Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio: Answers to questions about missionary service in Italy

Missions in Italy

1. The Leaning Tower, the Lira, and Women's Lib

In this electronic book (e-book), "Pasta, pizza and Pinocchio," Howard Culbertson answers questions he has been asked about missionary work in Italy. Originally published by what is now called The Foundry for the Nazarene Missions International mission book series, this book carried ISBN number 0-8341-0612-4. Some material has been updated for this e-Book edition.

Was the leaning tower of Pisa built that way on purpose?
No, It was not. Some people have wondered if the architect did design it that way as a giant practical joke. That doesn't seem likely, especially in view of the fact that the tower took 175 years to complete (1173-1350).

Most experts think the lean, which does increase slightly every year, has something to do with unforeseen landslip in clay-type, water-soaked soil.
Is it ever going to fall?
It may if the lean continues to increase. The 186-foot white marble tower is now 16 feet off-center. The rate of tilt has, however, slowed in recent years, adding to its life expectancy. Fortunately, the bell tower is leaning away from the church it serves. So when (or if) it does fall, it will not damage the church. Experts do say that the latest attempt at stabilizing the tower appears to have worked.

When we were in Italy you could climb the 295 spiral steps to the top gallery by paying $1 or so (it's probably a lot more than that now!). From the top of that tower, you can get a magnificent view of the city of Pisa -- a city where, as yet, we do not have a Church of the Nazarene.
Why don't they straighten it back up?
Why should they? An American contractor from Houston told me his firm had the technology to do it and had offered his services to the Italian government. But he was turned down. They didn't want to spend the millions of dollars necessary, and besides, they'd lose a top-notch tourist attraction! Since it was used by Galileo for some of his experiments with falling bodies, that leaning bell tower is even a historical landmark for scientists!
Do any of those other old buildings ever collapse?
Italian art and archaeological experts have an enormous job trying to keep their ruins from further deterioration. In fact, it has even been humoursly has suggested that the Italian government is going to ruin keeping up its ruins.

It probably isn't quite that bad, however. The annual operating budgets for all Italian museums, national historical sites, and archaeological digs manages to equal only the annual U.S. government subsidy for our Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Is Italy a poor country?
That depends. It is not as rich as some of its northern European cousins (Germany, Holland, Denmark, or Switzerland). However, alongside the majority of the world's nations, it could not be labeled "poor."
What is the American dollar worth in Italian money?
The Italians now use the Euro which is worth a bit more than one U.S. dollar. When we arrived in Italy in 1974 the Italian currency was called the Lira. At one point it took about 1,500 liras to equal one U.S. dollar (a real change from the turn of the century when one lira was equivalent to one dollar!). This doesn't mean, however, that we were pushing around wheelbarrows full of money. Paper currency was issued in bills as large as 100,000 liras.

Interestingly enough, political figures were conspicuously absent from the Italian paper bills. Galileo's likeness was on the 2,000 lira note. Christopher Columbus was on the 5,000 note and Michelangelo peered out at you from the 10,000 lira note.

Note: Now, of course, Italy uses the Euro, the common currency used by almost all members of the European Union.
What is considered a good wage in Italy?
Per capita income is about 40 percent that of the United States. So you can figure that for every $100 you're bringing home, an Italian doing the same job as you would be earning $40.

The difference is even greater in some specific occupations. For instance, about the time we first arrived in Italy, an elementary teacher in Milan, Italy, was earning the equivalent of $4,200 in gross annual wages while his or her counterpart in Los Angeles, Calif., was making $18,062. An Italian auto mechanic that year might have made the equivalent of $4,080. In Chicago, an auto mechianic would have been earning $16,400 at that time.
What about the cost of living in Italy?
A study by Organization Resources Counselors indicated that it costs $1,400 in Rome to buy what you could get for $1,000 in New York City. A Union Bank of Switzerland study, approaching the question from a different angle, says that the Italians' purchasing power is only about 50 percent to 60 percent that of the U.S.

However you attempt to interpret the figures, they always come out saying that the Italian family's standard of living is lower than that of the American counterpart.

Italian Nazarenes range all the way from desperately poor widows to Fiat assembly line workers, from house painters to nurses and computer technicians, and from railroad conductors to wholesale toy dealers. But most of them are one-car, one-television set, small-apartment families. Some choose to do without cars.
Then, is Italy a modern country?
Yes. Homes have electricity, running water, and indoor bathrooms. There will be a small refrigerator in the kitchen and even an automatic washing machine next to the sink. But the average Italian kitchen will not contain nearly as many electrical gadgets as the average American one (no garbage disposals or electric can openers or Crock Pots or microwave ovens or even clothes dryers!).
Aren't shoes cheap in Italy?
No. Any "cheap" shoes made in Italy are probably for export. The Italian appreciation for craftsmanship and style and beauty makes them prefer a top- quality item even if they have to pay a premium price for it. That's true not only. of shoes, but of clothes as well.
What does it cost to mail a letter in Italy?
In the summer of 1978, a first-class letter within Italy cost 7 cents more than a first-class U.S. postage stamp. When we arrived in Italy four years earlier, a first-class letter cost only about half that of a U.S. first-class letter. An air-gram in Italy cost almost double what the U.S. postal system was charging.
Don't those high postage rates put a strain on your budget?
Yes, postage is a costly item for us and for our churches. Missionaries do have a lot of correspondence and in a normal month, Barbara and I may spend $20 or more for postage. But we generally buy the stamps a few at a time. It seems to hurt less that way.
What is the population of Italy?
Fifty-five million, or about one-fourth that of the U.S. Italy is the 14th most populous country in the world, and since it is located on that small peninsula, it is quite densely populated. There are 180 Italians per square kilometer (the U.S. density is 22 persons per square kilometer).
Is that because the Italians have such large families?
Stereotypes seem to run decades behind reality. Italian families were larger many years ago -- as were American families. However, economic and social pressures have combined to force the average family size downward.
With the country as heavily populated as it is, isn't land expensive?
Yes, land is expensive in Italy and construction costs are high as well. As a result, we have acquired church buildings in a whole range of ways. We have built three buildings from the foundation up (Florence, Civitavecchia, and Sarzana). Others we have acquired and then remodeled for use by the church (Rome, Catania, and Calatafimi). We bought a half-completed furniture warehouse in Moncalieri, made a few changes, and finished it up as a church. In other cities such as Cuneo, La Spezia, Tarquinia, Torre Annunziata, and Ottaviano where we've had churches, small shops have been rented on the ground floors of apartment buildings. Those spaces were then converted into sanctuaries and educational spaces.
Do we have to rent homes for missionaries in Italy, and if so, how much is the rent?
At present, we are having to rent only one home, one for the missionaries in Naples. There, we're paying about $250 a month plus utilities for a simple, three-bedroom, unfurnished apartment. When we say unfurnished that means without kitchen cabinets, without light fixtures, without hot water heater, and without closets.
Is Italy a clean country?
Let me illustrate my answer by telling you about Vincenza. Not long after we moved to Florence, 80-year-old Vincenza Granese arrived quite early for church one Sunday morning. As she walked into the sanctuary, she asked me for a broom. A broom? I got her one. She took it, went out in front of the church and began sweeping off the sidewalk. It had looked pretty clean to me, but was too dirty for her Italian sensitivities.

In most Italian cities, the trash is picked up every day, and the streets are swept once a week. Many Italian women wear a soft type of house slipper as they work around the home. The sole of the slipper keeps the dirt picked up off the floor and helps keep the shine on it.

Don't let the old crumbling exteriors of a few buildings and some occasional trash fool you. Italians take pride in their cleanliness.
What about women's liberation in Italy?
The situation of Italian women has been different from that of American women. In the U.S. power is economic or political. The status of American families flows from the political and/or economic success of their members. Power in Italy usually flows from the family itself. And while the Italian father is the head of the family, the mother has always been considered the center.

That's not to say the Italian woman hasn't had her struggles. Until 1975 married Italian women had virtually no property rights. While the Madonna may be idolized, the average flesh-and-blood woman has often been considered a possession. Pornography -- which, of course, degrades the female to a mere sex object -- is rampant. Women did not get voting privileges in Italy until 1945, 25 years later than in the U.S. or in Great Britain.

Opportunities for women in the church have been restricted. Most Italian evangelical churches have followed Roman Catholic tradition and practice in allowing women only a second-class ministry. We Nazarenes have had one notable exception in Niny Del Rosso. Some said she was a better preacher-pastor than her husband, Alfredo, although she was never granted even a local preacher's license. . . . [ continue reading ]

  Page:   ←Prev    |    Introduction  |   1. The Leaning Tower, the Lira, and  Women's Lib  |    2. Italian, Illegal Drugs,  and Insulated  Buildings  |    3. Fiats, Florence, and Furloughs  |    4. The Military, Missionari es, and the  Mafia  |    5. Marco Polo and Ronald McDonald  |   6. The Cerratos, Alabaster  Churches, and Work Crews   |    7. Communism, Catholicism,  and the  Charismatics  |    8. Sincerity,  Self-support, and Sowing the Seed  |    9. Books, Broadcasting,  and the Bible College  |    10. Culture Shock and  Carpeting   |    11. A Word  from My Heart  |    Next→ 

Italian, illegal drugs and insulated buildings

arrow pointing rightWas it hard to learn Italian? . . . Is illegal drug use a problem in Italy? . . . Has the apartment boom hit Italy? .. . . [ more ]
-- Howard Culbertson,

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