Chinese tourists offer European countries a major new source of revenue, but Italians are slow to catch on to the opportunity.
Chinese tourists have quietly surpassed their American and Japanese counterparts to become the biggest foreign traveler spenders in Italy. Last year, some one million Chinese came to visit, each spending on average 869 euros.
The remaining 249 million well-off Chinese, who now have practically the same purchasing power as the European middle class, stayed home -- or went somewhere else.
Booming Chinese tourism is an opportunity that Italy, which is struggling to kick-start its economy, should jump at. And yet, politicians are silent on the topic. The government has yet to come up with a new system to help funnel arrivals in Italy from Beijing or Shanghai – and the study of mandarin as a foreign language in Italian schools is still considered an exotic idea.
Our system continues to look at the Chinese through an obsolete lens: seeing them as potential illegal immigrants hocking counterfeit bags and sweaters on the streets of Naples, or huddled in Prato, the textile-producing town near Florence that hosts Italy's largest Chinese community.
At Beijing's Embassy in Rome, officials recount how Chinese citizens who fly business-class and stay in five-star hotels face long waits to get their visas to travel to Milan for some high-end shopping. As a result, many choose Paris, London or Frankfurt: not only do they get a visa more easily, they are also greeted with a tailor-made welcome.
This tale of Chinese tourists who step across the Great Wall and land in Europe on the hunt for leather goods and watches is a paradigm of Italy's need for new eyes. While we find comfort in old stereotypes, the world around us is changing at an incredible pace, so much so that Ferrari chose Shanghai for the presentation of its top car and Prada decided to be listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange rather than Milan's.
The leap we must take is a cultural one, if we are to stay on the new global tourism map. We must understand that not just Chinese, but also Russian, Brazilian and Indian tourists are a great opportunity when they come knocking on our door.
But we must also understand what it is that they want from us. When they pick Italy, these new tourists are not thinking about the Uffizi, or the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Venice are actually an exception). They are not hungry for archeology or Baroque churches, but rather for our fashion, our design, our wine. They have another Italy in mind, they want to come here and take a little bit of our way of life, our taste for fashion, to be a part of Italian style.
We now find sushi on the counters of Italian cocktail bars during the evening's aperitif, and this makes us feel very cosmopolitan. But in Shanghai and Hong Kong, the hip people go have a drink at the bars of luxury hotels, where they are served French or Italian wine as they nibble on trays of Parmigiano, Gorgonzola, Camembert or Taleggio cheese. "Wine is the new tea," I read in an English-language Chinese magazine last week. The fact that wine bars are mushrooming in virtually every Chinese city confirms the trend.
The force behind this cultural revolution is mostly people in their 30s and 40s who live in big cities. Their dream is to come to Italy to buy Zegna suits, Ferragamo shoes and Prada and Gucci bags, play golf along Lake Como, gamble in the Venice casinos and visit wine cellars in Tuscany and Piedmont.
This is the path they believe can lead them toward becoming sophisticated citizens of the world -- and we are talking millions of potential new visitors. It would serve all of us well, as well as the ‘Made in Italy" brand, to make this path as smooth as possible and lose our fears and snobbery. We must find the courage and the far-sightedness to tear down the Great Wall in our heads, our bureaucracy, our investments -- and in the way we think about tourism and our country's future.
Read the original article in Italian
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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