My situation in Italy is a little unique. My husband is from a small (tiny) town between Rome and Naples but we live together in Florence. He’s lived outside of Italy in Spain where he made a lot of friends from the Brescia area who he is still very close with today. We have friends from the upper thigh of Italy all the way down to the toe and the heel of this country’s geographical boot. And, unfortunately, before I met my husband I dated someone from Brescia and I went on a few dates with a few Florentines as well because apparently I’m a giant whore. Some of our closest friends are in Florence, Rome, and of course Cassino and Naples. As an outsider I’m always observing people, watching their interactions, listening closely to their words. Following them home and then watching them eat dinner through their fourth story window. Just kidding. As a sociologist I’m constantly looking for what societal factors are influencing certain behaviors, what motivates people, what separates them, what makes them the same and what makes them different?
I’ve written about the difference between the North and the South before, or at least I’ve touched on it in lists and given it attention in a sentence or two. The reactions, often from Italian people, is either 1) there is no issue between the north and the south. That whole bigot thing is totally made up for no reason, or 2) You don’t know Italy because you’re husband is from the south. Or you don’t know Italy because you live in central Italy, or blah blah blah bullshit. Either way, from personal experience I’ve seen a lot of bias going back and fourth.
Northerners call the southerners lazy, and blame them for the economy while they chomp down on the delicious oranges that the farming south has provided. The Southerners discount the Northerners as “not being Italian and lacking culture.” When I first started dating my husband, a Brescia-born friend of mine said, “I don’t understand what you’re doing. The southern people are all wife beaters. He’ll move you to a family commune and force you into domestic slavery.” Ouch! A Florentine friend said, “Your new boyfriend is cute but I don’t like the eye shape of the southern people.” Another friend said, “Your boyfriend is actually very intelligent for a southern man.” And so it has gone for years. For those who claim a cultural bias doesn’t exist: You need to broaden your friend group. You might not see it if all of your friends are the same and from your own region, or if your friends are particularly open-minded, but in my almost 5 years in Italy I’ve seen it first hand, from every side, about a million times.
I could write a massive textbook about why every region of Italy is different but I don’t need to because amazing books about Italian culture have already been written. To summarize: Italy has been occupied by a lot of people. You name it, a different part of Italy was occupied by it. Lombards in the North, Byzantine in the central, Spanish and Greek and Byzantine in the south, Arab in Sicily, Romans all over, and then all of the slaves that Romans brought back to Rome sprinkled around the country. Basically, Italy is a giant crayon box that melted together into the modern Italian people. They all even speak different regional dialects to this day. Have two Italians from a different region speak dialect to each other: Nobody understands shit. However, on that same note, I’ve noticed that Italians also pride themselves on regional differences so much that sometimes people will act as though they’re trying to communicate with a martian. “I don’t understand his accent,” an Italian friend once said in Venice which was totally not fucking possible because I even understood what the dude was saying and my Italian isn’t amazing. Accent and dialect are two different things and if you can’t understand someone’s accent, you’re just being dramatic. If I can understand someone from Boston, you can understand someone from Sardinia if they’re speaking Italian.
Historical differences, i.e. who stole from who and who raped who, has obviously had an impact on cultural development throughout the country as well. Clearly, there are some cultural differences between the North, Central and the South. The differences are not even remotely as gigantic as Italians claim though. Everyone would LOVE to believe that they couldn’t possibly have anything in common with their brethren in the North, Central or South. Sorry, guys, you’re not that different. The differences between the North of Italy and the South of Italy are about the same as the US North-East and the US South. They are different, but it’s not like another planet (unless you’re talking backwoods, then that shit is scary and inbred). The North in Italy has similar biases to what the US North has against the US South, too (I’ll admit that when people say “deep south” in the US I think of sister marrying and sheep humping. I know, it’s so stupid and I’m an asshole.).
In Italy, Southerners are often seen as “less educated, closed-knit tribe of closed-minded religious folks.” Truly, the South had less money (no money) for education until recently so they’re still catching up (or trying to because apparently they cannot budget worth shit in the South). And farming communities tend to have that close-knit culture. They were farming people. Simple, family obsessed (like stalker obsessed) family people who care about good food, family, friends, and enjoy simple pleasures. Socio-economic status always plays into religiosity. Meaning that people with less tend to pray more. So yeah, the south is still a lot more religious than the North. Northerners are career-oriented capitalists. Now when I say North and South I’m saying Milan area versus like Campania or further south. Florence is central Italy and you’d be surprised how “in the middle” they really are. Florence is a communist city, it’s stuck somewhere between deep traditions, it’s old farming roots, and liberal. It’s a weird combination. Florence, in terms of culture, is more like Washington D.C., not really the deep-south, but totally not like the north-east, either. Meaning? The inhabitants are somewhere between progressive and worldly, liberal and open-minded, and hillbilly yee-haw southern. Again, socio-economic status plays in here and Florence has a strange gap between rich and poor, a strong hold on tradition, while it’s simultaneously flooded with outsiders (like me!), and was historically both yee-haw farmland and royalty much like Naples (not saying Florence is like Naples, just that it had both farming and royalty so a weird cultural mix happened). Confusing. As. Shit.
Also, it seems that what is “North” or “South” is subjective. Our friends in Brescia consider Florence to be “the south” and our friends in the south consider Florence to be “the north.” We need a map up in here.
So, now that we’ve laid all that ground work, let’s talk about my personal experiences because all of these statistics and academic essays already exist. Have I personally noticed any truth to the bias between the Italian North and South? Sort of.
See Part 2 of this post Here: 9 Differences I’ve Noticed Between The North And South Of Italy
And also? This is a COSI POST! Check out what the other COSI folks have to say! Want to contribute? Use the hashtag #COSItaly to join in on the conversation!
CHECK OUT MY PARTNERS IN CRIME:
Georgette at Girl In Florence: North Vs. The South A United Italy
Rick of Rick’s Rome: North Versus South Issues In Italy