How humor is helping Italians cope with coronavirus shock

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A woman in Rome uses pot lids as cymbals to join in a music flash mob as the city’s residents show their resilience in coping with a difficult situation. (AFP)
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Italian residents come out of their apartment balconies to join in a music flash mob as the city’s residents show their resilience in coping with a difficult situation. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2020

How humor is helping Italians cope with coronavirus shock

  • Italians use wit and irony to stay resilient amid dwindling resources after three weeks of lockdown
  • Italian comedians continue to find creative ways to inject humor during nationwide quarantine

DUBAI: The streets are quiet. The nightly shows on the balcony and from the windows in Italian cities have dissipated.
They have been replaced by the eerie, constant sound of police cars patrolling neighborhoods to ensure that everyone stays home and stays safe. The novelty of being locked in one’s home is no more.
It has now been exactly three weeks since Italians were placed under strict lockdown. Even so, there is still a stream of comedians who are making fun of the situation on social media and YouTube, providing ways to inject humor into an otherwise dark and increasingly tragic situation.
A week into lockdown, actor Paolo Camilli posted “Agenda of a Quarantine” on his Instagram, in which he opens his packed agenda of digital meetings: Work meetings on Zoom, Flashmob on the balcony, Pilates and Zumba classes on Microsoft Teams, dinner and aperitifs on Skype, and movie viewings to keep him busy for an entire week as he tries to find time to meet the person on the other end of the phone for a video call.
“I really believe this quarantine is a time to spend with oneself,” he said before recounting his busy schedule as if the seemingly apocalyptic moment we are all currently facing had not happened.


  • Italian literature full of examples of humor’s use as form of resilience.
  • Roman dialect poetry of Trilussa and Belli highlight humor’s place in Italian culture.
  • Playwright Eduardo De Filippo produced masterful tragicomic works in 20th century.
  • Commedia all’Italiana films merged satire, social critique in post-WWII era.

Having difficulty finding time in his overflowing agenda, Camilli added with a smile: “Listen, should we just try and schedule this (interview) for the next end of the world? That way we can speak calmly without too many distractions?”
The message: Will quarantine actually change how we live our lives? No, we keep going on in just the same way.
Living life to the fullest has long been the Italian motto. But now the mood has changed, and the novelty of spending so much time alone has worn off. For many, dread has crept in.
“On one of the first days of the lockdown, everyone in Rome went out on their balconies and sang the Italian national anthem and I got tears in my eyes,” said Carmen Scarpati, a resident of the capital.
“Now the tune is different. We’ve done the singing and dancing on balconies to support one another, and today people are worried about bills they need to pay and about putting enough food on the table.”

There is quiet acceptance that this state will go on for some time. “The positive side? More families are spending time together, whether in the same residence or via Zoom or other social media apps,” said Scarpati, explaining how for birthday parties for her son’s friends, the families still get together on Zoom to celebrate.
“We’re all in this together and we know this, but the notion of togetherness now comes from passing time with your close friends and families,” she said.
Scarpati said all the children in her son’s school were told to make rainbows a few days ago with the words “Andrà tutto bene” (Everything will be OK).
The artworks were hung from the windows and outside on the balconies, endowing the surroundings with child visions of hope.
“Humor, satire and irony are very important to Italian culture, and Italians have always done their best to use humor to help them cope and be resilient as they deal with difficult situations,” said Berenice Cocciolillo, director of web communications and a professor at John Cabot University in Rome.

A week into lockdown, actor Paolo Camilli posted his packed schedule of meetings on his Instagram.

In Italian literature, there are great examples of humor being used as forms of resilience. According to Cocciolillo, from the Roman dialect poetry of Trilussa and Belli to the famous Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo, whose works are masterful fusions of the comic and the tragic, there have been constant examples of the importance of humor in Italian culture throughout the course of the last century.
Another one is the Commedia all’Italiana film genre of the late 1950s through the 1970s, which united tragedy and comedy, satire and social critique during a challenging time in Italy — post-World War II and during the 1970s, when the country was on the brink of revolution due to waves of political terrorism from both far-right and far-left factions.
“Italians have always had a great love for comic actors such as Totò, Alberto Sordi, Paolo Villaggio, Carlo Verdone and Roberto Benigni,” said Cocciolillo.

Berenice Cocciolillo

“The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Humor is still in the air, as the numerous funny videos and memes being shared on social media show.”
But humor depends on people’s personal situations. As the streets have emptied, grocery stores enact stringent measures upon entry, family members who live in different residences are barred from seeing each other, and the unemployment rate has increased, togetherness now takes the form of other ways of bonding.
“A big part of our culture is about teasing people and situations,” said Francesco Faré, account director of Brandcot, a communications agency in Milan.
“We’ve always poked fun at our government and politicians. It’s how we survive certain situations,” he said from his balcony in Milan during a Zoom call.

“We now have massive production of food. People are cooking all the time. What’s more is that the supermarkets have run out of yeast to make baked goods. We’re all having to be very creative with our cooking,” he added with a chuckle.


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“We laugh, we make fun of the situation and of each other, and we cook, cook and cook. And even after the quarantine ends, we’ll still make fun of the situation because we’ll be all fat.”
Not everyone, however, has access to storing the same amount of food. “Some people can’t afford to stock up on food for several weeks; many have to still shop day by day,” said Scarpati.
“We’re learning once again to be grateful for the small things, for the gifts of each day and for our connection to each other.”
While the initial festivities on the balconies are not as much as before, and the humor does not move people as quickly into explosions of laughter, the resilience now lies with one’s values.
“We’re now all going back to our cultural values. Regardless of a difference in generations, we believe in community, in togetherness, even if we’re physically apart,” said Faré.
“Whether we’re with our families or alone, we Italians are used to going out for dinner nearly every night. That hasn’t changed. No matter what you have, sharing a meal and a laugh is more important now than ever.”

If you’re happy and you know it, tidy up: Seoul guru explains the key to decluttering

Updated 58 min 34 sec ago

If you’re happy and you know it, tidy up: Seoul guru explains the key to decluttering

  • “My focus of tidying up is not throwing away but organizing for space,” said Jung
  • Jung enjoys a huge fan base on social media - one video on how to clean a dresser was watched 1.2 million times

SEOUL: Keep it if it makes you happy, South Korea’s tidying consultant Jung Hee-sook tells her clients as the first step for a less cluttered and more meaningful life.
“I feel most rewarded when my clients say they live happier lives after decluttering their houses,” Jung, 49, told Arab News.
It was not an easy journey to begin with she says, reminiscing about the start of her career in 2012.
“My job was often regarded as merely part of cleaning work. Tidying up is such a meaningful job that can help others in need and help people to live better,” she added.
Eight years on, she has decluttered 2,000 homes and counting, and says for that to happen it’s imperative to “read the client first.”
She cites the example of a woman who was determined to tidy up her home, not to give it a makeover but to “make life easier for her family.”
“When I visited her house, I noticed the lights dimming and curtains were still drawn. I got the sense that this family had some problems. During consulting, I learnt that the client was going blind. She wanted to tidy up her home before losing her sight to help her husband find items easily for their child,” Jung said, adding that it was one of her “most rewarding experiences.”
Often compared to Marie Kondo, the Japanese author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” who enjoys a massive following across the world, Jung says her approach to tidying is different from the one propagated by Kondo, who places a priority on getting rid of anything that does not “spark joy.”
“My focus of tidying up is not throwing away but organizing for space,” said Jung, who has written two books on the topic, “Smart Tidying Ways” and “The Best Interior is in Organizing.” “You can keep your items if you don’t want to throw them away, but the bottom line is you have to organize them for use instead of leaving them unattended or stacked up in the corner.”

South Korea seems to be listening.
Jung enjoys a huge fan base on social media — one video from November last year on how to clean a dresser was watched 1.2 million times on YouTube — while her high-profile clients include CEOs and celebrities such as K-POP girl group Mamamoo’s Hwasa.
Experts point to the country’s unique concept of “jeong” to explain Jung’s popularity.
“It’s like an old grandmother piling plate upon plate of food in front of their grandchild to the point where they feel they might burst,” said Kwak Keum-joo, professor of psychology at the Seoul National University, explaining the national “attachment to objects.”
He said that the majority of people lay great emphasis on materialistic stuff as a benchmark of social status.
Jung agrees. “Korean people possess things to show off their wealth or social reputation. Most distinctively, they feel an attachment to objects,” she said.
Changes in consumer behavior, Kwak said, are also a key factor for the rising trends of house decluttering as well.
“In the past, most Koreans were brought up to save money and conserve things, but now they’re spending money if they have it, and they can purchase things fast and conveniently online at any time,” she said.
Jung says the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown helped to accelerate the decluttering process as well.
“People were staying home longer than before and paying more attention to tidying up their spaces at homes,” she said.
Jung’s top tip for starting is to take everything out and prioritize items based on their usage or emotional attachment.
“The thing is to sort out items and put them in separate spaces. People think it looks clean when you don’t see objects, but real organizing means sorting out the hidden things,” she said.
Next, Jung wants to take her teachings to the rest of the world.
“I hope to establish the right culture of decluttering to make people’s lives happier, not just in South Korea but in foreign countries as well. I am confident that the life of my clients has changed for the better after decluttering their houses.”