Home C.O.S.I. What Does It Mean To Be Authentically Italian?

What Does It Mean To Be Authentically Italian?

written by M.E. Evans March 18, 2015

“Yeah, but does the place have real Italian food? I mean, is it authentic in your opinion?” my friend asked when I told her about this new restaurant that was opening in our home town. Since moving to Italy in 2009, I’d been deemed the Great Authenticator by people back home regarding anything related to Italy. No, chicken alfredo is not “Italian.” Yes, I suppose being romantic might be an Italian thing depending on your definition of “romantic.” No, bbq chicken pizza is not really a thing. Yes, real people drive scooters in Italy.


My husband is proudly, authentically Italian. I am proudly not (I’ve got enough crazy up in my life). This is us, in Naples a few years ago. Naples is debatably not “Italian,” depending on who you ask.

Where Italy is concerned, the struggle to pin down what is “authentic” versus what isn’t can be a full time job. Pretty much everything is up for debate and not even Italians can really agree on what makes something Italian or not.

“Prada isn’t Italian anymore, they have Chinese workers in their factories,” my hairstylist said to the old lady with the hot pink lipstick sitting next to me. If a foreign national touches it, it’s no longer authentic, and it’s probably contaminated with icky “otherness.”

Since the olive trees got some kind of nasty plague last year a large amount of the olive oil in Italy was actually shipped in from Greece. “Not real oil!” My husband said. I turned, “Damn, well, what about that Salami? I hear that the pig was actually half british on the sow’s side. A real whore if you ask me.”

A soccer coach in Italy was recently put in the doghouse for accidentally saying that “there were too many colored players,” on a team, ruining the authenticity of Italian soccer. Similarly, the same New York Times article noted, Mario Balotelli “has endured racism from Italian fans for years,” despite being a star player, and Italian, and “Some supporters of the national team have chanted, “There is no such thing as a black Italian!”

Looks play a big role when categorizing a true Italian. A northerner is actually German according to certain southerners, a southerner is really greek, or spanish, or arabian according to some folks in the North.

Even in the US there is a distinctive idea of what Italian looks like. “Well, he can’t be really Italian, he’s blonde,” someone said of a guy from Brescia I unfortunately dated over a decade ago (long before I met my husband). When we think Italian, we think of a full head of messy espresso hair, a thick hairy chest, a tan, and five o’clock shadow. In this case, my husband, is authentic. Yes, my friends, my husband is the real deal.

It gets even more interesting when you bring up people who identify as Italian through relatives. Italian-Americans? Hell No. “If they grew up in the US they are American, not Italian, end of story,” an old man once told me when I told him that my friend was “half-Italian.” Expats? “They can pretend all they want but they’ll never really understand what it means to be Italian to your bones. Can’t they get their own culture? What’s wrong with theirs?” a Florentine professor of mine once said. I understand the concept of relating to a place through birthright, I do have an immigrant Persian father and I grew up with influences of his culture, often brainwashed with his extreme ethnocentrism. In case any of you were wondering, on any given day, our people invented a lot of shit. Math, osmosis, all of it. You’re welcome. This idea of being “part,” of any culture isn’t accepted everywhere, I’ve learned.

Speaking of parents, Dolce & Gabbana have had a lot to say about authenticity lately and how all these gay people are having “fake” babies. According to a interview in Panorama, translated by The Telegraph, the former lovers said that children born from IVF are “synthetic,” essentially labeling these children as the “polyester” of the infant world. I wonder what that even means? How does one have a synthetic baby? Sometimes it’s hard to understand assholes.


 “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. … No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: Life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.”

“You are born to a mother and a father — or at least that’s how it should be,” Dolce said. “I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”

Gabbana concurred, adding, “The family is not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”


For a long time, not even Italians wanted to be Italian.

Italy, before unification in 1861, was made up of multiple kingdoms. Every kingdom had been invaded a billion times, weaving various ethnicities (we all know how rapey invasions in the old days used to be), languages, and customs throughout. Every region has a different cuisine, and multiple regional languages are still spoken, and there are a number of dialects within those regional languages.

One of the problems that Italy had in WWI was that the Italian soldiers identified more with their region than their country and therefore, understandably, didn’t feel too inclined to die for her causes. The government has long used media, newspapers, television, to enforce the national language and national identity.

While it didn’t work during WWI, there seems to be no greater cause for unification than the extra foreignness of someone who is not only from another region but is also from another country.

“We’re not Italian, we’re neapolitan,” my mother-in-law will remind me (as if I need a reminder). Unless they’re talking about me. “We’re Italian, we do things like this,” she’ll motion, “Not like you AMERICANA!”

If a country with different languages, different ethnic backgrounds, different cuisine, and different cultures, can somehow come together and unite as one based on absolutely nothing in common whatsoever, surely there is some room for the foreign-born folk and the polyester babies? What is actually authentically Italian? Who is Italian?

On a very optimistic day when I think “Italy,” I think beauty, strength, simplicity and glamour, kindness, openness, and brilliant minds. In an ideal world these are the things that make someone authentic. I think it exists, beyond birthright, nationalism, sexual orientation, and color.

“Authenticity starts in the heart.” -Brain D’Angelo

COSI’ members:

Italy Roundtable members:

Have something to share on authenticity in Italy?  Use the hashtag #COSItaly to join the conversation!

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orna2013 March 18, 2015 at 2:48 am

Wonderful! Excellent blog.

GirlinFlorence March 18, 2015 at 2:51 am

I loved this post Misty! It’s a very good question deciding what is indeed ‘Italian’ with such regional differences still. My ex’s mom would always refer to herself as ‘Toscana.’ Also thank you for bring up the latest about D&G, I am still shocked and disgusted with their words, had they any idea of how their words could hurt so many people, ugh…

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rickzullo.com March 18, 2015 at 7:09 am

You nailed it, as always. It’s really more of debate than a solid question and answer, isn’t it? I think the quote at the end says it all…

Jane March 18, 2015 at 8:03 am

Your post made me laugh as always. Italian Americans are completley different from Italians. I would not even consider Italian Americans, Italian. From dress code, behavior, food to the way they carry themselves are completely different. I certainly would not consider Snookie as an Italian. In my world, I prefer Italians no doubt.

And so true with Italians on correcting us that they are Sicilian, Calabrian, etc….especially Sardinians. They refuse to associate themselves as Italians.

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Sezgi March 18, 2015 at 10:09 am

Can’t believe what D&G said. If you want to raise your voice please sign:

Michael Sokol March 18, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Greetings from Montana, I am a 70 year old Guy who grew up in Chicago, the last time I was in Italia was 1986, I really like your blog and I like looking at photos of your beautiful face. Keep up the good work. Cheers, Michael   https://www.flickr.com/photos/7544019@N03/   I am a street photographer, if you like a photo click on it to see in a larger format.   Ciao BellaChadar a Fez

tstaffaroni March 18, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Great post, and you nailed it in the last paragraph…bravo!

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Gius_ March 19, 2015 at 9:49 am

The part on the supposed high diversity between the people from different Italian regions is quite stereotypical, the reality is different. Italians themselves sometimes believe in this traditional misconception to fuel local rivalries. It’s true that Italy remained divided into several little states since the fall of the Roman Empire until 1861, however, a political division doesn’t necessarily equates to an ethnic one. This genetic study proves that Italians are far more ethnically homogeneous than they usually think, actually they are so homogeneous that they constitute an exception in europe:

Italy and Finland are considered the two last genetic islands in europe, as you can read in the middle of the article.

Speaking about language and culture, the situation is similar to several other countries. France also has several local dialects, even if it has remained politically united for 1.5 millennia. Furthermore, since the fall of the Roman Empire, Italian middle and upper classes have always studied Latin at school, making it the common base for the local dialects and their subsequent transformation and merging into Italian. The Divine Comedy is commonly considered the first (relevant) literary work in Italian language, and it was written 5 centuries before the political (re-)unification of Italy. Dante Alighieri is usually called “Il Padre della Lingua Italiana” (the father of the Italian language).

As an Italian myself, I’m proud that we are just one people from the Alps to Sicily, and, geopolitics aside, we have always been one since the Romans conquered the entire peninsula more than 2 millennia ago, merging different previous cultures, languages and ethnicities into one. The root of all of our problems is that sometimes we forget it, and we exaggerate our political, local and even sport rivalries way beyond reality.

Pippa Pirrip March 20, 2015 at 6:03 am

It’s funny, New Orleanians are much the same in this. We have a concept of “real New Orleans”, but most of us won’t leave a 3-4 neighborhood radius if we can help it. Last summer, I made a comment to a friend’s boyfriend that I considered “everything upriver of Lee Circle” to be Uptown (there are something like 20+ neighborhoods in that area, I just can’t tell you what they are) and he proudly responded, “Lee Circle?? I don’t think I’ve been above Toulouse in 5 years!”

Every part of town thinks they’re the “real New Orleans” and has a reason to hate on the other neighborhoods. But the one thing we all agree on? Tourists and the carpet-baggers who try to move into our city are the worst.

Jessica | ItalyExplained.com March 20, 2015 at 10:43 am

Thank you for the reminder that for a long while even the Italians resisted the idea of being Italian… Great post.

Siaosi May 19, 2016 at 9:01 am

It’s interesting to hear different points of view on what is authentic and what is not. I have always thought that chicken Alfredo had to be one of the authentic dishes. Thanks for the comments and remarks, I am defiantly interested in finding somewhere where they serve real Italianfood.


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