Stereotype: to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same. – Merriam-Webster online dictionary, www.merriam-webster.com
The word “stereotype” is often associated with the negative and unfavorable parts of a culture or demographic. In Texas, for instance, the stereotype that everyone here openly carries a gun and when you visit it looks like the Old West with a high noon shoot out each day. On the other hand, to hear Texans loudly claim it is “God’s Country”, followed by a proud and boastful, “we’re the only state in the union that was once our own nation” will definitely be heard when visiting the Lone Start sate. What can I say? Mass media contribute a great deal in maintaining both negative and positive stereotypes, and unless you’ve actually witnessed a culture, you may be prone to believe what you see is the absolute truth. The Italian culture has loads of recognizable stereotypes and some are, for me, very endearing. I share a short list of my favorite with the utmost love and admiration. I mean, If I didn’t love this about the Italians, I wouldn’t be visiting as often as I am.
Numero Uno: THE HANDS
It’s true. All of it. Italians cannot speak without their hands. In fact, sometimes they have an entire conversation with only their hands, completely non-verbal. And, whether or not you know the exact meaning of the gesture, because there are about 4,742 of these, you can comprehend the general idea.
Most gestures, if not all, are typically paired with facial expressions so the translation is at least in the ballpark. Now, not everything is translated well. There is a famous (maybe infamous) story about how Yours Truly repeated something she’d seen without knowing its meaning. Needless to say there was a lot of laughing, possibly some mortified people, followed by being told that I looked like an “insane pervert”. Never the less, speaking with the hands seemed all too natural to me as I have always had an over the top style of communication; using my entire body to tell a simple story. It’s how I won all of my Oscars, after all. Several Italian gestures have been incorporated in my daily communication style because it just became so fluid after all my visits. And I must admit that I don’t think any Italian I have ever met could not use their hands. I’d like to test this theory by forcing one to sit on their hands and try, just try to speak. Tell me something brief like…directions to the mail box. Ya, I don’t think this is possible. If you’ve never been to the country, met an Italian, or simply don’t believe me, check out this New York Times pieces on those famous hands. Possibly it’s just part of the molecular structure for them. Ehh?
Due: Ciao, Bella!
This is a common greeting and is said and heard no less that 472 times a day. Oddly it doesn’t get old and you will hear this on the streets, with your friends, even at the dry cleaners. It’s simply a way they greet a woman or…a plat. Hell, it’s how they greet a cat! . I guess in our culture, in 2016, being greeted with “Hello, Beautiful” would be a bit off-putting. However, when in Rome you can expect to hear it in from people of all ages. On my very first trip to Italy had only been in the country for about an hour when I met Pasquale, Claudio’s dad. I was standing in the kitchen when he approached me, turned my face toward him and said, “Bella!”. Yep. Just like that it happened and I stood there trying to figure out how to respond. “…grazie…?” I didn’t want to seem, I don’t know, too Americana. Speaking of, I have to admit this greeting doesn’t always work American to American. I’ve encountered this on many occasions and hearing it said with no accent or that sing-songy way Italians speak feels a little bit like eating at the Olive Garden. Blugh Just stop it!
Right, that’s obvious. Gucci, Armani, Dolce and Gabbana – yes everyone realizes that Italy is known for fashion. But, since this isn’t a fashion blog and I’m not a fashion expert, I won’t be touching those. And I’m not using the word “fashion” as in the high-end, Paris/Milan/New York runway sense. What I am focusing on here is the day-to-day street attire seen by people walking to work, to the gym, or at the park. Sometimes it is a simple woman in a simple dress making a simple entrance and something about her makes me feel like I have watched living art. And sometimes it is, well…
…I’m not saying they aren’t working it, I’m just saying that is it confusing. Like, how the hell does she make those Hammer Pants look good? And so natural! She’s literally walking around wearing clothes found in the “Can’t Touch This” video circa 1990 and not even bothered…even a tiny bit? Hmmm. Perplexed. In the U.S. those pants are banned! Outlawed! We packed them all up and sent them back to the 90’s. But this woman, with her olive skin and sea salt wavy hair looks…amazing! I’ve incorporated a few pieces of Italian clothing here and there, but never have I even gotten close to those pants. Nope! I can’t fathom a good reason for me to even try unless that reason included wine at 3am and a lot of laughing. If I attempted to put those pants on and walk outside into the PUBLIC, I’d look like a flying squirrel at best. But, work those pants, gorl!
And Finalmente: Caffé
Good god, almighty! The amount of coffee consumed over there is probably illegal in most countries. And this isn’t Folger see through coffee. I’m talking about espresso. I believe I am offered coffee more than anything else and after every meal, between meals, at the beach, on a train…everywhere, all the time. And it’s great because they stay up so late that coffee isn’t for a quick perk in the morning, it’s a tool for sustainability.
This isn’t a problem for me, I love coffee and I probably drink more in Italy than I do in a year in the states. In fact, Rome smells like coffee. No, Im not kidding in fact. When you walk down the streets you will be hit by the smooth, smokey aroma of fresh coffee and hear the sounds of spoons stirring and cups clinking. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, not really sure how you will get a genuine Italian experience if you don’t stand at a bar and sip between the bustling crowds of Italians. You better start experimenting now or you will miss out!
That’s my short list of some of my favorite. There are plenty, but this will at least give you a taste and possibly to encourage to see it for yourself. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I love these people. They live boldly, loudly, and with fire each and every day. Ma, è vero!