by Andrea Di Maio | July 4, 2009 | Comments Off on Wishing My American Friends A Great Independence Day
Europeans like me do not really feel much about Independence Day.
Where I grew up, I spent more time studying the convoluted decline of the Roman empire or the power struggle between mighty port cities in Italy than the birth of the richest nation on Earth
Europeans like me feel they are so much surrounded with history and art, that we often raise our eyebrows when an American friend shows us what is a historical building by his or her standards. Many of us smile at the US-centricity of Americans, who sometimes have a blurred view about countries or cities on the other side of the pond. Some of us do not understand or even dislike their cut-and-dry attitude, their being straight, and sometimes take their boldness for naivety.
I spent the earlier part of my professional life working in Europe and for Europe. During those times I had sporadic contacts with US companies and visited the US a few times, but never had a chance to know that country from within.
Later on, over 10 years in Gartner have filled my mind as well as my heart with a much deeper understanding about this country and its people. If I have to explain to my kids concepts like welcoming, tolerance, integration and freedom, the US is the place that gives me the most straightforward examples.
At times when my government (with the overwhelming support of many Italian people) passes laws that restrict the rights of immigrants, it is the US that reminds us that we were immigrants ourselves and were always welcomed on the US soil, even if some of us carried with them a fair amount of undesirable traditions and behaviors.
While some politicians in my country propose to have different metro cars for residents and immigrants, the US have elected their first black President. I remember when I watched the first series of “24” (great TV movies are another feature of this country), and thought that a black President was science-fiction. And now here we are, just a few years later, and that’s reality.
I have US colleagues, clients and friends, and I am always amazed by their openness to debate, their attitude to risk-taking, their drive and focus. Sometimes this clashes with my way of seeing things. Some of the religious or political fervor that I find in the US is very difficult to find today in Europe. But even when I disagree, I cannot but respect how people can still hold on to their beliefs, rather than aiming for compromise and taking – as a famous Italian writer says – the “shape of the water”.
What really struck me in my latest US trip about a month ago was that the change pushed by Obama is rapidly affecting all layers of government. Messages about “open data“, “transparent by default” or “cloud computing” have mobilized formidable brainpower across government. CIOs and administrators tweet about this, network among themselves and with whoever else can contribute to this change. The most interesting Facebook walls or tweets I read are now from pretty senior folks in the US government. I have never seen anything like this happening this fast anywhere else in the world.
There is clearly something unique to the US that people who have not grown up or lived there cannot fully understand. But should I chose one example to summarize what makes this country so special, I would pick the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
As you may appreciate, I am pretty used to museums like the Uffizi in Florence, Prado in Madrid, Louvre in Paris, or even Brera in my hometown. Yet I’ve never had an experience like the one in Washington. It was a simple, linear walk into the history of art, in pure chronological order from early Italian masterpieces to contemporary art, without any grouping by nation or style. For the first time ever I could walk through a complete history of art, without any boundary or preconception.
It is the power of such simplicity that makes this country what it is.
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