05 December 2009

LIFE: Amanda Knox

 Putting on a Happy Face?
PERUGIA, Italy - The Amanda Knox trial ran non-stop on cable TV in Italy this week as the judges moved closer to making a decision as to whether or not this young American girl is guilty of murdering her British roommate. Then the final sentence: Guilty. The Italians think it is right. She acts guilty, they say.

The day before the sentencing I watched a nervous Amanda address the judges, telling them she isn’t as calm and cheerful as she pretends to be. In fact she is very nervous. Her cheerful attitude throughout the trial, and her bizarre behavior in court were merely her way of trying to stay positive, and not an indication of her disregard for the seriousness of the situation.

I believe her. What I can’t believe is how a bright young woman didn’t figure out at the beginning of the trial that her carefree behavior was not appropriate. I’m not making a judgment on her guilt or innocence, what I’m talking about is perception.

Anyone who has spent time in Italy will tell you that the Italians are not the pasta twirling wine swigging jolly good fellows we often see on American TV. They are serious people and react to bad situations in a serious way.

Several months ago, when an earthquake brought down a town in central Italy, the survivors were seen collapsing in sorrow. Their homes were gone, their children buried under piles of rubble, and the survivors openly sobbed with grief. But when a similar disaster hit America, people were seen smiling and laughing and saying, oh well yes, it is terrible but we’ll survive, we’ll just start over again. This putting on a happy face type of behavior is totally confusing to the Italians. What are they laughing about, they ask me. It’s a disaster. They’ve lost their homes, they’ve lost everything, they should be crying.

What the Italians don’t understand is that giving in to adversity just isn’t the American way. We are pioneers, survivors and like that old song says, we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and start all over again.

But that isn’t the Italian way and Amanda was on trial in Italy. The legal system is different here. It is based on Roman law, not English law, and simply put you are considered guilty until you prove yourself innocent. The burden of proof is on you. It wasn’t up to the court to prove Amanda guilty; it was up to Amanda to prove she is innocent.

So what kind of impression did Amanda think she was making when she was turning cartwheels in court and laughing and smiling. Surely she knew she was faced with the high probability of being found guilty. That alone would have a sobering effect on anyone. And now, faced with 26 years in prison, she’s asking why no one believed her?

Some twenty years ago, when I first moved to Italy, someone said to me: “Signora, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to stop smiling so much.” That little gem of wisdom struck a chord with me and turned out to be the best advice I ever got. It’s too bad someone didn’t give Amanda that same advice. It may at least garnered her some sympathy with the Italian public, and in a country where perception is king, that would have been good.

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