It is hard to dislike a place where you’ve been laughing every five minutes. And eating good food. And having great conversations with random strangers. And making new friends. Where good natured ribbing, flamboyance, art, tradition and culture blend smoothly into the potpourri of life. In short, it is hard to dislike Italy.

I love Italy so much because it maximizes the values and attitudes I hold dearest. The random stranger is a potential friend, Life is taken with a generous dose of salt, passion is expected, the occasional flaw is to be overlooked, rules are those-things-you-sometimes-break, it is okay to laugh, shout, relax and make an idiot of yourself because tomorrow is another day and everybody is too busy having fun to judge you.

Sure, the real world exists as shades of gray, there being no black or white. But, as my friend Ravi Mahajan would never tire of repeating: “Perception is reality.” Or as I am never tired of repeating: “There is no reality except the one you choose to believe in.” And in Italy, it is easier to perceive/believe what I have said above and the friction with actual reality (whatever that means) is not all that strong. In short, it is easier to hold on to the dream.

I do love Sweden with its lovely nature, cleanliness, structured life, lack of prejudices, unbeliveably superior infrastructure and the many opportunities and challenges I’ve had here. The Swedes are an extraordinary people and their country is an accurate reflection of and testimony to what they believe and hold dear. My gratitude towards this country is boundless and I’ve often found myself fiercely supporting Sweden in arguments. Swedes are sensitive, accepting and polite beyond comparison, but as an Indian I find their shyness frustrating and their respect-for-my-boundaries alienating. I am not criticizing the Swedish attitude here, merely pointing out how cultural differences create clashing perceptions. The sober Swede would rather die than thump a stranger on the back, throw a huge grin and ask, “How’s it going with you, buddy?” The Indian could probably do this without thinking. Consequently, the average Indian would percieve the average Swede as cold, unfriendly and wrapped up in himself. I do understand, accept and respect these differences. But that is not the same as enjoying them.

Compared to Sweden, Italy is dirty, chaotic, crude, messy, intolerant, loud and disrespectful. But the people there smile more often. They also occasionally step on your toes, and get puzzled when introduced to concepts like privacy and personal space. A Swede might find that annoying. As an Indian, I feel right at home. Sometimes, I even enjoy it.

Thinking in extremes, Sweden is a dignified, sophisticated old lady; Italy is a football hooligan. I love them both!!