Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

What Italians do with newspapers (other than read them)

Italians read fewer newspapers than most of their Western European counterparts – only 5 million Italians (out of 60M) regularly read books or newspapers – resulting in an always-amusing range of marketing tactics in order to sell more black and white print. Magazines are regularly bundled with irresistable gifts like large beach bags or a pack of cards  – which are then spread outside the vendor’s shack like a patient etherized upon a table – while newspapers offer series of encyclopedias, guidebooks, and dvds promising English in 3.5 days. In this country they still sell things in “serial” like the serialized stories of the American 1950s, but they come in the form of a car or dinosaur that you have to glue together, and at the low price of only 2.99E per piece (the first one’s free!) it’ll cost you a mere 187 euros by the time you’re done.

newspapers in italy with cat

While few Italians actually READ newspapers (or books, but that’s another story thanks to their bound format), what DO they do with them? Always thrifty, they are the first to apply the three R’s of reduce (don’t read), re-use (see below) and recycle (perhaps once having completed the actions below). So here are the top five alternate uses for newspapers by Italians. In descending order…

Vetril. Like windex, but more streaky.

And the Top five alternative uses for newspapers in Italy are…

(5) Balled up and combined with Vetril (the streaky Italian version of Windex), newspapers are the only material to be used for cleaning windows. Anything else will streak more. They don’t seem to get the fact that the ink comes off the paper, making this counter-productive…. Because they are right. Try cleaning your Italian glass with anything else and it will be worse than not cleaning it at all.

(4) My husband went to the soccer game and came home quite chilled to the bone. He admitted that he should have listened to his brother, who has seasons’ tickets. Gianluca advised: bring a newspaper to put under your feet. It stops the cold from coming up through your shoes and into your whole body. I think this trick could also be used when visiting (and especially teaching in) cold churches in the winter in order to avoid the hypothermia I regularly got while working as a teaching assistant.

(3) the insulating properties of newspapers are not lost on professional cyclists who, my friend Fabio tells me, put a layer in their shirts to keep warm. Or at least they did so in the olden days of Gino Bartali; now they probably wear Gortex like the rest of the world.

Painters’ hat by flickr @nulla

(2) Protection is the name of the game here; newspapers also protect your head – from paint. The traditional Italian painters’ hat is a boat-shaped topper made each morning out of fresh newspaper. Does he read it first? your guess is as good as mine. (NB the baker also wears a paper hat, but of a different shape.)

(1) and the number one alternate use of newspapers in Italy isPut up on the windows of a car (preferably an old Fiat Panda whose seats notoriously lay flat), it provides all the privacy a young couple could need. While this is an international phenomenon (the book Carma Sutra is, after all, American), a search in Italian of “sesso in macchina con giornali sui vetri” pulled up a lot of surprising information, including the fact that in Italy it’s punishable with three years in jail. (Doing this search also ruined my impeccable reputation with Google.)

Urban legend?

Now, it may be an urban legend, but I have heard that somewhere in Italy a couple was once doing it in the car, newspapers hiding everything that needed to be hidden, when they were involved in a fender-bender. Apparently, they were practicing the rhythm method which failed due to the surprising bump, resulting in pregnancy. The couple sued the careless driver. I don’t know the outcome of the case – if it ever really happened.

You don’t have to understand Italian to figure what’s going on in this hilarious clip from an Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo movie in which three men are forced to sleep in a car whose windows were covered with newspapers…:

PS – you know this is all for rhetoric, right? ;-) Italians are all smart and highly literate. Especially italian readers of arttrav.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • Federica + Gabriele

    Ahhaa. That's fun. About the 5 milion people that read newspapers: I think they are more to read them but do not buy them, infact everyone read in the bar during a cappuccino or coffee… :-) More than a reading is a scanning! About newspapers: another alternative use is to make a fire.

  • arttrav

    Hey Umbrialovers! the 5 million number the “five million club” of Beppe

    Severgnini that is often quoted and sadly true; 5 million italians access

    information in various forms:

    Sure, someone might scan the front page of La Nazione or Il Tirreno in the

    bar while popping back a coffee but that does not make one an informed

    reader and an active member of society.

  • Monica

    Federica you're probably right. Statistics are done counting the number of sold Newspapers. As far as I know (and experienced), in Italy you can find Newspapers to read in every angle, without buying it. Cafè's, bars, pubs, service areas and even petrol stations provide free Newspapers – so why buy them … it is maybe true that Italian read less than some other country, but do not let us put always anything in one pot …let us find out the reasons!

  • arttrav

    Interesting that nobody seems to get that this article is not about reading

    statistics, about which I could write another, but simply a humorous

    observation about the many other things one can do with newspapers, some of

    which are particularly italian. Oh well, I guess my sense of humour is OFF.

  • Federica + Gabriele

    Absolutely correct. We wouldn't say that more italian are informed reader, unfortunately they are not, we just wanted to highlight a particular habit of people n Italy: reading in a bar while having coffee.. :-)

  • arttrav

    Certo!! of course YOU are an informed reader!!

  • Blog from Italy

    Very true on the newspapers read in bars. Indeed, I suspect this distorts the stats on the number of Italians who do actually read newspapers, even if they do not by them.

    I've certainly seen people reading as opposed to scanning.

  • arttrav

    Oops michela I only now saw your comment. The “statistical data” or rather the 5 million club number comes from Severgnini. As for the other “data” it’s all social observation ;-)