Please, be kind. You’re in DC.

The first thing I learnt when I landed in Washington, DC on a lovely spring day of May, 2013, was the opposite of what I learnt during 12 years in Milan. Say thank you, sincerely, to anybody, anywhere, at any time.

The lesson sounded even more surprising for a Neapolitan who believes that we, people of the Volcano, have the warmest heart by nature.

At first, I thought it was for an excess of caution. “Because we are in America, you know, and everybody seems to have a gun, somewhere.”

But it wasn’t exactly that.

Oh no, maybe, it’s because of the dramatic change of heart that the terrible 9/11 attacks have brought to these populous cities on the West Coast, the need for solidarity, to help your neighbor.”

Nope, it wasn’t exactly for this.

A bit intimidated, but happy to put into question 40 years of distracted Italian behaviors, I started to thank the driver of the bus, the cashier at the supermarket, and also the chat operator of the retail store. Their dignity demanded respect. Happy to oblige, I wasn’t feeling special for doing this. I was just like everybody else. (Some would say this is not always the case, but believe me, the surprise for a traveler is striking).

The answer came few days ago, watching TV on a Sunday morning. There was a debate about egalitarian and equalitarian societies.

Egalitarianism, a professor said, is based on the unrealistic idea that we are all the same — something impossible in the varied US society.

While an equalitarian society is based on the principle that we all need to have the same economic opportunities. A principle, I was reminded, that is entrenched in the US culture — unlike parts of Europe where the idea of social classes — with its old prejudices — is still much present.

Next time I go to Italy, I will thank everyone. Maybe someone will follow back.

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