It’s OK to call Venetians ‘drunks’, says Italy’s top court

Italy's top court has cleared a photographer of defamation and racial hatred charges after he called the inhabitants of the Veneto region "a population of drunks".

It's OK to call Venetians 'drunks', says Italy's top court
Italy's Court of Cassation ruled the comments did not constitute defamation or racial hatred. Photo: Davide Blaikie/Flickr

Olivero Toscani, an iconic photographer who has shot high-profile campaigns for the clothes chain Benetton, made the comments while speaking on the radio show 'La Zanzara' in February 2015, Corriere reported.

Toscani, from the neighbouring region of Lombardy, ruffled feathers by calling the Venetians “ancestral alcoholics,” adding that “it's not their fault if they were born in that place – but it's their destiny.”

Toscani offended many Venetians with his comments last year. Photo Dieter Nagl/AFP

His remarks are based on the long-standing stereotype that Venetians love nothing more than getting drunk.

Toscani's comments offended many Venetian listeners, four of whom attempted to bring charges of defamation and racial hatred against him.

After a lower court in Venice rejected the charges last July, the four plaintiffs pursued their appeal at the highest court. Earlier this week, the Court of Cassation dismissed the appeal, ruling that the comments were too general to be seen as defamatory.

“In defining Venetians' as drunkards, Toscani made very general statements based on stereotypes and clichés about a specific area of the country,” the court said in its ruling.

Judges said the comments could not qualify for defamation as they made no reference to any “specific, identifiable figures”.

They also rejected the claims that the charges could constitute as racial hatred as they did not discriminate against a group of people “on the grounds of their nationality, ethnicity, or religion”. 

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La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

From seeing Italy's best sights for free to avoiding crimes against Italian food, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The cold weather and grey skies mean February is the month when I’m most tempted to stay at home and keep warm, preferably with an Italian hot chocolate. But it’s a shame to stay in when there’s so much to do and see in Italy, even at this time of year.

Carnival season officially kicks off this weekend, bringing much-needed colour and joy to towns and cities across Italy at what would otherwise be a pretty dull time of year. The most famous Carnival of all is of course in Venice, and this year’s edition promises a return to its former grand scale after three years of limited celebrations.

If you’re thinking of attending this year, here’s our quick guide to the events and what to expect:

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Another reason to get out and about this weekend is Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’, when museums and other sites open their doors ticket-free on the first Sunday of every month.

As admission to major historical monuments and museums in Italy often costs upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

Free entry applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle. See further details in our article:

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

There is however at least one good reason to stay in and watch some Italian TV: The Sanremo Music Festival returns on Tuesday, February 7th, and it will likely be the main topic of conversation all week.

If you’re a fan of Eurovision, you’re pretty much guaranteed to love it. But some people don’t find the appeal of the show immediately obvious, to put it mildly.

So what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp? We looked at just why this 73-year-old song contest is such an Italian institution.

Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

In the latest international Italian food controversy, Italian media reacted with anger and dismay this week to a recipe published in the New York Times for ‘tomato carbonara’, which recommended adding tomato sugo along with the eggs, and replacing pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan – an adaptation which was described as “provocative”, “disgusting”, and a “declaration of war”.

For anyone who doesn’t want to traumatise their Italian dinner guests or risk sparking a diplomatic incident, here’s the classic recipe plus a look at the rules to follow when making a real Roman-style carbonara:

The ten unbreakable rules for making real pasta carbonara

However, you might be surprised to hear that adding cream – or tomato – to your carbonara recipe isn’t actually the worst food crime you could commit according to Italians.

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study revealed which of the most common international ‘adaptations’ are seen as most and least offensive.

RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]