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Italian Families: When Everyone Talks About Your Vagina

written by M.E. Evans February 26, 2014

Something I admire about Italian culture is the sense of community within the family. In my husband’s part of Italy, Cassino, when someone passes away like a grandparent, the house is often sold and the money is generally set aside for the grandkids to buy a house in the future or the home is given to someone in the family who needs it. Money stays circulated within the family which is why even the working class can somehow manage to buy their children cars, expensive weddings, and help to purchase an apartment later down the road. It’s odd to see impoverished twenty-somethings whose parents are driving new cars and vacationing in Spain. Wealth is shared even among families with very little.

The downside to this is there can be a sense of entitlement within the family. Often, the controlling, attached, secretive, elements that can be downright terrifying, stem from the fact that family is an extension of oneself. It’s not separate. Kids are not simply cut loose with a “I hope I’ve taught them well,” mentality. I like this. There is an element of individualism and selfishness that I believe is toxic for Americans. We are famous world-wide for the stereotype of being “detached, terrible, selfish,” parents. If you can’t run to family, who can you run to? At the same time, if family is all up in your business all the time, how can you become autonomous and self sustaining? I was blessed with a nice mix. My mom is a classic middle-class American, “after 18 you’re not my problem,” but my father is Iranian and more like, “everything you do is my business, listen to my advice or I’ll murder you and I’ll believe that it’s legal because I’m unaware of the modern world.” I’m not really a good example of good parenting because I write a blog with titles that say, “vagina” in them but I never felt alone or suffocated. I’m definitely nuts but not alone or suffocated.

Families in Italy can sometimes be so close that it seems like parents are actually in love with their kids. Like, Bates Motel, stalk them like an ex-girlfriend, stare into their eyes during dinner, in love. When I married into an Italian family I knew what I was getting into but it didn’t make long conversations about my underwear choices, or having the entire family huddle around my pap-smear results, any less weird and uncomfortable. I’m not shy but having my father-in-law waive information about my cervix around the kitchen is a bit much.

Yes, it’s invasive, uncomfortable, and downright rude as fuck most of the time but there is also something about it that seems to work in many ways (when the balance is right, obviously). There are fewer homeless people in Italy than in the US and few starving people.  Humans are pack animals. We require groups to survive, to thrive, to avoid writing suicide letters on our blogs. The US is productive but it’s often too individualistic. “Sink or swim,” is a pretty common motto even when discussing children. I’m not a big fan of coddling but I think a group mentality, to care about others equally to ourselves, a “if everyone is doing good only then are we doing good” mentality could be good for us. I’ve seen it work wonders in the US on a small scale in a few different forms and it’s awesome. We should all feel more responsible for each other more often.

My friends are magical. Some of them make me homicidal now and again but for the most part, most of them are the easiest people in the world. And more than easy, they are caring, open-minded, and just overall fucking awesome. When I first started my design business I was lucky enough to have friends willing to invest in the form of loans (I have not forgotten!) or fund our Kickstarter account (which is the same idea of community helping on a larger, more organized, level). We were able to manufacture and print our first shirts because our loved ones were backing us up. For a start-up we are not doing too bad. Last year one of my friends was struggling financially right before Christmas, so we made it a community thing, and I asked a bunch of my random friends (some knew the friend in question, some did not) if they’d be into making a little “donation” to help out. They did and it helped. One person can’t do one-hundred-bucks but surely ten can do ten-bucks. This year one of my best friends has a father who is dying. In an effort to help him check things off of his bucket-list he raised a bucket-list fund where his friends could help out. We did and it’s going to make it so our friends dad can experience things he’s always wanted to do before he passes. Cool right?

Wouldn’t it be nice to see some of this community in more families, too? I don’t know about anyone else but I have family members who vacation in other countries every year while their brother or sister or kid is one paycheck away from homelessness. We don’t have to sit around examining each other’s genitalia or advising each other when to have sex or procreate (this is a thing right now, yes, seriously), but we could see family as a group effort and less of a, “too bad your genes are stupid and now you’ll fail at life,” mentality. I kind of feel like we should be a little more “burdened” with those we love. Sure, not sucked dry or abused, but a little more available and willing to give up small pieces of ourselves for the good of the others. Except for writing time. That’s mine and I’ll choke them.

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Mila February 26, 2014 at 11:33 am

I’m Brazilian, but I’m japanese descendant. Despite all the stereotypes about japanese families (parents are cold, they don’t talk much to their kids and they don’t know much about their kids’ life), my family acts like an italian family. We also care about each other too much, everybody knows everything but without being invasive. Surely we have family issues, but no matter what, we’re a family. When I have any problem, I run to my family as many times as I need.

Pippa Pirrip February 26, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I think a community or family experience would be the biggest possible change to my life! It sounds something between amazing & terrifying to someone so completely foreign to the concept!

beatrizrenee February 26, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Great post! I grew up in the USA but both my parents are South American. Their culture is really similar to the Italian culture and they never really understood the whole concept of kids moving out of the house to go to college for example, or grown kids who go bankrupt even if their parents have money. I definitely did, and still do, feel like they can be overbearing and overwhelming but I agree, it’s the right idea to “burden” yourself with your loved ones to a certain extent.

Susan Ferraro Marcell February 28, 2014 at 4:17 am

I think this was just a bit over the top. I know, I know…this is what your blogs are like and I choose to read them. Just not typical of what I see around me or who I am, considering my grown children live with me and I can’t seem to get them out of the house! Most of us joke about having created an attitude of entitlement with the younger generation because we do far too much for them. And yes, we really do care for those around us and will do anything for them. Maybe attitudes have shifted back to realizing what really matters in life? Please make your next post more humorous!! That’s what keeps me coming back for more!

M.E. Evans March 3, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Thanks for the feedback babe. My blog is mostly a human blog (so don’t worry, there will be plenty of ridiculous posts to come in the near future). I have a tendency to obsessively watch and compare cultures due to my education in sociology. Once I started I just couldn’t stop and it occasionally ends up here. There are always exceptions to every rule but I do feel that there are things that are much more common than not. If I were to get really deep into it (which I never do because it would be BORING) there are plenty of sociological reasons why Americans are more individualistic and Italians are more family-oriented (which you probably already know to some degree), and a lot of factors like socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, etc. Most Americans are on the poor side and they tend to be less family oriented than more well off families. I find it very interesting. And I’m digressing! What I meant to say was, yes, sometimes I go crazy with my observations, but I do try to pull it in for the most part. I can be very obnoxious. 😉 Thanks for your feedback babe! Keep it comin’ (I welcome it unless the person is just trying to be a jackass).

Tiffany Parks March 28, 2016 at 12:29 am

I disagree! I, for one, would be very interested in reading more in-depth thoughts about the cultural differences of Americans and Italians from a sociological stand point! I don’t think it would be boring at all!


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