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.


19 thoughts on “Day 2: When Good Intentions Fail Miserably

  1. Oh dear lord. Woman, you deserve a medal and a freaking holiday of your own! I have a tendency to date people with pigment: Latinos, Native Americans, East Asians, South Asians, West Asians– Whatever, I like the “tall, dark & handsome” thing. The number of times someone has asked me where the flavor of the month is from… It just enrages me! Last spring it happened with HC, who I was hooking up with for all of 3 minutes, but the worst was that it was coming from a friend who is VERY educated and liberal and works with war refugees, so I never saw it coming. I’d shown her a photo of him on my phone and it went like this:
    Her: Oh he’s cute! Where’s he from?
    Me: [Suburb of our city]
    Her: No, I mean, where’s he FROM?
    Me (confused): [Suburb]… He’s lived there his whole life, weird, right? I mean, who never leaves their home town?
    Her: No, seriously. I mean WHERE is he FROM?
    Me (still confused): Seriously, as far as I know, he was BORN in [suburb]. I have no idea!
    Her: But like, look at him!
    Me: …Um… Do you mean because he’s brown? His parents are Mexican. They came here legally before he was born.
    Her: So he’s Mexican!
    Me: No. He… um… Nevermind. I need a drink.

  2. I love this blog. I am from London, and have a Florentine husband. And I have had had very bad experiences with my in- laws. Especially with my MIL who is a teacher, but so mentally…challenged it is painful and seems to have been brought up in medievil times. FIL that still pinches my cheeks, and the fat under my chin, and slaps my hands in supermarkets if I reach for something unhealthy ( 1 am over 40 with 2 kids and a high powered job) When I had my first child, I was tempted to do a blog about them and Italy in general. I was going crazy, literally. I live in Prato, and there are no English people here..only Italians ( and some Autralian students ). But I thought no one would believe me !!!! And they would think I was making it all up !!!

  3. As usual I love reading your blogs! I really feel for you and get equally frustrated with my own in-laws. This particular situation reminds me of when I took my Italian FIL to Greenwich Park for a picnic. He said: “wow there are Black people here having picnics like normal people”. No joke! My Husband and I were stunned and had to politely explain that this is because they are normal people!!! Honestly! My FIL is a very well meaning, somewhat intense man but comes from a tiny Italian village where everyone is Italian, white and knows everyone’s business. I have to count to ten regularly in his company… Sigh!

  4. 2 outcomes far worse that 3 weeks of the cultural cringe :
    – your MIL will now be an expert on all things American and will have an unshakeable opinion on everything until her mysterious (apparent) suicide at some time yet to be arranged…
    – see the first item – there is now absolutely no chance of raising your unborn children in the U.S., so stop worrying about it.

  5. My friend is of Korean descent and came to Italy for holiday. She is an english professor at a great school on the east coast. A couple of Italian guys was talking to us at a bar one night; in Italian-English dialect, naturally. One guy says and I quote to my friend, …….” You speak good English for an Asian……and the follow-up question..where did you learn?”

    I wish I was making this up, they give me amazing material on a daily bases.

    For instance , talking to my roommate, who is 29. Who thinks it’s stupid that her boss, who is 38; invite her to the company dinner. And she didn’t go because she said what would she talk about with “old people”.

  6. I am 2nd generation italian american and do not appreciate your dislike of your family. Your husband whomI assume you love is a product of these folks. he must have turnd out ok or you would not have married him.
    Yes, they have different out looks and yes, they probably have only a grade school education. Their daily existance is nothing like you have had. They know what hard work is. They know how to do without and survive. They respect their elders.
    Shame on you all for not understanding anything about this generation. And no, I am not of their age bracket.
    You should be honored to know them. If your friends are embarassed, I think you need new friends.
    I guarantee when you are their age, you will look back and laugh at the differences and miss them terribly.

    • You’re obviously new here. Ive never written anywhere that i dislike my family. I do, however, write a humor blog where i make fun of myself, my own parents, my friends, strangers, my husband, his totally insane family and even my dog. Its all in good fun and an excellent way to turn really stressful or terrible times into something light. You don’t know the first thing about my experience with them (if you did, you would be a great deal less judgmental, i assure you. You wouldnt last 20 min with them). Also, if you’d spent any great length of time in Italy you’d probably find all of this funny. Most of the commentors and readers of this blog are Italian (born and raised), or they are married to Italians, or they live in Italy. Hence, their ability to laugh a little at the hard times. And, while i would miss them should anything happen, i do not think that culture nor generation is an excuse for cultural insensitive or racism. The least i can do is make fun of it, otherwise ill completely lose my shit. And my husband? He loves the blog.

      • Why, it’s almost like you should have a disclaimer page when you first arrive here or something. Ohwaitaminute. 🙂

        While Italians do generally have an ethnocentric streak that we don’t have here in the 200+ year old US, being Italian isn’t a license to be rude to strangers who happen to have a differing background, and not all Italians will remind you of ME’s mother in law. Susan…relax. It’s merely a good faith rendition of the cultural divides we realize we still have with people from another part of the world despite how much our American culture draws from theirs.

      • Haha. Yeah, agree. A lot of stuff they do isn’t cultural. And the things that are, like i said, are no excuse. You don’t get a greenlight to be a dick because you’re culture is old. “Well, they stoned my cousin to death, but you know, the middle east…” Let’s go with no. I’m a non fiction writer. I tell true stories about my life. It’s how i connect, relate, and cope. As one of my best friends said, “you write, if people wanted you to write nice things, they should have been nicer.” With that said, my MIL didnt mean to be mean, and i mentioned that numerous times in this post. I definitely mentioned that. That’s life. It’s beautiful, confusing, flawed, rude, crude, bizarre, sometimes sweet and sometimes ignorant. Nothing that i write here is ever said in bitterness or to retaliate. I never allow myself to write in anger. Hence, me moving to the US to work on my book. So i could reflect honestly without emotion. Surprisingly, i leave out all of the stuff that would actually make them look bad. Crazy i leave in, because crazy is funny. It’s always been important to me to write honestly about Italy. As i’ve said many times before, this is not a travel blog. It’s a blog about my real life. And all the insane people in it.

      • I think it underscores how in many ways they’re way ahead of us there…and in many ways they’re well behind. Every time I’m there I’m reminded of same in so many ways, and it’s no small part of the appeal of the place.

  7. Thank you for sharing. My mother came from Italy when she was 16 and my Nona lived here for over 50 years and never tried to speak English. She never went back to Rocca Vivara (because of the war when life was very difficult) she never wanted to return living siblings behind and unseen .
    I can relate so much of what you blog about.
    My nona showed she cared by shoving every known food to all of us” here is my pizza..” then to “oh she likes to eat, watch she doesn’t get too fat”,” What you don’t want to try my eggs and asparagus what’s wrong with her?” She about had a hissy fit because I simply did not want to drink anything so she proceeded to bring out every liquid she had, be it wine to sprite and look at me with a confused look on her face. “what’s wrong with her? is she sick? why won’t she drink anything?” So my mom would of course step in and tell me ” just take something to drink or this will go on all day” But the wonderful aromas from her cooking when entering the home is something I remember to this day. What I wouldn’t give now to have the huge square of pizza with a crunchy bottom from the olive oil wrapped in tin foil that was shoved at me to snack on for the trip home. which of course I did eat.

  8. Ughh, Italians pull back their eyes when talking about Asians too? I cringe every time I see that here in Spain (which is too damn often). I’ve given up trying to tell people it’s not okay to do that.

  9. I love reading your posts. I live in Italy and my boyfriend is Italian, and I have met his parents and his many relatives, and spent a lot of time with them. Suffice it to say I like knowing that someone else has experienced about 99% of the exact same things I have! Though I totally support their idea that pizza and pasta are healthy.

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