant
exonerated on one charge may be tried (subsequently) on other charges, but that's not what happens in Italy in the situation described here.
Incidentally, this issue was raised immediately following the Amanda Knox acquittal in Perugia in October 2011. Ms Knox returned to the United
States but an eventual ruling reversing her acquittal (on the appeal requested by the prosecution as the 'Terzo Grado') would
not result in her extradition to Italy because the relative treaty makes it clear that neither the United States or the Italian
Republic can claim extradition for an act that is not considered a crime in the other signatory nation. In the United States the
'Terzo Grado' judgement revoking an acquittal and release is viewed as a legal procedure tantamount to a second trial for the same crime
and therefore double jeopardy. By way of comparison, on the Italian side, Italy is not obligated to extradite a murder suspect - regardless of
nationality - to the United States if the suspect in question faces capital punishment (the death penalty) upon conviction as
this form of punishment does not exist in Italian law. This means that, in theory, if an American murder suspect can make his way to Italy, the
Italian government, being responsible to protect anybody on Italian soil, could refuse to extradite the suspect to the United States. (The same
principle exists in most European Union countries, none of which have the death penalty.) Until now, the only cases similar to this have involved Mafiosi who were extradited to
the United States only after the death penalty was 'taken off the table.'
Freedom of Speech: It's amazing how frequently Italian authorities
attempt, sometimes with success, to squelch the press. An interesting case
was Sabina Guzzanti's satirical television programme (Raiot) which
was cancelled after just the initial show was aired on one of the state
networks because it allegedly "defamed" the reigning politicians.
The film Lion of the Desert was effectively
banned in Italy for decades, supposedly because it portrayed the Italian
army in a negative light. A BBC documentary, Fascist Legacy, was
also censured for many years.
Admittedly, this strikes a comical note in the era of the global village.
By the 1990s, any Italian could have purchased these two "banned"
films abroad and (if he could understand English) viewed them in their original
language. When, in June 2009, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi persuaded
an Italian court to suppress some photos taken of his summer villa in Sardinia,
a Spanish newspaper ran them. Mr Berlusconi's attempts to regulate the press
- like a predecessor's protests against the airing of Fascist Legacy
in the United Kingdom - have met with little success beyond Italy's borders.
Defamation and Libel: In the United States these are most often
civil (rather than criminal) issues, and unless the defamation alleges criminal
activity or serious wrongdoing, the plaintiff may have to demonstrate financial
injury to win his case. Britain offers wider latitude for legal remedy.
By comparison, Italy's laws regarding these matters are vague and subjective,
facilitating complaints (criminally) and litigation (civilly) on the flimsiest
of pretexts. This makes it difficult, for example, for journalists to criticise
Appointment of Judges: Whether it's better to elect certain local
judges (as happens in the United States) or appoint them remains to be seen.
The problem is that in Italy all judges are bureaucrats, and appointments
are far more political than what exists in America because political philosophies
are usually more extreme and because there is virtually no preliminary review
of judges by the people (as in American congressional hearings to approve
supreme court nominees). Some factions of the Italian judiciary are overwhelmingly
leftist or, conversely, right-wing. As an example, Paolo
Borsellino, a Sicilian judge killed by the Mafia, was politically right-wing
(influenced by parents openly sympathetic to Fascism). In America and Britain
judges are rarely quite so extremist in their philosophies and views.
Guilt by Association: While America's RICO statutes facilitate
the prosecution of criminal conspiracy, Italy's anti-Mafia laws (which influenced
RICO) make it possible to arrest somebody (and detain him for months on
mere suspicion) based exclusively on a convicted criminal's finger-pointing.
In this way, pentiti (jailed Mafia turncoats who are cooperating
with state prosecutors) often accuse upstanding citizens of being involved
with organised crime, and those honest citizens are duly interrogated and
even arrested. Some years ago, a former prime minister had to defend himself
against these kinds of allegations, of which he was found not-guilty after
a very long, expensive trial in Palermo.
Burden of Proof: In Italy the "burden of proof" is extremely
high, and this allows many criminals to go free. While this is obviously
a serious matter in organised crime, it is also relevant in matters of lesser
gravity. For example, the fact that a man is in possession of stolen property,
whether automobiles, motor scooters or jewellery, may not be held against
him to the extent that it would be in Britain, Australia, Canada or the
United States, even though possession of stolen property is a criminal offence
in Italy as elsewhere. The question of burden of proof also comes into play
in rape trials (see below).
Right to a Speedy Trial: In Italy a civil trial, as well as a
criminal one, can take months or even years. The concept of a speedy trial
simply does not exist in Italy. That said, there are statutes of limitations
for certain offences, which is why mafiosi often are set free.
Speed Limit: Contrary to what you might think, there is a national speed limit in Italy.
It is 150 kilometers per hour, which is about 93 miles per hour.
Presumption of Innocence: While this technically exists in Italy,
in practice it is frequently overlooked entirely, especially in the investigations
leading to trial. Some years ago, a company which sold legal pornography
(in digital media such as DVDs) via the internet was investigated because
somebody suspected that it was selling child pornography as well. The investigation
itself was legal, but a number of customers were arrested based on an unsubstantiated
suspicion that they had purchased the illicit material even though no company
records or other evidence indicated this. Elsewhere, they might have been
called in for questioning; in Italy police "SWAT" teams burst
into their homes at six o'clock in the morning to search for the offending
material (see Search and Seizure above). It is doubtful that an American
or British judge would have summarily permitted such searches based on such
a flimsy pretext.
Age of Consent: Italians will point out that the legal age of
sexual consent in Italy is 15 if a minor has sexual relations with a near-contemporary
under the age of 21, or 16 if the other party is over 21. But what if a
14 year-old girl has sex with a 23 year-old man? This is clearly illegal,
but yet it is rarely prosecuted because the girl or her parents would have
to file the police complaint, which rarely happens. How often do such sexual
relationships occur? There are no reliable statistics, but they are frequent
enough not to raise too many eyebrows, especially in the southern part of
the country. When you hear about a 26 year-old man marrying a 19 year-old
woman after a long courtship, you may be forgiven for inferring that they
were having illegal sex some years earlier when the woman was a minor. Sex in Sicily may occasionally be complicated, but
not enough to discourage anybody who wants it.
Drinking Age: In certain Italian cities (most recently Palermo and Milan in July 2009) local statutes
establish that a patron must be at least 16 years of
age to purchase alcoholic drinks at a pub, bar or club at any time, or in restaurants after a certain hour. A new national law likewise says that nobody under 16
may purchase wine, beer or liquor anyplace (not even in a supermarket). In practice, however, teenagers as young
as 13 usually can purchase wine or beer in stores with no problem whatsoever. Alcoholism, though a growing
problem, is quite rare in Italy (particularly in the South). An adult, other than a parent or guardian, may not legally serve alcohol to
a minor under the age of 14. All of this contrasts greatly with the countries where the sale of alcohol is (at least officially) prohibited to persons under the
age of 18 or even 21. Until a few years ago (when the age for alcohol purchase was established at 16), it was 14. Before that, Italy had no "minimum drinking age" at all.
Rape: Here Italian law is consistent with European Union norms,
and indeed medieval Italy was among the first European societies (notably
with the Constitutions of Melfi of Frederick II)
to codify civil statutes against rape. But proving rape to the satisfaction
of an Italian judge is nearly impossible, and blaming the victim is normal
in Italy, so rape is highly underreported here, to the point that there
are extremely few rape trials at all. Owing to the high juridical burden
of proof, and to the shame attached to the raped woman by Italian society
at large, this crime is rarely prosecuted. Ditto domestic abuse; it is extremely
rare for a wife to file an assault complaint against her husband.
Divorce: A few months ago this site published an article dedicated
to divorce in Sicily. The entire topic brings with
it a series of laws and social practices unique to Italy to the extent that
divorce in this country bears little resemblance to divorce anyplace else
in western Europe.
Sexual Harassment: Forget about it; there are few statutes on
the books that even define this as a crime. Like rape and domestic abuse,
sexual harassment (in the workplace) is so unlikely to be prosecuted that
it is hardly worth even considering here. The same applies to male university
professors chasing their young female students. It is extremely rare that
such a thing is actually prosecuted. This is one of those areas where European
Union law will eventually influence Italian law - but probably not Italian
A big part of the problem is that Italian women generally
accept the status quo. The presence of young miniskirted "hostesses" everywhere - at
business conventions, trade shows, shopping malls - and scantily-clad "show girls" (or "veline") on television
makes it easy for Italian women to be seen as sex objects.
Taxation: About fifteen years ago, the government needed money
but the tax rolls couldn't provide enough of it. The solution? Levy a "one-time"
tax, a sort of modern head tax, on every citizen who had a bank account
by taking a certain amount (let's say 2 euros) from each account. This was
similar to the "donativi" levied by Sicily's kings in times past;
in other words, tax the people whenever you please. Obviously, this would
be unconstitutional in the United States and Britain. Italians are overzealously
taxed by the government. Americans who think that public health care and
universities in Italy are "free" should think again. In fact,
Italians pay for these "rights" with their taxes.
Sales (value-added) tax in Italy reaches around 20% for many retail purchases,
but it's the numerous residential, motor-vehicle and other taxes that make
life difficult. Here's an example. On purchasing your primary residence
you'll pay little or no tax on the actual purchase, and no annual tax (what
Italians call the ICI). However, on a second piece of residential property
(for example a vacation home) you'll pay around 11% at the time of purchase
plus the annual tax. Italy has inheritance tax and some people want to introduce
an annual "personal wealth tax" such as exists in France. Incidentally,
Italy's bank fees are among Europe's highest, while interest paid on bank
deposits are among the lowest in the European Union.
Civil Disturbance: Order and decorum count for very little in
Italy. It's not unusual for the streets of Palermo and other cities to be
closed by protest marches. Many --too many-- of
these protests are legally authorised, though perhaps fewer should be. Others
are illegal. One afternoon, a lone protester stood at Palermo's Quattro
Canti with a megaphone and was permitted by police (who stood by watching)
to block traffic for about five minutes. I was there to witness this astounding
incident. It wasn't very entertaining. Some years ago, protesting Fiat workers
were allowed to close a segment of the superhighway connecting Palermo and
Catania. That wasn't too entertaining, either.
Financial Privacy: There isn't much of it in Italy, but this is
a complex topic for which I'll offer just two examples. A recent law decreed
that for every package sent abroad by courier (UPS, Fed Ex, etc.) the sender
had to supply his tax number and other identifying information. Another
recent law dictates that any payment made to an individual or firm for a
value over a hundred euros must be made by check or wire transfer, never
in cash. If you are investigated for a tax problem, you'll be visited by
uniformed treasury officers (Guardia di Finanza) armed with fully- automatic
machine guns. In practice, despite laws to the contrary, they can investigate
your bank records at will - and your bank may not even bother to notify
you that they've been snooping about. Wire tapping is also zealous in Italy,
but much of what is conducted is unauthorised. It is suspected (as reported
by The Economist, 20 June 2009, page 30, "Language Problems")
that the telephone calls of certain foreign journalists are tapped.
Civil Recourse: In practice, it's virtually impossible to sue
the state or any state-controlled institution in Italy, so a medical malpractice
or wrongful death suit against a public hospital is unthinkable under most
circumstances, although in recent years a few such cases have been successful
and new "class action" legislation will better facilitate this in the future.
It is also extremely difficult to sue for damages resulting from such things
as food poisoning (in a restaurant) or work-related injuries (incurred in
a factory or on a work site). In any event, the compensatory awards are
Dual Government Appointments: It is legal in Italy for a person
to hold two or more public positions (elective or appointed) simultaneously,
for example as a senator of the Italian Republic and as a member of the
European Parliament. In June 2009 a referendum was held which might have
changed this but a quorum of voters was not reached which would have validated
Felons in Government: In many cases it is possible for a convicted
felon to run for a high office such as a seat in the senate or chamber of
deputies, and indeed numerous Italian parliamentarians have been convicted
of various crimes. Further, as a person convicted of a crime need not be
incarcerated while appealing his sentence, he could actually run for office
during the period between the verdict of the lower court and the hearing
of his appeal by a higher one. Given the lack of alacrity in judicial process
in Italy, this period could span years. One of the (many) strange paradoxes
in this is that a serious run-in with the law would probably cost a man
the chance of consideration for membership in the Rotary or Lions clubs
(both active in Italy), or for an order of chivalry like the Order
of Malta or Order of the Holy Sepulchre, yet
he could still be elected to the senate.
Slavery: Don't laugh too hard. Of course actual slavery is illegal
in Italy, but a high court ruled in 2008 that gypsies (Roma) could not be
prosecuted for imposing slavery on their children (nor could they be charged
with child abuse) by virtue of the fact of constraining them to beg for
money in public places. Yet an Italian citizen would be charged under the
existing statute. An Italian parent would, presumably, also be ordered to
place his child in school during the day instead of forcing her to beg for
money on the street; efforts have been made to get Roma children into school.
The judges stated that begging for offerings was part of "gypsy culture"
and therefore had to be "respected" as such. The Italian line
appropriated from the Supreme Court building in Washington, "La legge
è uguale per tutti" (Egual justice under the law) didn't seem
to apply in this situation, which effectively relegates gypsies to perpetual
second-class status in Italy.
Prostitution: Italian law is more-or-less similar to what exists
in Britain and a few parts of the United States (such as Las Vegas). Prostitution
is legal if it is based on a contract (or action which constitutes a contract)
between the prostitute, in her own home, and an adult client. However, a
third party may not commercialise it in any way; this includes pimps but
also any prostitutes who collectively rent a house or apartment to ply their
trade, and it means that sexual services may not be advertised in any way.
Sex is illegal in public, despite what you may see young lovers doing in
public parks and on the beach. "Escort" services are not illegal
Nepotism: Although there are certain British and American laws
which prohibit the appointment of close kin to public posts where they may
be working closely, the avoidance of nepotism, especially in the public
sector, in academia and in publicly-traded companies, is as often a matter
of policy as of law. In these societies nepotism is viewed as particularly
repugnant. Not in Italy. Nepotism in Sicily is
described in a separate article. It permeates every part of life in Italy.
Age Discrimination: It is legal to discriminate against job applicants based on
their age, and ads for open positions often specify the required ages of applicants.
Public Nudity: In Italian advertising and on television there is a greater degree of
nudity than you encounter in Britain or in the United States, and on holiday Italian starlets seem
slightly more willing than their American sisters to bare all. This has to do with the
dearth of "public decency" laws in Italy. On public beaches toplessness is permitted (as
it is in some parts of the US). Italy does not have any "nude" public beaches but
naturist clubs and resorts make use of private beaches for this purpose. What you do not see
much of in Italy, particularly in Sicily, are striptease clubs.
Zoning Regulations: In Italian cities you see an eclectic mix of commercial, residential
and even industrial property on the same block. That's because, except for a few historical preservation
statutes, Italy has no zoning or construction laws establishing that homes and businesses be separated from each other. A typical
five-floor building in the city might house offices, residences and (at ground level) a store or restaurant.
Conflicts of Interest: The idea that the Italian prime minister's
assets would be placed in a "blind trust" during his term (a policy
applied to American presidents) has never been seriously contemplated. Italian
politicians routinely pass legislation in their own interest, or act in
the interest of their own families while in office (see nepotism above).
The problem is that there are very few statutes that actually make these
conflicts of interest illegal. Silvio Berlusconi has often been criticised
for "controlling" the Italian media because, in addition to his
influence over the public television networks as prime minister, he controls
several private ones through the companies he owns (and also several newspapers).
As this situation was never contemplated before the 1980s, for there existed
no private networks in Italy before then, it was not addressed by legislation.
As you may imagine, conflicts of interest are evident in many parts of Italian
Corruption: This term is somewhat subjective in a nation where
(as mentioned above) nepotism, conflicts of interest and sexual harassment
are a normal part of life and - in at least some cases - may even be perfectly
legal. Consider the difference between payment of a "commission"
versus a "payoff." If I steer some big-spending customers toward
a restaurant, hotel or other business, the owner may wish to recognise my
effort with a small payment. That kind of commission is legal so long as
I pay taxes on it. (Think of it as "consulting" work.) If, however,
a politician receives payment from the owner of a construction firm for
pointing a public contract in his direction, that's illegal. On a socio-cultural
level, this distinction is lost on many Italians accustomed to a climate
where it's normal to pay for everything, and where "recommendations"
and other practices are the norm; in Sicily it's even normal to pay for job preferments.
Shopping Hours: While regulations have been relaxed in recent years in Italy (as in France),
there are commercial restrictions which force most stores to be closed on Sundays. There are exceptions
for certain shopping malls, and in some cities the stores are permitted to open on one Sunday each month
and every Sunday of December before Christmas.
Separation of Church and State: A complex topic. Since 1986 Italy has been a "secular"
nation having no state religion (crucifixes already in place before that date were not removed from schools, courthouses and other public buildings),
but the Catholic Church is still powerful enough to be able, through
political connections, to force rejection of another religious group's petition to build a place of worship.
This is especially bizarre considering that Italy has no zoning laws, but it's a question of approval for a construction permit by a local council.
Most Italians consider themselves Catholic socially, and the military has an overwhelmingly Catholic character; a non-Catholic is
unlikely to become a high-ranking officer in the army, air force, navy, Carabinieri or Guardia di Finanza (Treasury Police).
While a few vocal atheists, secularists and anti-clericals get press attention, their voices are drowned out by the majority. Very few
politicians, even on the extreme Left, openly oppose the Catholic Church in any way, although divorce and abortion
(contrary to Catholic protests) are legal in Italy. In Palermo alone there are three large statues of Padre Pio
which have been placed on public property over the last ten years (in Borgo Vecchio, in Piazza Unità d'Italia,
in Via Mediatrice), but that's just a visible example of the church's influence. The invisible hand
of the Catholic Church extends into many aspects of life in Italy, even for
non-Italians and non-Catholics. Some years ago, a Catholic archbishop of Palermo dissuaded a local American club from
permitting a non-Catholic member (an American clergyman) participating in a prayer service sponsored by the
club. Palermo's mosque was founded in a deconsecrated church with the cooperation of the Tunisian government and the Archdiocese of
Palermo not only as a gesture of brotherhood but to "control"
Muslim influence in the city by attempting to isolate its activity in a specific place. Such gestures are made on the
condition that the non-Catholic religious community being assisted will focus on foreigners and will not convert Italians to its faith.
Jobs and Wages: How can so many Sicilians earn so little? Italy has no national minimum hourly wage (in the United States it's presently $7.25),
and in Sicily it is not unusual for a private-sector employer --or even a public agency-- to pay monthly salaries
late. This, and rampant unemployment, is one of the main reasons people leave Sicily in search of greener economic
pastures. Employees in certain fields are infamously underpaid, but as there exists no law establishing the lowest
legal wage exploitation is the norm.
Terror in Academia: Sicily's infamously mediocre universities are
marked by nepotism and a terrible learning environment. These poor conditions thrive because lax laws permit
them. (Having briefly attended the University of Palermo before studying in the United States, I've
had experience with both systems; Palermo's university is poorly and corruptly administered even by Italian standards.)
Freedom of Movement: As I've said, in Italy the state, not Nature,
grants you your rights. In Italy passports are issued by the police department.
Think about that. Does it sound a little like something you'd expect in a police state? You be the judge.
Caveat Viator: I was shocked the first time I heard an Italian use the phrase "un paese di merda"
in referring to Italy. But such colorful expressions (I'll spare you a literal translation but it is a criticism
of Italy as a state) reflect frustration with Italy's laws, government and public administration rather than
the country's people and culture. One hopes that eventually, as the law and society evolve, this sentiment will be
heard less frequently. But for now... Welcome to the jungle!
About the Author: Amanda Sorensen, who practices law in the United States, lived in Italy
for nine years (her mother is Sicilian) and still frequently visits Sicily, where she has a second residence. Thanks to Vincenzo Salerno for the
historical information he provided, and to Marilu Romano for additional research and statistics.