That is truly intriguing. I’d heard that mostly-urban northern and mostly-rural southern Italy were like two different nations, and while that’s not what you wrote, I can’t help but wonder if that lay at the root of it. You’d be surprised at how well that mirrors my own experience, since where I grew up in the Deep South, there wasn’t even a stop sign, much less two stoplights. My high-school graduating class was 42 kids…and it was in the next county over.
But now, while I’m living in a suburb of Seattle, I’ve also got a house in a third-world megalopolis of 15M people. The contrast between that place and where I grew up is hard to overstate. Let’s just say I can easily empathize with the provincial young men you dealt with.
I would also add that provincial life lends itself more readily to racial, religious, and cultural prejudice, since those who grow up and live in such places have far less interaction with those who are different. Where I grew up, even those who lived more than 30 miles away were seen as “not one of us”, and were often held in suspicion. We were also taught that absolutely nobody had it as good as Americans did. After I joined the Navy, saw the world, and interacted with people from everywhere else, I learned that (after allowing for religious beliefs and cultural mores) people really are the same, all over the world…and that there are quite a few places that are more modern than America, and better places to raise a family. We spent a little over a week with my wife’s cousin in Florence, and I’d certainly say that I’d add northern Italy to the list of places that are better to raise a family. That’s not a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence observation, either, for the culture is more peaceful, safer, has better access to health care, and is more cosmopolitan than most places in America.