News & Politics

Ciao, America! An Italian Discovers the U.S.

Outsider’s “often laughably true observations” about Washington.

 This chronicle of a witty, somewhat cynical Italian journalist spending a year in Washington is light and easy to read but not particularly engrossing. Its greatest strength is Severgnini’s often laughably true observations about the city.

His home is in Georgetown, his grocery store the “Social Safeway” on Wisconsin Avenue. He calls Potomac Mills “a spectacularly large mall whose tentacles spread out across the fields of Virginia” and Fresh Fields “a temple to the cult of American alimentary correctness.” As the author gets used to his adopted home, bewilderment gives way to analysis. By mid-book he’s characterizing general American mannerisms as he recounts interactions with a perky waiter at Old Glory and a zealous mattress salesman on Rockville Pike.

 But casual humor can’t carry the book entirely. There’s no plot to speak of. The chapters—one for each month of Severgnini’s stay—have little cohesivenesss and even less progression between them. Despite the first-person narration, I didn’t feel much connection to his personality and day-to-day life; his voice felt more showy than genuine. I wondered what he and his wife actually did on a daily basis—surely not only poke around tourist attractions and attend Georgetown parties—and I longed to meet other characters besides the briefly mentioned realtor, plumber, and neighbors.

Ciao, America! is made for the Metro. While its directionless, diarylike format offered little motivation to read it in anything other than 15- or 20-minute doses, I enjoyed Severgnini’s funny observations about the city as I traveled below the very streets he described.

Beppe Severgnini

Broadway Books