LA BELLA FIGURA – making a good impression
La bella figura, literally ‘beautiful figure’, is a concept not easily grasped outside of Italy.
The unspoken understanding that appearance and behaviour are taken into consideration by the world at large is part of the fabric of Italian tradition. “Cosa pensera’ la gente?” (What will people think?).
Bella figura is not only about looking good, but encompasses inherent dignity and the awareness that certain circumstances require certain behaviour: The alta societa’ enrobed in the fashion of the season, the housewife who makes sure that neighbours know that her floors are washed daily, the construction worker who goes for coffee with polished shoes and a tidy shirt, the farmer who gives his best food to the sheep shearers so that word of his generosity will spread.
Public life historically took place in the piazzas, and therefore it was not unusual for two Italians to know each other for years without ever being invited to the other’s home, making it possible to present oneself as desired. Because education is relatively free, and often children live with their parents and inherit their homes, many Italians have no need to put their money in the bank, preferring instead to spend it for their own immediate gratification – and for those who hopefully will be looking.