In conversation with ANNA RUFFINO the first female Consul General of Italy in Karachi

The 34-year-old opens up on her love for parathas, shalwar kameez and Pakistani hospitality

  • 10 Feb - 16 Feb, 2018
  • Mariam Khan
  • Interview

On a late January afternoon the Italian tricolour flag was fluttering. The green within the walls of the Italian consulate was where the Consul General (CG) of Italy in Karachi, Ms Anna Ruffino was in front of the lens, being locked in time. “I am living my second life now. I played the piano for 16 years,” she shares. “I knew I didn’t want to take up music as a profession,” she talks about the time when she ‘was someone else’.

It was in her late teens when she took a route to the path which has now led her to this very port city. “I visited the United Nations Office in Geneva with my high school, and as soon as I entered, I felt this is my kind of place in the world and I want to be here in future,” she shares. “The strong love that I have for Italy led me to decide on being a diplomat because I think this is the best way I can serve my country. As I’m curious about new cultures, I preferred Pakistan over Europe,” says Ms Ruffino, who was the First Secretary at the Embassy of Italy in Madrid, Spain since December 21, 2014, before coming to Karachi.

“I could have chosen the country for my new posting as the ministry gives a list of countries where one can apply. Amongst the list was Brazil (along with Pakistan), so I discussed with my father,” she recalls.

“Unlike my friends, who were concerned about the security situation in Pakistan, my father found Pakistan to be much more interesting and told me it would be the perfect choice for me. ‘How many Europeans can say they used to live in Pakistan? So it’s an amazing opportunity for you to grow as a person as well as a professional’,” she reminisces the strong support she received from her father.

The Consul feels at home in Karachi. “Karachiites are welcoming and friendly. I can say I feel at home here; like we are part of a big family.” She points out the similarity in Pakistani and Italian cultures. “We are more similar than I could expect. For instance, we share the same strong family values and for both our cultures family is the most important thing.”

Ms Ruffino hails from a town that is known for its classic sweet treats – Ferrero Rocher and Nutella – Alba, also known as the gourmet capital of Piedmont, a region of Italy bordering France and Switzerland. “I was born in Genoa but Alba is my town.”

On being the first Italian female CG in Karachi, Ms Ruffino states, “It’s a great honour and also a great responsibility, but I’m really happy to share this opportunity; lady diplomats can be very capable and can work to improve the diplomatic world. The world is changing and so is diplomacy and more and more young ladies are taking up this career.”

With Italian cuisine being the star amongst iconic cuisines of the world, Ms Ruffino was asked about her favourite meal, but she was tied in an intangible complex knot. “I don’t think I can answer that; I like pasta but there are so many different kinds so I cannot choose amongst them; maybe Pasta Al Pesto which has basil sauce, typical from Genoa, can be one of my favourites.” As for Pakistani dishes, she finds them ‘too spicy’. “I have found naan to be the most excellent,” and in a rhythmic cadence, she adds “last night I tried an excellent kind of naan, called the paratha; I’m in love with it!”

Talking about Italy’s culture, one cannot miss out on one of the fashion capitals of the world – Milan. Ms Ruffino is one who is ‘different from other women’ when it comes to shopping. “I shop when I need something,” she expresses. As for Pakistan’s fashion industry, she says, “There is a lot of potential in the textile industry here. We can further strengthen our countries’ ties a lot more through trade. Pakistan imports textile machinery from Italy making it the sixth largest market for Italian exporters. I really hope we can make use of this opportunity and grow on this potential in years to come.”

It’s the colours of traditional outfits that really speak to her. “I am particularly interested in shalwar kameez, and really like the colours and cuts, so I am definitely going to buy a few of them and flaunt them back home.

Ms Ruffino is learning Urdu on a daily basis, and has two phrases which she is really fond of. “Mujhe Karachi pasand hai is one of them,” she reveals. This, being her first interview for a Pakistani publication, Ms Ruffino has a message for the denizens. “I’m really glad to be here. I would like to thank all the Karachiites I’ve met so far for the warm welcome they have extended towards me and I am here to further improve our relations in the field of business, culture and science. I was really surprised and happy to meet a lot of strong Pakistani women.”

The fashionista goes by an adage. And all those who complain about their bad luck, she’s here to rectify it. “I remember a quote by the Roman philosopher Seneca that luck doesn’t exist. What exists is the moment, the talent one possesses and the opportunity one comes across. Yes, bad things do happen in the course of life, but focus is key to success,” she signs off with her second most favourite phrase in Urdu: “Pakistan-Italy dosti zindabad!” •