I've been asking myself that question for over two decades.
When I came to the US, I was leaving a place that was steeped in tradition—some of it gorgeous. I mean, how amazing is it to be surrounded by World Heritage Sites? To go one city over and discover an entirely new local cuisine? To have your pick of coastline environment to choose from? Or parks in the city? Beauty all around in streets and monuments, as in crafts for sale.
But, I was young and impatient. I resented some (OK most) of the bureaucracy that s l o w e d everything down. And I was caught in the dilemma of loving everything, but the lack of opportunity in my chosen field. So I looked West. The opportunity soon followed intent.
Entering a new culture
I joined a new culture with gusto, even as I could not quite order a salad the way I wanted it. My entire worldly possessions fit into two suitcases, the savings meager. But the optimism and pioneering spirit enveloped my disposition.
Opportunity made it sunny. It was the kind of chance I loved: the one you shape by rolling up your sleeves.
Things were rough in the early years. Then I started becoming fluent in “the ways we do things around here.” Under the umbrella of USA as a nation was Pennsylvania as a state, Philadelphia as a city, my place of work as the territory where work transferred energy into products, services, and experiences. Each had its own unique traits and quirks.
The territories or companies I joined and collaborated with often had a global scope, with offices in many countries and regions of the world. Once again, my perspective expanded. However, it was always with an eye to keeping in tune with the 'local' flavors and preferences. This kind of contextual awareness keeps you in touch with what's going on that has meaning. Because of culture.
Third dimension in digital
Social media interjected a kind of third dimension into the mix. Each social network developed its own culture based on its early inhabitants. The networks that flourished figured out ways to keep people coming in to inhabit and populate the space. Then the algorithm moved in and reorganized things. The culture changed.
I've been privileged to have the kind of career a curious person who loves learning would want: progressing in step with the questions. Rebranding companies in different industries, helping organizations small to large tell a new story with confidence, and traveling the US and the world.
Back to the future
I started squeezing in trips back to Italy.
Then it became a Christmas Holiday tradition to go two weeks to Europe, with Christmas at mom's home.
France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, but always coming back to Italy for the delicious meals (even better when mom makes it), and the wines! Local productions that you can't get in the US. It started with food—cheeses, wines, olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar—then moved to apparel and art.
Each time, I reacquainted myself with a culture I had taken for granted. I started talking to businesses, and reappraising Italian brands.
They say when you first learn a new language, your mother tongue takes a hit. My Italian definitely did. I was saved by the Internet. It made it easier to get my hands on Italian books and writing again. Well, I think something like that happens also for culture. While I was embracing American culture—the US does a great job marketing it through shows all over the world—I was forgetting the feeling of Italian culture.
The human side of business
At some point in the process, things level out, and you become bi-lingual and cultural. I got there about ten years ago. Then something surprising happened: I started seeing one culture with the eyes of the other. Which is the same process I still use in business, translating between industries and recontextualizing brand and story.
Each culture has much to teach others,
as each industry does.
But how do we stay open and curious? How do we keep the sense of awe and adopt new ways without killing the original culture?
Culture is the human side of business. It enables our narrative and communication. Is your culture weighing on your narrative?
[image of Parmigiano Reggiano and seasonal mushrooms]