Be a couch potato in Italy

Watching TV in Italy isn't a waste of time—it's a culutral experience!

Watching TV in a foreign country isn't just lazing around, it’s a bona fide cultural experience.

You may be amazed by what they put on TV in Italy—a whole lot more nudity, for one thing.

You can follow slapstick comedies in any language, make a game out of figuring out the rules to oddball game shows, and learn that Bart Simpson is a beloved bad boy around the world.

(Also, the unbelievably cheesy Italian theme song for the Dukes of Hazzard totally rocks—even as it fails spectacularly to rhyme: Bo e Luke... Bo e Luke... Questa è la ballata degli Bo e Luke... due ragazzi in gamba con una marcia in più... corre l'auto corre e sfreccia a tutto gas, la città non dorme mai, con Bo e Luke... Bo e Luke...)


Learn Italian!

You can also learn some basic Italian from watching cheesy TV.

You can follow the plot—and often even guess at the dialogue—pretty easily of most formulaic police procedurals or generic Hollywood movies that are dubbed and broadcast ad nauseum on Italian TV. Not to mention Dukes of Hazzard. (Hint: Boss Hogg was behind the whole thing; Oh, and the General Lee will, once again, not fail to land once they return from commercial.)

I taught myself a fair bit of Italian at the age of 11 watching dubbed Japanese cartoons.

This Italian was mostly of the "Forza ragazzi! Andiamo!!" variety ('Come on, guys! Let's go!!'), but it did help... or at least helped me sound very enthusiastic and proactive on the playground, particularly when faced with an imaginary impending battle against the evil robots/reincarnated dinosaurs/malevolent aliens that apparently never tire of threatening the good people of Tokyo.

Even if you don't pick up much Italian, you can still peruse the TV dial for the little differences between cultures that really stand out. Here's one of my favorites:

And now, the weather...

On a U.S. news crew, the meteorologist is usually the goofiest guy in the room—but in Italy he's a full-bird Air Force colonel accorded an obsequious amount of respect by the anchors.

(For the record, on Russian TV it's often a young woman who strips...very un-sexily as she reads the weather off a TelePrompTer in a monotone.)

Bring on the Showgirls

In America, variety show spectaculars died out after Sony & Cher and The Brady Bunch Hourbut in Italy they're alive and well as the lynchpins of prime time.

Italy never quite got over the cabaret era of TV, and has dragged many of its elements—including showgirls—into modern programming.

Remember how Goldie Hawn, clad in naught but a bikini and some painted flowers, used to sway or bop to groovy tunes during Laugh-In interstitials?

Well, dancing girls are still gyrating nightly on Italian TV—and I’m not just talking about that old late-night game show in which housewives compete in a strip tease hosted by a seedy-looking man dressed like Captain Kangaroo and flanked by 18–20 applauding, bare-breasted women. (You think I’m kidding, don’t you?)

Few Italian TV shows, it seems, are serious enough to do without a writhing variant on Vanna White.

One of the most popular programs on Italian TV is Striscia La Notizia, or “Slither the News” ( This satirical take on the day’s news is hosted by a pair of reporter-comedians, but it opens with the über-popular Veline.

This pair of leggy, preternaturally pretty 20-somethings—one blonde, one brunette—perform a brief, high-energy dance number that was choreographed (and costumed) by someone who, if I had to guess, I would imagine normally works on routines involving brass poles and G-strings.

Sometimes the Veline—who are swapped out every two years (the contest reality show to pick the new Veline is one of Italy’s most popular summer programs, drawing a 22% to 45% audience share)—dance around the studio, but often they dance right on the desk.

In fact, on an older version of the show they used to arrive on set via giant Hamster tubes, like the pneumatic mail system in old office buildings, that dumped a Velina onto either end of the desk. They’d spend a minute writhing to the rhythm then assume sexy reclining poses or perch prettily on the edges of the desk while the two hosts riffed on the news, getting up to wriggle sexily again before and after commercial breaks.

(Don’t even ask about the costumed mascot Gabibbo, who looks like Barney on a bender, acts like a naïve boor, and chases the Veline.)

This show has won several Italian “TV Oscars.”

It also releases popular “Stricia La Compilation” CDs of the songs danced to on the show, the album covers featuring that season’s Veline in outfits that would give a Hooster’s hostess pause.

These sell like hot cakes.

So watch some TV next time you're in Italy. You never know what you might learn. (Perhaps: "Wow. TV back home isn't nearly as bad as I thought.")

Tips & links

Useful links & resources
Book ahead

While for some activities you can just show up, this is one travel item you really should try to reserve in advance.

Popular activities like cooking classes can sell out.

Many are available only on certain days of the week, so it pays to know that you'll have to set aside, say, Tuesday morning for that guided market walk with a local cookbook author.

Many of the best activities are available by advance booking or appointment only—particularly wineries. Some vineyards welcome walk-ins, true, but many more will give you a cellar tour and wine tasting only if you call ahead a few days (and those tend to be the ones most liberal with the free samples).

If you have your heart set on dining in a particular restaurant, go ahead and call ahead,even if it's just earlier on the same day—though a day ahead is preferable. I have found that a corrollary of Muphy's Law applies to this aspect of travel. Any restaurant I am particularly keen on but blithely assume I can just waltz into will inevitably be filled to the brim: no tables available. However, half the time when I do book a table in advance I'll end up being the only guy in the place (nor near enough for my advance booking to feel like overkill). Still, better safe than sorry. Reserving a table is quick and painless; getting turned away at the door can be crushing.

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