Wordy Wednesday is back and as promised is sticking to the alphabet. Today I am going to attempt to explain the incredibly Italian concept of the Bella Figura (literally “good face”)
This is a phrase you will hear often in conversation. When used positively it is accompanied by smiles and immense enthusiasm “che bella figura ha fatto con quel regalo!” (What an impression she made with that present!) and with a look of disgust or disappointment when used negatively “non ha mica fatto bella figura, dicendo una cosa del genere” (he made a fool of himself saying something like that).
But what does it mean? Well it basically means encouraging people to look at you in a positive manner. The bella figura is something that encourages people to think of you as classy, intelligent, affluent, elegant, well read etc. Its opposite, the brutta figura is any action which makes you look foolish, boorish, slovenly, uneducated or the like. Basically la bella figura is about what other people think of you.
Of course this is important to people all over the world, but nowhere moreso than in Italy. The Italians care a great deal about what other people think of them. This is why they are always immaculately dressed (see survival guide 2) why they rarely eat or indeed drink to excess (see survival guide 1) why they will never tell you their fancy dress was bought in the sale, why they name drop with abandon and why they work so hard to be fashionable in terms of dress, music, holidays, restaurants and bars and even, sadly, opinions in some cases. It is also the reason they work so hard in general.
In a sense the obsession with the bella figura is positive – it limits offensive behaviour and pushes people to better themselves. However it often gets taken too far, and people can be seen chasing after an ideal which does not exist and is a construct of society, never letting their hair down and forgetting what makes them happy in exchange for what they think society wants them to do. And yes, Italian society can be more judgemental than say British society, but that is partly because everyone is so busy watching themselves that any behaviour outsite the norm from others becomes almost an insult to them. I would say to the Italians yes, fate bella figura, it is important… but don’t forget who you are, and remember that there is more than one way of making a positive impression. Oh and one more thing: other people don’t care nearly as much as you think they do. They have their own lives to worry about. If they don’t have anything better to do than worry about someone elses bella figura that’s not your problem.
With love, from Italy