Home stories 9 Differences Between The North, Central, And South Of Italy

9 Differences Between The North, Central, And South Of Italy

written by M.E. Evans July 30, 2014

This list is the second part of another post. I’d recommend reading that one first: Northern Italians Versus Southern Italians: Are They Really That Different?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of differences and a lot of this is from my perspective as a foreign human. If you agree, disagree, or if I’ve forgotten something add it in the comments below! I’d love to hear your personal experiences as an Italian or an expat.

1. Religion. Most of the people we know in the south are religious as fuck. My mother-in-law is a bible teacher, one of our friends had an exorcism (not joking), and a lot of the people we know from the south wear a cross around their necks, do the church thing, and get really emotional when they see the Madonna (not that Madonna, guys). However, some of our friends in the south are also atheists. Our priest in the south scared the shit out of our dog with his intense energy, and refused to marry us unless I lied on a form and said I wanted babies (if you think I’m lying, ask my husband, he was sitting next to me). Also, once in Sicily they refused to give us the Morning After Pill because we were “old enough to have children.” Yep. In Florence it’s easy as shit to get the Morning After Pill. Our priest for our marriage classes (we married in Cassino but did our classes in Florence) was super progressive as far as priests go. He glared and shook his head at the super religious Florentines in our class. He told them that Francesco was exactly what Jesus would want (now THAT is scary) and that our relationship was what God intended for a good marriage (Yep, not even joking. ME and FRANCESCO). He was very open-minded and totally fine with the fact that I’m agnostic. However, there are still a lot of reaaally religious Florentines. Some of them were in our marriage class and they were very interesting, others were my former professors or friends. A lot of the Florentines I know are serious about Catholicism and they will cut a bitch. CUT. A. Bitch. Everyone that I know in the North from the Milan/Brescia area says they’re “not Catholic” but they were all baptized and some of them wear crosses. So I don’t know. Statistically, pretty much F-ing everyone in Italy is Catholic with a TEENY TINY percent of Jews, muslims and Christians and like 5 buddhists that the population ceremoniously sacrifices on good friday or something. I may or may not have made that up.

2. Racism. I’ve witnessed a ridiculous amount of racism in both Florence and in the South that just makes me want to stab the shit out of someone (a young fascist kid once tried to spit on me when he realized I was foreign and I would have beat him to death except I was holding two vodka’s and I couldn’t figure out what to do with them…i’m not going to waste vodka.). However, I’ve also witnessed a lot of kindness in Florence and in the South regarding immigrants. We have a very good friend who works with immigrants to help them in Cassino, and in our area of Campo in Florence, all of the shops and business people are really friendly with me and the other immigrants who sold things on the streets. They helped them, were kind, and treated them like everyone else. Then we have the Northern League in the North who are some racist, awful, disgusting, mother-fuckers who have attacked Italy’s first black government minister by saying “she should be raped,” and calling her “an orangutan,” and have even thrown bananas at her. However, as The Guardian pointed out, “The Northern League is, admittedly, a minority party, usually gaining only between five and 10% of the national vote. And other political parties have expressed solidarity with Kyenge. But anyone who has listened to Italian political debate, or worse, stood in an Italian football stadium, knows that Italy simply isn’t as tolerant of a place as it should be fore being 2015. This is a country where a recent prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, thought it hilarious to joke that Obama had a decent suntan. The racism isn’t restricted to right or left, old or young, rural or urban: it is noticeable everywhere.” Italy is obviously not the most racist country in the world since there seems to be a lot of racism everywhere but that doesn’t matter. Who cares if other people are also racist? How about we go ahead and say that any racism is a lot of racism and fuck that. (http://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2013/jul/30/italy-racism-cecile-kyenge-esterofilia3). 

Education. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life are from the South. The South, historically, had the education fund of an inner city school in Detroit, so anyone who has rose from that has kicked as in the face of some serious adversity. However, economically now the south is given the same amount of money as the north but bad budgeting seems to be ruining it for everyone. Regardless, some of America’s Ivy League professors came from Italy’s South, famous restauranteurs, and business owners from small to huge conglomerates.  Northern Italy has produced just as many brilliant minds, and the northerners do well in every industry in every country because the north is more developed and fast-paced than the south. Let’s not forget about the “central” people of Florence, Rome, and the many other cities in between. There is more opportunity in the north and the northerners kick ass and take names. Italians, when they have the opportunity, are brilliant people. Unfortunately the economy and in some ways the culture in southern Italy has prevented a lot of people from living up to their potential. Like every country, there are brilliant people and then some people who it’s shocking that they haven’t accidentally died somehow. 

4. Mammoni. I’ve read about weird mammoni issues in both the North, Central, and the South. I think that “over mothering” happens in every region in Italy. Sorry y’all. Nobody wins here. Especially not the dude that some mom is trying to re-womb. RUN! RUUUUNNN!!!

5. Women’s Issues. Okay, this one is complex. The number of women killed by partners, husbands, etc., is highest in central/northern Italy. Yes, that’s right, I was surprised, too. One time in Florence I saw a Florentine couple arguing (they were speaking Florentine) and the man slapped the woman across the face in public, in daylight, and all of the people standing next to them (including police) just minded their own business. Nobody said anything. That was insane. But that was a one time thing and I’ve never seen it since then.

I’ve seen a certain type of sexism in the South that I don’t see as much in Florence and have never witnessed in friend groups in the North. In the South the sexism if very open, and sometimes it’s like walking into a Lucille Ball clip. There’s this unspoken (and sometimes spoken) gist of, “Hush, ladies, the men are speaking,” or, “You have a vagina so I’ll sit here and wait until you get me a drink of water,” or, “all of us with penises will sit here looking confused while the women do everything for us.” You don’t see the exact same institutionalized sexism as blatantly in Florence among our generation like ever (I can’t speak for older people). And the North is much closer to the US in terms of sexism which is still a huge problem but it’s in less of a 1950’s kind of way. Now, this doesn’t mean that ALL southern men my age are like that. Most of our friends are very progressive, very open-minded, and my husband isn’t like that at all. He’s a feminist (GASP!?) and he certainly doesn’t love the common southern dynamic rampant among some groups.

6. Food. The food quality in the south is epic. The produce is literally farm to table. So good. However, regional cuisine is delicious everywhere, and let’s be honest, Italy is a tiny country, it doesn’t take long from fresh produce to travel from the south to the north.

7. Polite behavior and general way of being. This is the largest difference between the North of Italy and the South from what I can tell and in a lot of ways it’s very similar to the differences between, say, New York and backwoods Mississippi. What is considered okay versus what is impolite seems to be really different. In the South it’s totally fine to scream at your friend from one balcony to the next whereas in Florence that would be kind of weird. There are more rules for the South in terms of conversation and how or when to talk with people. The general rule being: Even if your wife is in labor, stop in the middle of the street for twenty minutes and talk with your father’s friend because otherwise you’d be “rude.” Whereas in the North it would be  rude to actually inconvenience other people when you can clearly see they’re busy but it seems like the norm in the South to totally inconvenience the shit out of everyone. Clearly, I relate more to the North because I’m a city person and stop talking to me when I’m doing shit. Damnit!  When I’m anywhere South of Rome I don’t know how people expect me to act and I don’t really understand any of it because I didn’t get the secret memo about “ways of being from here down.” I still haven’t figured out what exactly is expected of me. I do know that me speaking frankly is really not cool to most people, sarcasm doesn’t work, and I’m supposed to really like “girl things” and I get pushed into “conversing with the women” as the two groups often split up. I don’t get southern culture at all. I mean I get it but it’s totally not my thing. I like central Italy which is a nice mix of the North and South. Really, what I’m describing in a lot of ways between the North and South of Italy is very, very similar to small-town southern USA, and New York, which is very much similar to the differences between Milan and like Puglia.

Something I have noticed that is a large difference is that they seem a lot more hospitable in the South of Italy, just like they are more hospitable in the South of the US. This isn’t to say that people aren’t hospitable in the North, but Southerners seem to take it to a new level. If they make lunch or dinner it’s going to last for 5 hours and they’ll give you all of the food they’ve ever grown in their life in that one meal. They’ll also practically hand you the clothing off of their back if you say you like it. Careful on your compliments, people have tried to give me all of their things before. Kind of cute. A lot of people say that southerners are more “warm,” or “welcoming” but I don’t know if I’d say that. I haven’t noticed a huge difference honestly. I don’t think that warm and hospitable are the same thing. When I think “warm” I think open and easy but I don’t feel like “open” describes most people in Italy. They’re a very private people in a lot of ways and getting to know even the basics of someone can take decades.

8. Public displays of Jealousy. I’ve seen this in every region to varying degrees of crazy from Northern Italy all the way down to the very south. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t it be easier to go up to your partner and say, “Hey, what you’re doing it making me have icky feelings of insecurity and jealousy. Please stop that.” Isn’t that easier than puffing up like a rooster and stomping around like a lunatic? You’re not a monkey (are you?). You don’t need to throw doody to prove your love. Doody love. Ha. Although, I will say that people are less tolerant of jealous outbursts in the North and Florence than they are in the South. Friends will roll their eyes and be like, “what the shit, dude?” in the North and Florence but in the South they’re like, “Oh dude, of course you just ripped off your shirt and beat your chest right now and peed on your girlfriend because that’s what you do.”

9. Fashion. People are going to be really pissed right now but in my opinion, Milan, and Florence are the better dressed cities. This is not to say that EVERYONE dresses well in Milan or Florence or that in Rome and Naples everyone is dressed bad. No. That’s not what I mean. There are always exceptions. But, from what I have seen, Rome is very casual and the Naples, Cassino, south of Cassino area is waaaay too flamboyant for me. I prefer men in fitted clothing, I like well-dressed men, but WOW. Walking around Cassino half of the time is like a gay pride parade on meth. Sparkles, rhinestones, fake crystals, bright colors on the women, and then gallons of hair gel, shiny suits, and parrot outfits for the dudes. Who has time for that!? And also, my eyes, you make the burn.

Let me know if you agree or disagree below! What did I miss? What would you add? What’s your experience?

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