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Northern Italians Versus Southern Italians: Are They Really That Different?

written by M.E. Evans July 30, 2014

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 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 scaling their apartment building so I can watch them eat dinner through their fourth story window. Just kidding

Here’s what I’ve heard. Northerners calling the southerners lazy and blaming them for the economic problems in Italy.  Southerners rolling their eyes and calling Northerners “German,” and saying that Northerners lack 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 misogynists and wife beaters. He’ll move you to a family commune and force you into domestic slavery.” Ouch! A Florentine professor said, “Your new boyfriend is going to destroy your Italian.” Another friend said, “Your boyfriend is actually very intelligent for a southern man.”

In Italy, the negative stereotype about the south is that southerners are an uneducated, close-minded, religious folk. 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 I’ve heard).  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 more religious than the North.

Northerners have the reputation of being career-oriented capitalists who lack warmth, culture, good food, and souls, like Italy’s version of New York.

Now when I say North and South I’m saying Milan area versus like Campania or further south. Florence is in 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 modern. It’s a weird combination.  Florence has a large gap between the wealthy and the middle class, 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.

Dozens of textbooks have been written about regional differences in Italy and it’s totally worth your time to read one if you’re heading to Italy anytime soon. It will make your life so much easier in the boot to do your research. 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. If you speak Italian, here’s a really interesting Ted Talk on the Italian language.

Clearly, there are a lot of cultural differences between the North, Central, and the South. A LOT. But, the differences are not so huge that Italians from different regions lack anything in common. At the end of the day, people are people, right? Because I’m an outsider, sometimes I think it’s easier for me to see the similarities than it is for native Italians. Probably in the same way that a foreigner would see all of the similarities between a Californian and someone from Texas where we’d mostly notice the differences.

I’ve noticed that some Italians also pride themselves on regional differences so much that they’ll act as though they’re trying to communicate with a Martian when speaking with someone from a different region. “I don’t understand his accent,” an Italian friend once said in Venice which was totally not fucking possible because the guy was speaking Italian and even I understood what he said and my Italian sucked at the time. If you can’t understand someone’s accent, you’re just being dramatic. If they’re speaking a dialect that’s another story.

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 let’s talk about my personal experiences. 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!


Georgette at Girl In Florence: North Vs. The South A United Italy

Rick of Rick’s Rome: North Versus South Issues In Italy

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