Surviving Christmas With Italian In-Laws

I want to start out by wishing all of you a happy holiday! Thank you so much for all the support, for keeping me sane, and for contributing to my life by sharing your stories with me. I wish you all the best this month, and for all the months! You’re all such epic badasses! Please excuse my posts this week. I’ve had to write them on my phone.

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Awe, Christmas! That warm, happy, stressful time of year where you desperately want to feel warm and tingly but instead just on the brink of a heart attack. Buying gifts, coordinating family, dealing with in-laws!

And this brings us back to my three weeks of in-law mania. Today was more mild than the other days because it’s Christmas. People usually try to be a little bit nicer on Christmas. This isn’t to say that my in-laws are demons, they are just difficult, and often don’t realize that a whole world exists outside of themselves. This, obviously, is frustrating as hell. This holiday season we’re staying at my dad’s house (hail Persia!). My cousins from England flew in, I have three siblings living at home, plus my in-laws, Francesco, Oliver, my parent’s dog and myself. It’s a full house.

We woke up this morning to a foot of snow. The Christmas scenery was perfect. We drank coffee, then all 14 of us sat around the tree to open gifts. My dad gifted me a beautiful Persian recipe book with an inscription in Farsi. He couldn’t remember what he wrote, “something like, I hope you enjoy this season I love you.” My father isn’t much for gift-giving or sentiment, opting to leave these things to my step-mum so my sister and I were both very touched (he sent one to her as well). I did not get a capybara. Dwayne is obviously upset.

After gifts, my step-mum made breakfast, while my MIL observed, “pastries for breakfast are more healthy than eggs, I think.”

Around ten my MIL took over the kitchen to prepare dough for dinner. She wanted to make lasagna and tagliatelle for dinner. She makes everything from scratch, completely handmade, simple, and delicious. My MIL is hands down one of the best cooks I know. The ragu takes hours to simmer so we started that first.

“Misty, translate for me, please,” she waved me into the kitchen.

“What do you need?” My step-mom asked me to ask my MIL.

My MIL turned to me, “well, I need onions, carrots, tomatoes….and hlkutj.”

I asked her to repeat the last part because I couldn’t quit make it out.

She exhaled, gestured to my step-mum, “My God, even she speaks Italian better than you!” She doesn’t speak any Italian. That was my last draw with obnoxious comments on how much I suck at talking so I told her that if I sucked so bad she could fair just fine without me (with a big fat smile pasted to my exhausted face). I left to shower. Rule of thumb: Don’t be a jerk to your translator.

Last night while cooking dinner my step-mum tried to pay me a compliment, “We’re so proud of you! You speak Italian so well! Doesn’t she speak Italian well?” She asked my MIL. I, of course, had to translate this knowing full well that what was going to come. My MIL  glared at me, stirred the dough frying in the Olive oil in front of her, “No. She doesn’t speak well. She understand fine, I guess, but she should speak a lot better than she does.” She went back to her fried pizza.

My step-mum shot me a look that was a mix between confusion and disappointment, “oh…” she said.

I headed for the office with my glass of wine, wondering if I can really go fifty years like this. Marrying my husband always seems like the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, until we spend any significant time around his parents. It’s only then that I start wondering if just maybe we jumped into things. I feel like that’s how a lot of people feel during the holidays though.

While rolling out the pasta dough, the machine thingy broke. It was a gift from me and F to my parents last year. It breaking was a sign that we were epic failures and total assholes. My MIL totally lost her shit at F in the kitchen, while throwing a very visible fit, because “How dare you have bought a pasta roller thingy that broke?” We pretty much ruined Christmas with our bad purchasing choices. The fit was entertaining to all who are not used to it.

I went sledding with my brother, sister, father, and cousins. We flew down the hill near my baby sister’s school, three to a sled, giggling all the way. We crashed at the bottom. It was awesome. We came home covered in snow, freezing our asses off.

When I entered the kitchen my FIL gestured to the pasta dough drying in front of him, “Instead of going around doing things, why don’t you get in here and learn how to cook.” I shrugged, “I have no interest in learning how to make that.” Which is partially true but only because they think I “must” learn how to do it. I’m an obsessive learner; I love learning. I want to know everything that there is to know. I believe that knowledge is everything, it’s all we have, it’s all we can give to others that matters. However, there is something in my biology that rejects anything that is stuffed down my throat. My gag reflex is strong. Maybe it’s normal, maybe it’s not, but if someone tells me I “must learn Italian because you’re not allowed to speak English around me,” I’ll never fucking speak Italian around you ever again. Tell me I need to cook, and fuck you, it’s Spaghetti O’s from now on bitches and I won’t even microwave that shit first. It’s immature, I know. I’ve tried not to be that way with internal dialogues about how it doesn’t fix anything or solve any problems or prove anything. Doesn’t work. My brain is against me on this one.

My FIL keeps referring to everything as “goooood shits,” because my step-dad taught him that. He likes to use it to refer to people, too. “Bob is goooood shits!”

We ate dinner around 8:00. The salad, pasta, upside-down-pineapple cake, were amazing, as always. We applauded my MIL who spent all day on Christmas to prepare this meal. Six hours. I asked her if she was tired, “Have you seen the amount of work I do at home in Italy?” She had a point. I’ve never witnessed so much exhausting work in my life. I have no doubt that it slightly contributes to the crazy. “Can I clean the oven?” she asked, after. “What the hell? NO! Get out of the damn kitchen!” I said. She laughed, hugged me, then walked off. I drank twenty glasses of Prosecco. My family teased my FIL about how he needed to move to the US to learn how to assist in cleaning since in Italy he doesn’t help around the house at all. We laughed.

I’m in my little sister’s room right now. Listening to my massive family laugh downstairs. People are screaming in Persian, Italian, and two different dialects of English.

 

If This Was In Naples It Would Be Full Of Shit

“I have to put this on Facebook! The Grand Canyon is amazing!” My FIL is obsessed with FB. He’s been carefully planning every post to “make my friends jealous.” Naturally. He tries the posts out on us, asking our opinion on the impact of his words. “Good morning friends! Good morning from Utah!”

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon with F and Oli

He is really enjoying the US. He’s impressed that people don’t litter. And efficiency! Man! “Things here are fast!” Standing in front of a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon with his 2005 digital camera stretched in front of him, “If this was in Naples it would be covered in shit. Our people are practically monkeys.”

My MIL rapidly came to Italy’s aid, “that’s not true! Italy is the best country on earth!” My FIL scoffed, “Really? Then why so much corruption? Why the economy? Why is the money gone?” He waved his hand dramatically,” Why is our country covered in garbage? We are monkeys! WE ARE MONKEYS! ”

This argument continued for twenty, thirty minutes. It ended with her pouting, and him brooding. They settled, sort of, on the idea that Italy is beautiful and the food is good. But that’s where the “positives ” end, according to my FIL on that particular day. He changed his mind at least 72 times throughout the week.

I have a deep appreciation for culture. I’m proud that I hail from an ancient blood, a line of warriors, scholars, longtime rulers of an old world. Pride is great. But nationalism and self-proclaimed superiority is terrible. I struggle with it when it’s Iran, or Italy or the US. I hate the line, “God bless America,” which brings an image to mind of an overweight Jesus on a cloud wearing a trucker hat with “USA,”burned into the outsourced cotton and he’s giving the finger to the rest of the world, especially the middle east, because seriously, fuck them, as far as American Jesus is concerned.

My FIL mentioned that he loves how people dress casually most of the time in AZ and Utah. “It’s so much more comfortable! You can feel good!” He gestures to his outfit, explaining that the constant need to impress or be judged is hard on people in Italy. “I’ve never liked that much.” I watch him talk in my rear-view mirror and, honestly, I’m not even sure I know who this man is. In Italy, he’s obsessed with appearances. He’s always yelling at me because Francesco’s shoes are dirty (it’s somehow my problem?), and because my outfits are not colorful enough (because my job is to dress like a peacock and then strut through Cassino earning his family stars for my steller outfit?). Looking good is more important to him than enjoying life, often citing, “what would people think?” as a reason for having the least amount of fun possible. Making an impression is everything to him. I had no idea that deep down the pressure to be accepted by the community weighed so heavily. The thought that he’s molded his life around impressing other people makes me sad. It’s sad.

Fitting in and doing exactly as everyone else does comes from tiny community mentality. The idea that you only had your community and without them you could potentially die. Back in the day it was the same way in the US. If you were outcasted, who would you trade with for food in the event of a crisis? Who would help you deliver your babies? Who would give you water in time of drought. Fitting in could literally be your lifeline in a small town. Also, fitting in was a huge part of fascism in Italy and the older generation still has the fascist culture that presses for people to conform above all else.

My FIL is an old school, southern man. As much as I love learning about traditions and watching them, I’m not always all about living them. I’d like to think of myself as progressive, and  racism, sexism, bullying, or fear tactics give me icky feelings. My MIL once said of her husband, “my husband must control everything, and he believes that he is the center of the world that revolves around him. My mother didn’t believe that men should be the boss. That is why my mom hated him and he hated her.” According to my FIL, men rule, and they should rule with authority and fear. Men don’t do things like the dishes. Real men sit at the table wearing a bib, getting crumbs all over the floor, banging silverware on the table while waiting for their food. “Real men” sound a lot like toddlers.

I was the most nervous for him to be in the US. Him and his rigid, Bella figura or death mentality are so exhausting in Italy and the source of so many arguments. “In Italy, you will learn to be Italian. You can’t be like you are in my house.” BUT he fucking LOVES the US like nobodies business. He’s having a blast! He loves that things are “clean, orderly,” that people are, “polite,” and that they “do what they should do.” He likes that there is rosemary randomly grown in places that he keeps foraging. He’s come home with bushels of it in AZ, and even Las Vegas.

 

My MIL in-law likes a few things but overall she hates the US which isn’t that surprising. In Italy my MIL has a bad case of classic superiority complex. “It’s just not possible for a her to be a good mother or wife…she isn’t Italian,” she once said about me. While in the US she’s spent most of her days noting how Italy is decidedly best. “Italian food, is best. Italian style is best. Italian children are better. Italian parents are better. Italian manners are better,” were among some of her larger statements.

Don’t get me wrong, Italy is awesome, but as a friend said, “it’s okay to be proud of your heritage, but feeling superior because you’re good at making spaghetti? Seems like a bit of a stretch…”

On a list of things she’s actually liked: She likes eyebrow threading. “That  dark brown woman! Where did she come from? That brown woman is good at this! With one thread! Nobody back home will believe it!” She made me search for threading on YouTube where she watched the videos over and over again, writing the URL down in a notepad to show her friends back in her village.

She really loved the Swiffer, and our little Bissell vacuum which she bought and crammed into her suitcase to take back to Italy, “The technology is amazing here.”

One morning I caught her with her entire head in the clothes dryer. “It just dries your clothes! Right in your house!” She’s obsessed with affordable controlled air, noting that in Italy her cold apartment is giving her neck problems.

In Sephora the worker put makeup on her and took the time to show her around the store. My MIL was so excited about this that she hugged the woman afterwards. “I think that my granddaughter should come here at eighteen to become a beautician.” I took her to one of those nail salons, the ones with an exclusive vietnamese staff and the suspicious nail pimp who trolls the technicians. The nail technician looked at my MIL’s nails, “who did her nails? This is the worst nail job I’ve ever seen in my life. Tell her not to go there anymore,” she filed her fingernail violently.I agree with this. Nobody are as good as these places called, “Starz Nails,” or “Diamond Nails.”

“The Chinese are so good at this!” She exclaimed as we left with her new shiny red toes. “Vietnamese,” I corrected her. She stared at me for a long time trying to figure out what the difference was.

 

Day 2: When Good Intentions Fail Miserably

I wrote this on my phone. I apologize for errors or crazy formatting.

As you all know, my in-laws are in town for three weeks. It’s been interesting. If you haven’t had a chance to catch up you can see the two previous blog posts here:
5 Hours To Go
I’ll Be Sainted, Right?

The thing with my in-laws is that they’re not necessarily evil it’s just that they’re products of their environment, and their environment is that of tradition, ethnocentrism, tough childhoods, and perpetual nervousness. Their closed surroundings have produced bubble people who have been raised on their own planet: Cassino.

Pretty much all of their insanity stems from the fact that they honestly don’t know any better.

“People shouldn’t treat their dogs so well, dogs should be left outside to fend for themselves.”

“If one doesn’t buy an apartment before marriage, their children will be homeless and die.”

“Pizza and pasta are healthy.”

“Men are the boss of women.”

These are only a few “factual,” statements that I struggle with, given that they are total bullshit. But it gives you an idea of what we are dealing with here. It’s their way or the highway, everything they think is right, so the opposite is decidedly wrong. This has always been our struggle. They cannot understand diversity. It’s either scary and they’re pretty sure it’s life threatening or it’s fascinating, like they are observing creatures in a zoo.

Which brings us to the most embarrassing five minutes of my life. Yesterday Francesco had a work party at his boss’ house. Preparing for the party was bad enough. I had to take them to 3,000 stores to find the perfect bottle to hold Grappa, a gift for my husband’s boss. I had to take my MiL to get her hair done, and I had to buy Pannetone from Trader Joes. Every purchase, as usual, has been an argument along with three subsequent hours of bitching. So, I’ve just decided to pay for everything and hide the receipts (they ask for them and search for them for hours). I’m not rich, by any means, but I hate talking about money, especially for ten min in front of a confused cashier. Its so tacky.

I drove my in-laws the 1 hour drive to Francesco’s bosses home, located in the middle of the dessert, in coyote country (most of you know that we are temporarily in the US while I finish my books). The drive was scenic, accompanied by a cacophony of, “oh God! Watch out! Slow down! Mother Mary! Ew, I don’t like the way this looks. I prefer the sea. This is dry. Oh God! Watch out!” From my MIL and, “stop talking woman! Shut up!” From my FIL.

We met my husband at their home.
I was hellbent on getting wasted so I was off in the corner chugging Layer Cake with some of my husband’s younger colleagues. Yes, I’m the immature thirty-year-old that’s sitting with all the 22 year olds having the best time ever. We were right in the middle of a conversation about how Italy is amazing and irritating. My example, ironically, was that it lacked diversity. Almost as if on cue, my MIL walks over to pet the young girl who is directly across from me.
“You’re pretty,” she says in Italian, “misty, translate for me.”
Then she faces the girl, bends down, pulls her eyes taught, and says, “where are you from?!” To Francesco’s colleague who is Korean-American.
I coughed. Then stared at the table.
The girl smiled, “uhm, I’m American?” She took a long pull from her glass of beer.
“But how are you American,” my MIL pressed. She pulled her eyes taught again, “if your eyes are like this?”
The girl looked at me, since I was doing the translating “I was born in Korea but raised in the US.”
My MIL patted the girl’s head, “My niece has eyes kind of like yours,” she pulled her eyes back again.
“As I was saying, there is no diversity…” I surveyed the table of shell-shocked faces. I finished my entire glass of wine in one acidic gulp.

My FIL took photos of cactuses. My husband was in another room messing with the 80k amp he’d just designed.
My MIL sashayed through the kitchen where F’s boss rolled out pizza dough to cook in his industrial oven.
“In my opinion, the world adores pizza,” she said with her head held high, happy to bestow her gift of cuisine, as if she had personally brought flat dough to the United States.

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Day 1. I’ll Be Sainted, Right?

My in-laws arrived last night around 9:30 p.m. They were more awake than I thought they would be after such a long flight. “Look at that!” They pointed at various things in the Phoenix landscape. “Wow! A Cactus!” my MIL pressed her face against the window.

Back at our house it was all smiles. They went into their room to unpack their bags, unloading about sixty pounds of pecorino and parmasian cheese, “gifts for Misty’s family.” They also brought four bottles of grappa, coffee, and a new pair of pajamas for Francesco.

“That definitely has me thinking of sex” I shook my head at the plaid, blue, get-up.

He shrugged, “It’s normal in Italy.”

“Yeah,” I picked up Oliver to kiss him, “which explains your dramatically low birthrate.”

Or does it?

A few minutes later Francesco’s mother padded out into the living room, refreshed from her shower, wearing a head to toe pink pajama set. On her shoulder, in bedazzled lettering, there were words. I took a closer look because I was pretty sure I was reading it incorrectly. Nope. “SEX AND LOVE,” in English, in sparkling gems.
I whispered to Francesco, “She cannot wear that around my 10 year sister.”
I told her what Sex And Love meant in Italian. She shrugged, “I’m too old for sex or love.” I’ve always liked that Italians can be so relaxed about such things. My step mom would be horrified if she found out she was padding around the house, advertising certain services.

We showed them the house which they liked well enough. Then they moved on to inspecting us like cattle. I was able to check off a few of my list of anticipated feedback. She poked my butt, “You gained weight but only in your ass.” She caressed my cheek, “And is that a mole? You need to have that lasered off.” She moved my hair off of my shoulder, “at least with bangs I can see your face, but you know, that long hair,” she shook her head. For anyone that has lived in Italy, this kind of commentary is relatively normal. Believe it or not, she’s not trying to be mean. She just feels like it’s her duty to ensure that both Francesco and I are always in tip top breeding shape. “When are you guys going to have a baby?” She leaned against our granite top cabinet.

Around midnight I made everyone chamomile tea with honey. Then we all went to bed.

This morning Francesco went to work so it was my job to keep them entertained all day. We made coffee. They ate chocolate chip cookies; I had a banana. Francesco’s dad took Oliver for a walk but returned immediately when a neighbor tried to speak with him. I put a load of laundry in for my MIL who was amazed by the sheer size of the washing machine. “Wow! That’s incredible! Look at that! And a dryer! You have your own dryer!?” She opened and closed the door a dozen times. She found other things fascinating: The electric stove, central heating, and coconut sugar. The vacuume is by far her favorite. She’s hell bent on bringing two back home with her, “the technology!”

We went to Target to buy things they needed like after-shave, face-wash, and a new table runner for my table because, “Why don’t you have a table runner!?” They were giddy, walking up and down the aisles, examining all of the foreign goodies. My MIL was scaring mothers by petting their babies, and offending others by shoulder checking them out of her way so she could examine gift bags. We went to Starbucks where my FIL used a debit card for the first time. He giggled, “WOW! That’s so fast! How do you know it worked?” He demanded the receipt because otherwise how would he know what his balance was? I took photos of them in Starbucks, posing, with their coffee that was, “really gross.”

Then we went to Whole Foods, and this is where shit totally fell apart.

After about three minutes in Whole Foods my in-laws were yelling. How is it possible that apples are 2.99 per pound? Except they didn’t understand what a pound was so they wanted me to weight everything, figure out what it was in kilos, then convert the price to euros. Every.Single. Item. Apples, tomatoes, walnuts, was a fifteen minute discussion where in the end my MIL would throw her hands up, “This is just too expensive! NO! We’re not getting it!” and demand it be put back. We’re not talking about twenty dollars here, we’re talking about 3.00 dollars. Don’t get me wrong, produce is more expensive in the US and Whole Foods totally ass rapes you (I had to take them there, the quality in a normal grocery store would have given them an aneurysm) but it’s not so expensive that it could cause one to die. They’re not poor. After 45 minutes we settled on walnuts, tomatoes, flour, and apples.

After the shock at Whole Foods they were hungry. I gave them some options and my FIL chose mexican because he loves spicy food. My MIL was pissed because she didn’t want “to eat anything that wasn’t Italian. End of story!” This statement was accompanied by foot stomping, the way a toddler might when denied candy. She was in the US to spread her cooking goodwill around to others, damnit! We ended up going to a really great Mexican place. I ordered them tacos while my MIL talked shit about two old women drinking margaritas together. We had a glass of Malbec. When the food came my FIL liked it well enough. He ate two bowls of salsa and two baskets of chips, plus his tacos and all of his refried beans. Every time a brown person walked by my MIL would point and ask, “Is that a Mexican?” When her food arrive she tried it, decided it was disgusting, then went on a long-winded rant about Italian superiority. “I just think that people love Italy and Italians. Our food is just better. I can’t believe that people eat Mexican food. It’s disgusting. You know, I really should open a restaurant across the street…” followed by a long list of “delicious,” foods she would serve to save the people from having to eat other ethnic foods.

Our waitress came over, “What language are they speaking?”

“Italian.”

“Oh!” she smiled, “I like to eat spaghetti!” She said, in Italian, “I learned that and a few other phrases in school.”

My FIL was elated that our waitress knew a sentence of his mother-tongue. Since she had flattered him by gracing herself with the Italian language he wanted to repay her by joining her for life to one of his brethren, “You need a nice Italian man,” he told her.

“Oh? Find me one!” She cleared the table.

“I’ll find you a nice boy from Naples! You come to Italy, come find us, and I’ll find you one!” He laughed.

“Great!” She ran towards the kitchen.

He looked at us, “Should I give her our address?”

I taught them how to tip, which my FIL was intrigued by, my MIL was furious. “MORE MONEY!?” She exhaled loudly like a deflating balloon.

Back at my house my FIL went to work cleaning out my vacuum filter using one of our knives from a $200.00 set my sister gave us, jamming it into the depth of our dusty vacuum filter. Then he took to cleaning the air filter for our central air, after I’d vacuumed, tracking dust from one side of the house to the other. “I need to also clean the tiny air filters,” he said, pointing to the heat vent. I explained that it was a vent that produced either hot air or cold air. He wouldn’t find an air filter in each one in every room. This baffled him.

Finally, after I’d vacuumed sixty times, cleaned the stove 200, and fetched 9,000 things for them, the mom settled into the kitchen to make pizza (while mumbling to herself “thank God I can cook, unlike everybody else in this country.”

Around 7 PM I put on an Italian film in Netflix something with Sophia Loren. They settle down into the couch and were entertained until Francesco came home. Only 20 more days to go.

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5 Hours To Go: The In-Laws Cross The Atlantic

The next three weeks should be hell super fun. I’ve cleaned for a total of 12 hours in the past few days. I’ve washed every, single thing in the house. We dusted the baseboards, cleaned the fridge and freezer, the oven, and wrapped presents. You see, the Obamas  my in-laws are joining us in the US to spend Christmas with my parents.

My husband has been singing his usual Christmas song while I organize things. His version is terrifying because he only knows one line, “You better watch out,” which he warns over, and over again, threateningly. In his version, Santa is not only watching for naughty behavior, but is also a serial killer, ready for bloodshed.

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Maybe I can just hide in my hair.

 

At least it makes me giggle. Laughing breaks up the stress. I’m trying to focus on humor with all the cleaning, the planning, the preparing, the impending meltdown.

“What do you mean there’s no bidet!? We need at least a bucket or something!” My mother-in-law tells my husband on the phone last week.

I whispered, “What does she need a bucket for?”

Francesco cupped the phone, “You know, like a bucket to use as a bidet.”

I fluffed Oliver’s newly washed bed, “And how exactly will they lower their 60 year old asses into a small bucket?” I wondered.

We ended up buying the bucket, of course, which is now under my bathroom sink waiting. How they’ll use it, I have no idea. Frankly, I don’t want to know. I agree with them, the bidet is awesome but a bucket seems primative. It’s what poor people in those sad commercials-living in a foreign land in cardboard house-use for their weekly wash-up. It’s not really something you’d expect to find in bathroom in Arizona where they’ll be joining us for one week before we head to Utah for another week, then Vegas. They arrive in exactly 5 hours and 30 minutes. They’ve been to Germany but otherwise this is their first real trip outside of Italy. They’re main concern was not the plane exploding over the Atlantic or being eaten by sharks but whether or not we had an adequate butt washer.

They had other, more mild concerns, of course.  My MIL is worried that American lemons are not good enough to make cookies. What kind of food would they eat and who would be preparing it? Legally, how much food could they get away with bringing in their suitcases? What about Prosciutto? When my husband told my mother-in-law that she could not bring half of a pig with her she thought for a minute, “It’s okay, I’ll just tell the security guard that my daughter-in-law is pregnant.” I’m not pregnant and what pregnant woman requires four pounds of dried pork? What would I be birthing that would require that much medicated protein?

Don’t mind this leg. There’s a fetus in need of nourishment, officer.

 

“They’re going to show up naked,” I warned Francesco. I wouldn’t be surprised if they teetered off the plane with one change of clothes in order to make room for an entire ham, pasta, tomato sauce, lemons, grappa, and random greens my father-in-law harvested from a nearby field. If they were other people and not them it would be pretty cute (for those of you new to the blog, I’m not a monster, we’re dealing with some very special people here). It’s not that I hate them or even dislike them. I somehow even love them (stockholm syndrome). But they are impossibly difficult to deal with. Three weeks, 24 hours per day, with any in-laws is just insane. That amount of time with my in-laws is just asking for someone to self medicate or admit themselves to the loony bin.

In embracing humor we’ve also been making bets about the first round of shit talk they dish out. I voted on things that are typical and a sure win: “You’re hair is ugly, I don’t like your makeup, why do you dress that way, and you should get rid of your dog.” Francesco tried to be more optimistic, voting for: “The house isn’t clean enough, the food is all shit, your coffee is terrible, and why won’t you guys have a baby? Do you not understand how sex works?” Followed by a possible diagram situation or a series of uncomfortable jokes.

I’ll be keeping a roster in my office. Winner gets…something. What should the winner get? A cyanide tablet to escape to freedom.

Five more hours. I should shower. Or sweep. Or just cry into the bidet bucket so they can wash their asses in my tears. Wish me luck!

Please share your in-law horror stories with me. Or your insane holiday stories with me. Let’s all bond over other people’s insanity.

7 Really Great Resources That Will Prepare You For Italy

This isn’t a real post so I apologize. It’s more of a post answering emails. Sort of. I’m often asked for resources and recommendations on moving to Italy, so, alas, here is a roundup of my favorite resources from my little Amazon store. It also kinda supports my alcoholism wine habit. I hope you find some of the resources helpful. Am I missing something? Tell me! I’ll add it.

I suppose it’s common sense that knowledge and understanding can greatly enrich your travel experience, yet, I didn’t realize that nor did I prepare at all. When I decided to move to Italy I was more focused on preparing for the school I would be going to and not at all worried about preparing for living in another country. I figured I’d just learn once I arrived. I did learn, gradually, but more than that I spent a lot of time confused, while looking like a complete moron. The more you know about Italy the more you’ll be able to enjoy your time there right from the gate.

Italian culture is complex, the way things work, the way the people operate, can be impossible to appreciate or understand without some historical context or alcohol. It’s a rich country with thousands of years behind it. Thousands. Of. Years. So, there are so many dead bodies under the streets. That’s like the US times ten or fifteen or…What is it? I suck at math. Anyway, you’ll fit in better, you’ll see things deeper, and you’ll have a richer experience if you’ve taken the time to learn as much as possible. I know for a fact that my experience as a student would have been a lot better (and I would have looked a lot less stupid) if I’d taken the time to do some reading before jetting of to good ole Italy. So, if you’re planning a trip to Italy or you’ll be studying or moving there soon, these are my top picks from my little Amazon store of the best resources to get you in the know as fast as possible. Seriously, I have like 100 but you’ve got shit to do and who has time for more than 7 when you’re packing?

1. The Documentary Italy, Love It Or Leave It. 2014. This is a new, funny and moving documentary about two young Italian men as they try to understand why so many Italians are leaving their country. During their search for answer they cover an array of social problems from marriage equality to fascism. It’s touching, and it will quickly give you an understanding of what young Italians are struggling with. You’ll come away with a deep sense of the modern culture and history. It’s a must see.

Italy: Love it or Leave it

2. The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Learning Italian. No, I don’t think you’re all idiots but this is one of the best books I’ve read as far as breaking down grammar, etc. Textbooks really complicate the whole process of conjugating verbs, etc., but this book makes it easy as hell. I took lessons, have an Italian husband, but this book is where I actually learned HOW verbs work. Admittedly, I am much better at hear=repeat, than “break apart and put back together.” It’s because I hated puzzles as a child.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Italian, Fourth Edition (Idiot's Guides)

3. Language tools: Now, from my experience, the best language tool ever for learning Italian is Rosetta Stone. This shit worked amazingly well. Both myself and my roommates learned a huge amount of our conversational skill with the program. However, it’s expensive and might only be worth the money if you want to work on fluency. If you can’t shell out the money for it, sell one of your kids or try DuoLingo.com or Babbel.com. I’ve used both and I love them both for learning new languages. Duolingo is free, but Babbel is like 7 dollars per month or something. I have Duolingo on my phone (the app is awesome) for both spanish and french, and I use Babbel to keep building my Italian and improving. Really, really great tools. I highly recommend starting this asap. The more Italian you speak, the better your life will be in Italy. Take it from someone who avoided learning it for as long as possible (because I’m an idiot).

Learn Italian: Rosetta Stone Italian - Level 1-5 Set

4. Family Politics By Paul Ginsburg. Dr. Ginsburg is one of the most important historians in Europe. He teaches at the University of Florence and his books offer incredible insight into Italian culture, history, and society. You can’t understand Italy without understanding the family dynamics and how they came to take shape. My life in Italy completely changed once I married into an Italian family. The family dynamics are so complicated, interesting, strong, and incredibly annoying in many ways. All of his books were very helpful on my depressed days when I was wondering, “what the hell is wrong with these people?” Ah, answers! Plus, I’m friends with his son who is also a total badass.

Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival, 1900-1950

5. La Bella Figura. You need this book. That’s really all I’m going to say about it. It’s a great cultural guide and it also covers the infamous Bella Figura,  a concept that is so insanely Italian (and it’s one of the cultural things that frustrates me the most, especially in the south). Impress, Impress, IMPRESS. You can’t live in Italy without this book. You just can’t. It will be one of the best things you’ve read. Plus, it will probably save your Italian friends and family (or partner) some embarrassment and frustration.

La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind

6. Italianissimo. This is a great coffee table book, it’s gorgeous, and it’s funny. You’ll learn a ton of useful things about culture, the history of words, Italian hand gestures, all with the help of badass photos. I have this on my coffee table. My friends find it highly amusing.

Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best

7. In Pursuit Of Italy: A History of A Land, It’s Regions, And Their People. Alright, so this book is really in-depth, a little heavier, but you’ll understand so much about Italy and the people who live there after you’ve finished it. Also, you’ll appear smart and educated at dinner parties.  In order to understand Italians it’s absolutely necessary to know the history and the complexity of the different regions. Italians often have the assumption that Americans are uneducated about the entire world outside of the US so prove them wrong by arming yourself with all this fancy knowledge. Really. Especially if you want to make roots in Italy, you’ll need to understand it so you can do better in battle. By battle I mean dinner parties.

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples

BONUS: The film Marriage Italian Style with Sophia Loren. Italy’s cultural obsession with the madonna/whore complex is amazing/weird and this movie (among plenty others) highlights that dichotomy of the “Italian woman,” as depicted by the patriarchy better than most. Basically, just ignore my rambling and watch it. It’s a really good movie.

Gif: http://aliai-snow.tumblr.com/

What is your favorite resource? Have you read or used any of these? Were they helpful to you in any way? Please let everyone know what resources have helped to enrich your Italy experience, learn Italian, or fill in the cultural blanks for you!

10 Surprising Ways That Studying In Florence, Italy Will Change You

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1. You’ll become addicted. There are few people who study in Italy and think to themselves, “Meh, whatev, Ohio is way better.” Once you’ve lived in Florence there will probably be a small part of you that always wants to return. You’ll develop a permanent sort of nostalgia for the place.

2. Your friends will be totally annoyed with you. “In Italy…” for the five-millionth time will get old and everyone will want to slap the shit out of you. Instead of talking about Italy, just gaze longingly at your scrap book. Eventually you’ll resort to hours on blogs about living in Italy.  <—-Winning!

3. When you return to the US you’ll be appalled by how the guys dress (with the exception of NY, of course). You’ll probably get all judgy about outfits and demand that your boyfriends dress better or, if you’re a guy, you’ll probably get teased for not dressing like a basketball team member anymore. You’ll open your closet and lovingly stare at your skinny jeans and v-neck sweaters that you want to wear but can no longer muster the confidence.

4. Anytime someone makes pasta or pizza it will remind you of how much people suck at making pasta and pizza. Everywhere is terrible except for your beloved Italy.

5. Florence will become a perfect place in your mind. “That would never happen in Italy,” or, “In Italy the men actually shit rainbows. Real rainbows. It’s like Rainbow Bright in every bathroom.”

6. The rest of university will seem lame especially if you’re studying architecture, art history, fashion or anything that’s better in Florence. Going back to Minnesota or wherever will suddenly feel like your education is being stolen from you. How can you possibly learn about Di Vinci like this?

7. If you’re a woman, you’ll be so resistant to cat-calling that you’ll no longer notice college perverts. Is that guy screaming, “WHATSUP LADIES!?” You hardly noticed, you’ve been getting screamed at for months, in Italy.

8. Back in Merca’ at least once you’ll  attempt to buy booze you’re not old enough to buy. Or, if you’re over 21, you’ll try to skip down the street with a bottle of wine, only to be tackled by your friends as they wrestle the jail sentence out of your hand and toss it into a bush. You’ll forgive them as you lay crying on the sidewalk.

9. You’ll feel larger than life and probably become a little cocky. Living in another country is hard. Once you’ve mastered that it’s impossible not to feel like the master of the universe.

10. You can make a game out of confusing the shit out of your parents and childhood friends at home. The entire experience will change parts of you that you don’t even notice were changed. Everyone else will notice. They’ll probably talk about it behind your back while mimicking you with large hand-gestures.