The other day I walked into a shoe store and was immediately greeted by the saleswoman with an enthusiastic hello. I don’t love the instant hello you often receive in stores, but I know the salespeople are told to do that because it can boost sales, so I let it slide. Moving on, the woman told me all about the great sale they were having. Also standard fare. Then, she delivered the clincher line: “All of our shoes are made in Italy so it’s a really great deal!”
Hmm. Wheels in my brain started to turn. The fact that the shoes were made in Italy made them a good deal? Why would that be? Italian culture is known for its high fashion, its luxury goods and its trendsetting ways. So theoretically, the phrase “made in Italy” should bring to mind an artisanal tradition, quality of materials and overall excellence. And I’m sure that a lot of shoes made in Italy WOULD satisfy those criteria- but that doesn’t mean that ALL of them do. Just because something is made in Italy doesn’t mean it fulfills those standards. The shoes could have been made by master shoemakers following ancient traditions. Or they could have been made in a factory with substandard materials- they still would have been made in Italy. Or they could have been made by robots that assembled them with many faults- still made in Italy. See my point? Simply naming the point of origin doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting the perks you associate with that origin. The store is sure to announce the provenance of its goods because it is aware of all the positive associations with Italian culture, but they don’t actually bother to tell you HOW the shoes were made: just where. Clever loophole, my friends.
France has an entire government bureau dedicated to dealing with this issue for products that have a “controlled designation of origin.” For these controlled products (butters, cheeses, wines, etc) the maker has to prove that its goods match certain standards for ingredients, methods and quality. In that case, there is an actual tie between what went into the product and where it was made. But in the case of my shoe store friend, I found the “made in Italy” assertion rather silly. I checked out some of the shoes and am sad to report they seemed to be pretty poor quality. I’m sure the Italy claim works on many a shopper, but not this one!