Let this be a lesson to all nations including America – if you close your doors to foreigners: immigrants and visitors – prosperity is unlikely to come by. In India there is a saying that roughly translated means “Unexpected guests bring prosperity”, and it seems that whether you believe in the elephant god Lord Ganesha or not, the saying is true.
I went to the Italian consulate last year to obtain a visa and was summarily refused even the opportunity to submit my papers because there were only 8 days left for my trip and they require good 30 days notice. Now, I am not aware of too many businesses that can predict all their sales opportunities more than a month in advance – I would assume that there is in fact a Chi-square like distribution (yes, like the one in all the Long Tail diagrams) with most visitors being last minute travelers. At the same time, Brazil, Mexico and Taiwan all provided a visa in less than a day. Not only was my visa refused, the visa staff was rude and unprofessional. I was really keen to visit Italy and build business relationships and spend time (and money) as a tourist.
So today’s New York Times article on Italy In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment did not come as a surprise.
But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself. The word here is “malessere,” or “malaise”; it implies a collective funk — economic, political and social — summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.
And co-incidentally on my flight to India, I sat next to a 25-year old beautiful Italian woman, Aastha – a second generation immigrant born in Italy to Indian parents. She is now studying design in London and has no intention of returning to Italy but probably work either in London or other growing markets. She told me that she was not sure Italy had room for growth. This is not good for a nation that has the second highest ageing population in Europe when you are immigrants start leaving. The New York Times article suggests that the same is true for native Italians.
Back home, we may be able to learn from this. The United States, as it struggles with the immigration issue in this election cycle, could be at a make or break point for its future. Are we going to stay open to the Aastha’s of the world or are we going to sing a country song of disappointment in 20 years?