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Finding Common Ground With Italian In-Laws

written by M.E. Evans June 22, 2014

This isn’t a real post. It’s more of a follow-up post to a series of posts that I wrote a long time ago. I felt that I  should  update everyone because I never did for some reason. I don’t want everyone to think I’m still in a war zone. It’s more like a zoo at this point. An angry zoo, not a petting zoo.

Most of you, my badass readers, know about my tumultuous relationship with my in-laws. I’ve written about it a fair amount. Clearly, I’m not bitter. I’ve mentioned it a few times in stories like, “In Italy Leaving The Table Is Like Announcing You’ve Eaten A Child,” and, “Things Have To Be Destroyed Before They Can Be Rebuilt,” and, due to the many comments I receive from you guys sharing similar stories (thank you) or giving me much needed advice (thank you, too), I’ve realized that I have never written a post about any kind of resolution. It sort of existed in a weird way.

So, after Things Have To Be Destroyed Before They Can Be Rebuilt, where: My father-in-law went all bat-shit crazy and said some meeeeaaan shit, my husband punched the kitchen wall, then told his parents to essentially kiss his ass, and we sped towards Florence while he vowed to never speak to them again (but I encouraged him to go back and repair things because I’m nice). Anyway, so, that fight surprisingly fixed a lot of our bullshit. Let me explain.

My in-laws are of the group of Italians who think that everything Italy related is the best in the entire world. Picture those super weird Americans that are all, “Now why the hell would ya wanna go to Europe? They aint got shit I care to see in Europe. Do they got WING SAUCE? No? Damn communists will take my guns away! You can take Europe I’ve heard their men wear pink!” So, imagine that, but now it’s in a tiny village in Italy and speaks Italian. Italian women are the best, Italian cooking is the best, Italian style is the best, Italian dogshit on the sidewalk is dee best a dog-sheet in all deh world, and everywhere else SUCKS! Part of that is true, Italy truly does come out on top for a lot of things (that’s why people like me move there). They have great style (many of the humans, not all of them), the food is great (though, truly, I’ve eaten some pretty terrible food via an Italian mother once or twice), etc. The problem is that extreme ethnocentrism like that is really difficult to deal with because anything or anyone different is wrong and strange and needs to be remedied immediately. However, you can’t remedy culture. In the US where we’re a big fat (literally, thanks to our poor food quality and coorporate involvement in agriculture) melting pot that kind of requires assimilation for the country to function, still can’t effectively make it’s inhabitants “American,” although, really, in the US for the most part (except for a rare group of scary hillbillies) we don’t really expect people to abandon all in order to live in our country. Partly because that’s the beauty of a melting pot, but also because it’s not possible. Hundreds of years in, Native Americans still struggle to accept European implimented ideas like “time.” It’s not because they lack intelligence, it’s because it’s not something that makes sense to them and they certainly can’t absorb that sort of cultural phenomina on demand. My point is this, sure, I can learn Italian, try to remember not to cut the bread upside down, and try to kiss everyone’s faces off at “hello” and “goodbye,” but my ways of showing emotions, of controlling my facial expressions, what I view as threatening versus what is acceptable, what I view as “helpful” or “intrusive,” and what I expect from people will never change. Truly, I’ve tried over the years to do it and it can’t be done (or I’m severely broken). I’ve also watched my father for forty years (an immigrant to the US from Iran) struggle with the same stuff. Growing up, there was always a disconnect between what my dad said, what he meant, and how it was received. “I said this!” and we all took it differently because my siblings and I process him through an American filter even though we know our father and that he “means well.” My husband in the US does the same. He’ll often say, “so and so is being really rude,” when in fact, they weren’t. Not in the US. So, when you have in-laws who think your native country is terrible and want you to abandon your culture to adopt their own and you mix that with the fact that it’s fucking impossible to do so, you have a recipe for disaster. Or, at least, a lot of frustration and unnecessary bullshit, some crying, and maybe a curse here and there. Now, before I continue, let’s also address the Italian perception of family.

In Italy right now (it wasn’t always this way) Italians are not viewed as adults, real adults, until they are forty-ish. This is even worse in the south where grown ass men with gray hair are still infantalized by their parents. For some reason, it’s way worse for the men than for the women. Women seem to be given a lot more responsibility at home and more is expected of them so they seem to be treated as “mature” a little faster, like, 35, instead of 45. This is important information for my story, I promise, while I do tend to just ramble like a drunk sailor, this really is going somewhere. So, despite the fact that my husband is 30 and I’m 33 (because I’m a cougar), his parents still feel as though they have not only the right, but the “duty” to educate us on all things in the world. Cleaning the house, disciplining our dog, how and when to drink coffee, choosing careers, interacting with strangers, cooking. You name it, they know how to do it “right” and they want to tell you about it, and then throw a huge tantrum if you refuse their advice. Yes, the Americans (Canadians and Aussie folks) out there right now are thinking, “no way in hell I would let my in-laws run my life, screw that.” I know, guys, because we are considered adults at 18 with all of the responsibility of an “adult.” So, yes, for me, too, it really is difficult and sometimes I want to drown myself in a bathtub full of vodka so I can die happy, clean, and dramatically. In the US while “kids” of twenty-two are running multi-national companies, “kids” of 22 in Italy are still being coddled by parents or treated like babies in the workplace (yes, I know, there are exceptions, but the exceptions don’t erase the rule or what is most common).


Naples is 30 Minutes From Cassino Where F is from.

F is trying to get fresh in public (perv). Naples is 30 Minutes From Cassino Where F is from.


So, add all that up: parents who still think you’re both babies in your thirties, plus the belief that Italy is perfect and anyone in Italy should abandon all things foreign or in my case American in order to be a more acceptable human being: You have the recipe for a lot of serious bullshit. It also explains why it was so important for my husband to freak the fuck out like he did.

(Sidenote: This is especially odd because I’m not at all a stereotypical American. Truly. I grew up in a very “my father is an overbearing, opinionated, psycho, immigrant” family. I’m culturally sensitive. And super family-oriented. I’m also a socialist (gaaaasp). So, it’s not like I showed up at their house dressed in a prairie gown with George Bush’s face on the front, a bonnet, and a rifle on my back, waving an American flag and a box of Macaroni and Cheese.)

Since F’s parents felt entitled to say and do whatever they wanted it was kind of necessary for F to totally flip his shit to change old habits. Like, how in the wild young animals will challenge the old ones to show they’ve matured. You know, like Rams. It was difficult for him to be a Ram, but necessary. It was the first time in his life that he’d ever fought with his father but some boundaries needed to be set and they needed to know who got the good cliff. Honestly, it didn’t have to be as extreme as bloodying his hand on the wall, but he’s Italian so when he gets upset he goes all drama queen on the world. The boundary setting though, that had to happen first. The second thing that had to happen is that F had to sit his parents down and tell them to their face, in a serious tone that “Not only can she NOT be Italian, because she isn’t Italian, I don’t even want her to be Italian. I want to marry her BECAUSE SHE’S DIFFERENT! So stop trying to change her. If she changed she wouldn’t be her anymore and I wouldn’t like her!” Somehow, the boundary setting or as I like to call, “the giant man tantrums of 2012” plus the, “I don’t want her to ‘act Italian'” thing were the game changers. Up until that point he had tried to convince me to act differently (like, show different facial expressions when I spoke so they might know I was actively listening..yeah, seriously) and he tried to appease his parents. For all of you Italian men out there who are going to bring your foreign wife/girlfriend back to Italy with you: You’re better off if you just lay down some boundaries really fast, act proud of her differences, and tell everyone why you like her in the first place. Tell your family that you want her because she’s different. I’m sure that’s pretty true. So, just put that on the table right away. As the partner, I couldn’t have ever won the battle on my own accord (plus I suck at things, remember the time I got my MIL’s hair stuck in the hairdryer incident?). It had to come from him. All of it had to come from F.

The moment that both F and his parents stopped screaming at me, “act Italian” I began acting like myself and surprisingly things got way better. Partly because I wasn’t creepy anymore. Before, when I was trying to be who they all kept telling me to be, I was just a confused, anxious, mess and I acted sooo weird. Like, I was a total jackass all the time, a perpetual deer in the headlights of life. As soon as nobody had any expectations for my way of being anymore, I was just me, we were just us (before that even me and F interacted differently around his parents based on how he assumed they wanted us to act) and the parents actually seemed to like the idea of our relationship more. They could see that we were happy together. They could see that I was happy. Honestly, in the end all parents really want is for their kids to be happy. Unfortunately, sometimes parents get so caught up in a specific recipe that they believe will create happiness that they muddle it up. Sure, it took them a while to accept that F was required to help with housecleaning, that I didn’t need their help ironing my thongs, or that I could actually understand politics despite my vagina (old, southern men, sooo sexist). However, my in-laws back me up now when I’m annoyed with F. It’s kind of awesome. I tell on him all the time and his mom runs into the room and smacks the shit out of him. Best. Thing. Ever. My FIL will tell me if I have panty lines or not (after they have a family meeting where they tell me that I need to wear a different color of undies), which is fine because at least he’s looking out for me, and they allow us to make our own decisions without a huge fight. Yes, they still feel entitled to their opinions about mother fucking everything from my makeup, and clothes, or how I should display my small breasts (surprisingly Italian moms in the south are pro-cleavage), to how often F and I should have sex in order to make a baby by a certain time (when they deem fit). The difference is that now if F and I disagree with them or if I tell them “no,” they (begrudgingly) back away and respect our wishes.

I’ve learned that just owning my uniqueness and being myself was all that I ever needed in the first place. All of the pressure from everyone and attempts to fake it just made things awkward for everyone involved. Also, standing up for yourself and being open and honest will get you further than trying to impress people. Plus,  it just feels amazing. You never know what other people need from you and oftentimes they don’t know either. Just be happy and they’ll come on board eventually.

If not, I’ve heard you can hire a hitman for fairly cheap.


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