A lot of Italians are visibly uncomfortable when I call myself a femminista or refer to femminismo. It has taken me a while to understand just how much of a taboo it is. Not long ago my sister-in-law – who heads a project to support women entrepreneurs and regularly engages with me about women’s equality – plainly informed me that people don’t use this word in Italy because it has ugly connotations.
I’ll be the first person to admit that when you live abroad it can be pretty difficult to be fair and avoid putting people into one large category. It’s human nature to group people in a way that makes it easier to understand them, identify them, avoid or relate to them. When your world is confusing you’ll try to make sense out of it in one way or another.
One of the first things that I caught myself doing as I parachuted into Italy was compare everything to my own culture, and figure out how I could fit in. It was especially difficult for me coming from a degree in sociology. People were practically test subjects. Observing cultural characteristics is totally fine, and totally necessary if you ever want to comfortably live somewhere. However, it’s important to avoid stereotypes as much as possible. Stereotypes kind of piss people off, justifiably so. I’ve spent the past five years being stereotyped as, “that probably slutty, stupid American who hates family and love and probably stabbed her teddy bear to death as a child.” Writing a blog about living in Italy can be kind of sticky since I spend a lot of time discussing my experiences, making the occasional cultural and social observations, all while trying not to be too much of an asshole. There is a difference between dialogue, observations, and just being a dick. Even while being conscious of it, it’s kind of difficult to avoid being ethnocentric, though. It happens. It’s especially rough when I’m away from home, feeling nostalgic, and some crazy lady is screaming at me in the street because MY DOG IS TOO SKINNY, and then twenty old men in the bar are rambling about their hero Berlusconi. It can be really, really, difficult.
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? Continue reading
Something I admire about Italian culture is the sense of community within the family. In my husband’s part of Italy, Cassino, when someone passes away like a grandparent, the house is often sold and the money is generally set aside for the grandkids to buy a house in the future or the home is given to someone in the family who needs it. Money stays circulated within the family which is why even the working class can somehow manage to buy their children cars, expensive weddings, and help to purchase an apartment later down the road. It’s odd to see impoverished twenty-somethings whose parents are driving new cars and vacationing in Spain. Wealth is shared even among families with very little.
The downside to this is there can be a sense of entitlement within the family. Often, the controlling, attached, secretive, elements that can be downright terrifying, stem from the fact that family is an extension of oneself. It’s not separate. Kids are not simply cut loose with a “I hope I’ve taught them well,” mentality. I like this. There is an element of individualism and selfishness that I believe is toxic for Americans. We are famous world-wide for the stereotype of being “detached, terrible, selfish,” parents. If you can’t run to family, who can you run to? At the same time, if family is all up in your business all the time, how can you become autonomous and self sustaining? I was blessed with a nice mix. My mom is a classic middle-class American, “after 18 you’re not my problem,” but my father is Iranian and more like, “everything you do is my business, listen to my advice or I’ll murder you and I’ll believe that it’s legal because I’m unaware of the modern world.” I’m not really a good example of good parenting because I write a blog with titles that say, “vagina” in them but I never felt alone or suffocated. I’m definitely nuts but not alone or suffocated.
Families in Italy can sometimes be so close that it seems like parents are actually in love with their kids. Like, Bates Motel, stalk them like an ex-girlfriend, stare into their eyes during dinner, in love. When I married into an Italian family I knew what I was getting into but it didn’t make long conversations about my underwear choices, or having the entire family huddle around my pap-smear results, any less weird and uncomfortable. I’m not shy but having my father-in-law waive information about my cervix around the kitchen is a bit much.
Yes, it’s invasive, uncomfortable, and downright rude as fuck most of the time but there is also something about it that seems to work in many ways (when the balance is right, obviously). There are fewer homeless people in Italy than in the US and few starving people. Humans are pack animals. We require groups to survive, to thrive, to avoid writing suicide letters on our blogs. The US is productive but it’s often too individualistic. “Sink or swim,” is a pretty common motto even when discussing children. I’m not a big fan of coddling but I think a group mentality, to care about others equally to ourselves, a “if everyone is doing good only then are we doing good” mentality could be good for us. I’ve seen it work wonders in the US on a small scale in a few different forms and it’s awesome. We should all feel more responsible for each other more often.
My friends are magical. Some of them make me homicidal now and again but for the most part, most of them are the easiest people in the world. And more than easy, they are caring, open-minded, and just overall fucking awesome. When I first started my design business I was lucky enough to have friends willing to invest in the form of loans (I have not forgotten!) or fund our Kickstarter account (which is the same idea of community helping on a larger, more organized, level). We were able to manufacture and print our first shirts because our loved ones were backing us up. For a start-up we are not doing too bad. Last year one of my friends was struggling financially right before Christmas, so we made it a community thing, and I asked a bunch of my random friends (some knew the friend in question, some did not) if they’d be into making a little “donation” to help out. They did and it helped. One person can’t do one-hundred-bucks but surely ten can do ten-bucks. This year one of my best friends has a father who is dying. In an effort to help him check things off of his bucket-list he raised a bucket-list fund where his friends could help out. We did and it’s going to make it so our friends dad can experience things he’s always wanted to do before he passes. Cool right?
Wouldn’t it be nice to see some of this community in more families, too? I don’t know about anyone else but I have family members who vacation in other countries every year while their brother or sister or kid is one paycheck away from homelessness. We don’t have to sit around examining each other’s genitalia or advising each other when to have sex or procreate (this is a thing right now, yes, seriously), but we could see family as a group effort and less of a, “too bad your genes are stupid and now you’ll fail at life,” mentality. I kind of feel like we should be a little more “burdened” with those we love. Sure, not sucked dry or abused, but a little more available and willing to give up small pieces of ourselves for the good of the others. Except for writing time. That’s mine and I’ll choke them.
I’ve talked about Italy’s crap ranking when it comes to the treatment of women on here once or twice.It’s abysmally low and every two days, TWO DAYS, a woman is beat to death by her husband or boyfriend here. Italian women are fighting a long upward battle to be regarded as something other than a nice piece of ass, baby factory, or personal chef. The role of a proper Italian woman is a bizarre dichotomy that is nearly impossible to explain in one post. Italian culture has long embraced the “sexy” and “fire cracker” ideal woman in the likes of many Sophia Loren roles but there is also a strong influence from the Catholic church and other conservative influencers that shames women for being sexual. I read a study a few years ago that said that over fifty percent of interviewed women only had sex with their husbands because it was an obligation but not because they enjoyed it. Clearly, Italy is a little behind much of the first world when it comes to women’s sexual freedom.
I came across this article today and I had to share it. It’s brilliant and so relevant not only to expats in Italy who want to raise their kids not to SUCK but for people everywhere both men and women alike.
“Hopefully this grassroots shift will start teaching Italians that you can like sex and be a feminist too, seeing as they seem to commonly mistake feminism for prudish moralismo. And believe me, I get how much more attractive it is to side with the sexual freedom fighters if you’re faced with a ridiculous false binary like this. Especially because Italians have this gift for making sex appreciation verge on the holy. There is something intoxicating about it if you aren’t sexually repressed. As I’ve mentioned before, I discovered how to celebrate my feminine side here, and it felt wonderful. The shitty, confusing and ultimate paradox for women in Italy is how we are at once raised on a pedestal and made to feel like second-class citizens.”
To Read The Full Article: Cagne, zoccole e troie: slut-shaming in Italy
I was up until four a.m. last night making changes to this blog. I wanted it to be more reader-friendly for all of you. I hope that I succeeded in doing that. It should be easier to navigate now and by the end of the week you should be able to easily find a plethora of information on moving, studying, or visiting Italy. I’m currently watching endless CSS videos on YouTube to figure out how to KILL THE PINK BUBBLES AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE. If you have any suggestions I would be so stoked to hear them. The new header was my husband’s idea. This is kind of what my life looks like anyways so it’s not far-fetched. The only thing that could make it more realistic is if Oliver was peeing on a child in the background (yes, he does that.) or if I crashed the bike into a curb and tumble down the street (this happens frequently). I know everything is new but I hope in a few days you’ll get used to it and you’ll love it. Tell me what you want to see or read and I’ll work it in to the new design. If you want you can pass the blog along to your friends. Tanti Baci and all that.
And watch This While Your Eyes Adjust To All Of The Newness. This Video Is Awesome Because It’s So True
(total validation that I’m not that crazy)
This blog, ComeTiPiace (pronounced comeh tee pee-awsh), meaning “how you like it,” is seriously awesome. The blog documents the journey of a young Italian man as he travels throughout Italy visiting different homes to learn how to cook some of the family’s favorite dishes. He posts recipes, photos of the cooking process as well as short bios of the people he visits. If you want to learn how to cook authentic Italian food I promise you that it does not get more authentic than this. Here is the latest post: