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A warning to Europe: Don't let German efficiency crush Italy's spirit

If Europe doesn’t get its act together on the debt crisis, prosperity will suffer and dangerous political fragmentation will set in. But if Europe succeeds in converging toward Germany's standards, what becomes of the convivial cultures of the south – Italy, Spain, and Greece?

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Though connectivity is the main business, ambling pedestrians are nowhere to be found, save for the occasional lone jogger. On a recent visit to Santa Clara, the only sign of convivial life was a gaggle of Indian software engineers, lonely and far from home, swirling beers at Pedro’s, a faux Mexican cantina.

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Not long after my visit to Santa Clara, I was in Rome strolling around the neoclassical Piazza del Popolo designed by Giuseppe Valadier in the early 1800s. Teens gathered spontaneously around the fountain beneath the Egyptian obelisk from Sety I in the center of the piazza. The surrounding cafes overflowed with patrons smoking and chatting. Hordes of pedestrians passed by the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, completed by Bernini, on their way to the Via del Corso.

Who would trade one for the other? Nothing, of course, must be either/or in life. And Germany is still quite a ways from corporatized America. But we should be careful what we wish for as we seek to harmonize today’s interdependence of plural identities.

It would be reactionary to regret the future. But we ought to be wary about extinguishing what makes life worth living by assigning a clock to every hour, as even Germans understand when they regularly trek south to take a break from efficiency.

Nathan Gardels is editor in chief of NPQ and the Global Viewpoint Network of Tribune Media Services. He is also a senior advisor to the Berggruen Institute. His forthcoming book with Nicolas Berggruen is entitled “Intelligent Governance for the 21st Century: A Middle Way Between West and East."

© 2012 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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