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Italian Law and You - Welcome to the Jungle!
by Amanda Sorensen

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Editor's Note
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


Law, order and government in Italy.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.
"In Italy 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."
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 fantasy.

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 were
"Fascist-era statutes relating to freedom of speech are still on the books."
some "borrowings" from it. It is true that Italian law evolved somewhat following the fall of Fascism, but less so than you might expect.

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,
"A civil case or criminal trial can take months or even years. The concept of a speedy trial simply does not exist in Italy."
and these points certainly don't constitute a legal treatise or legal advice. Let's cast a glance over Italian legal realities.

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 magistrates.

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 public officials.

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 social practice.

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 minimal.

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 the proposition.

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 per se.

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 life.

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.

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