If there’s one positive to come out of Europe’s debt crisis, it’s that Italians now have a new vocabulary word to toss around in their daily discussions at the café: “lo spread”.
What you may ask is lo spread? In simple terms, it’s the difference a country pays on interest rates versus another. And as everyone knows, today Italy’s spread is looking so bad that many are getting misty-eyed for the old currency, la lira, its melodic-sounding name apparently much more reassuring than the somewhat colder “euro”, the money that the country’s bonds are now denominated in when sold on the market.
When Silvio Berlusconi first entered politics in 1994 locals would have been excused for not knowing lo spread. While it’s true Italians love to pepper their conversations with English, they usually use it to refer to something enjoyable (they go away for il weekend, or when inviting friends to the bar ask: ci facciamo un drink?).
Berlusconi has of course made his own, however small, contribution in this area. Ever since news broke that he was being investigated by Milan prosecutors in a prostitution case involving an underage nightclub dancer – and reports of other sex-fuelled parties – column inches have been filled with the words “escort” and “bunga bunga”, though the latter’s linguistic origins are still a bit of a mystery… Berlusconi’s close ally, the late Colonel Gaddafi, might have taken the answer to that one to his grave.
Last Tuesday, when Berlusconi sat in parliament and witnessed his majority slowly slip away, thus forcing him later that day to announce he would tender his resignation, another foreign-sounding word entered the lexicon of average Italians. News outlets reported on a study put out by the Bank of Italy about the economic crisis. It highlighted the problems of the country’s youngest workers, the under-30 crowd who were referred to as “Generation NEET”.
Far from being something “neat” or pleasant, NEET stands for those “not in education, employment or training” and was first coined by policymakers in Great Britain. The report revealed that 23 per cent of Italians under the age of 30, roughly 2.2 million workers, were, well, “neet” – a figure which has, like lo spread, become much worse since 2008, the year Berlusconi’s latest government was sworn into power.
Despite such a grim legacy, Berlusconi, who many refer to as “Il Cavaliere” (literally the knight) decided to go on TV one last time on Sunday evening, just as a new PM was being ushered in the door, to tell the public about his intention to redouble his efforts for the country – he will, after all, continue to sit in parliament as a member of the lower house. No doubt his speech made most yearn for the good old days of Dante.