In Italy, the government is seen to be overweight, costly, corrupt and as ineffective as an old man with a young wife. There are ways around laws and regulations--and even taxes--in Italy. The Italians call this being furbo. Furbo can mean crafty, sly, witty, shifty and even downright sneaky, but in Italy these aren't necessarily bad traits. If for instance you cut into the head of a line, you're furbo. You got ahead. You did it. Bravo! If you parked illegally and didn't get a ticket. You're furbo. Pat on the back. If you pass someone on a blind curve or down the white line of a highway and didn't get killed, God Bless... furbo! If you found some truffles and neither you or your dog got shot for poaching, furbo! And if that property down the road owned by those Brits has all that fencing going to waste, sure, drive up and take it for yourself. Better to be furbo than to see it not being used by someone else...
Furbo is seen as something good, especially when you beat the government at their complex rules and regulations that no proper Italian agrees with. There is a guy who invented a little clip that you can insert into a seatbelt latch just to keep the seatbelt warning from annoying you. Even the Bunga Bunga presidente, Berlusconi was thought of as being furbo. He socked away millions, made deals that benefited his companies and cronies, and got the young girls. Surely, a very furbo, wealthy man worth over 9 billion dollars.
Then there's the hunters we saw down below us on our hot air balloon ride over Tuscany. As our pilot Stefano explained, "There are no game left, some don't want to pay for hunting licenses, so they pay land owners like the one below us to 'hunt' on his property away from official eyes. Even if they've killed off the deer and rabbits they'll shoot anything else that moves, even the little birds." The ones we saw brought their own pigeons that were perched right in the treetop along with them. Shove one or two off their perch to fly and BLAM, kill them. Hunting, furbi style.
And then there's taxes. Furbi Italians work for a few months a year at a job "on the books" to ensure they cover the minimum necessary to ensure that they can retire at 50 or so. Some travel to the big cities for a few months each year for these jobs, then they go back home and work their off-the-book jobs, and skip paying taxes. Furbo. The man at the right is using the gesticulation which means, "watch out, be furbo, don't get caught. Look out for yourself!" Being furbo is sticking it to someone, more than likely not your mother, but it could be your cousin or the old lady down the street.
In the end, one's furbizia in Italy is something to be proud of, to brag about, or for some to envy. To understand this better, I asked Stefano, our balloon pilot about the whole concept of furbo: "I don't like it. It's bad for the country. People think they have to cheat to get ahead rather than working hard to change things." Perhaps he sees things from a much higher vantage point... after all, his flights are closer to the heavens than most Italians. Bravo, Stefano.
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