Christmas Insanity: A COSI Post

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Ah, the holidays in December, the wonderful time of year when you accidentally jam your mother-in-law’s head in a hair dryer, that lovely month where your mom gives you a framed family picture that she’s photoshopped your dead brother into. Oh, December, oozing with spiced wine, hot toddies and cheer. And the house is filled with threatening music as your Italian husband dances around singing “you better watch out,” over and over again because he only knows that one line from Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. And guys, you had seriously better watch out. 

I don’t know about all of you but the holidays are always pretty damn crazy for me. Let’s take this year, for example. Tonight kicked off my holiday week with Yalda, or the Persian Winter Solstice. We ate about 9 billion things that my aunt cooked. Then, my dad blasted Persian music and commanded us to all dance in the center of the living room while my aunt filmed it, then I had to chase my frosting covered dog around to clean his face after my brother realized that the little shit had been sneaking sugar cookies out of a bowl. All the while a woman in a white suit with enormous shoulder pads shaked, and shimmied on the t.v., singing some Persian song about love. My 11 year old little sister asked, 

“Will you give me a baby for Christmas?” Because she wants to be an aunt again. 

“No, because it’s illegal to gift babies. And it would be kind of suspicious if I gave you a box with air holes punched in it.” 

She’s been asking me to have a baby for months. A few weeks ago she offered to help me look into “buying a cute one from someone.” Because she’s my sister so she creepy like that. 

Then my dad chimed in that we will never have a baby so Francesco shouldn’t get his hopes up. My aunt, looking very cute and modest with her head scarf on (she’s visiting from Iran), laughed and said, “oh, but tonight is the longest night of the year, you both can have a lot of opportunities tonight.” 

My other sister added, “just eat a bunch of pomegranate sis.” 

And then we all laughed, because in our family it’s apparently way normal to coax each other into a night of heavy mating with the help of aphrodisiacs. 

This is just getting started. This week will be interesting. 

On Christmas Eve, Francesco will make a traditional Italian fish feast of Baccala, clams with spaghetti, and possibly sardines or something, even though this Christmas we’ll be in Utah. I’ll feel anxious about over-fishing and empty oceans while F labors intensely over the meal. Holiday meals are a big deal in Italian culture but especially near the south. Food is huge. His mom has called every day for two weeks to ask, “but what are you making for Christmas Eve dinner?” Then F explains, again, and she’ll quickly jump in with ideas and directions (the same ideas and directions she’s already given 9 times). Then, right before they hang up she says, “and lasagne for Christmas?” And when F says “no ” again for the many-ith time, she switches to a sad tone and with crestfallen eyes goes, “oh,” loud sigh, “okay.” Then F will sometimes tell her to come here to make it for him and she’ll remind him that last year when she came to the US for Christmas, she’d hated it. Like all of it. 

On Christmas this year we will go to my dad’s house followed by my mom’s house. At my moms house my parents will be hungover from their cookie-making tradition, where my stepdad straps on an apron over his bare chest and sings Christmas carols while sipping whiskey and baking 14 dozen amazing cookies. My mom watches him mix batter, pounds Bud Light, and giggles. A jolly night, followed by a “oh what the fuck,” day. Glorious. My little brother and his girlfriend will bring over one of my nephews at some point, and I’ll spend the remainder of my day trying to stop Oliver and the baby from maiming each other, because small dogs and fiesty toddlers don’t mix. Meanwhile, my mom and stepdad will look drained and nauseous in their recliners. My mom will briefly come to life when we open our gifts to declare herself an elf and laugh with Joy about the magic of Christmas. 

After this, Francesco and I will go to the home of my stepdad’s parents, and I’ll gorge myself on delicious food and way too much wine. Then, more likely than not, I’ll say random, weird things, often useless facts about animals, or spout off sex research I recently read in Mary Roache’s book, Bonk. Or, worst case I just drink too much wine and stare off into space or uncomfortably at someone. Francesco and I will arrive home around five and I’ll wonder just how weird I acted and hope that nobody noticed (they notice). 

Francesco and I will crawl into bed and I’ll mumble, “next year we are going to Hawaii because this is exhausting.” 

But next year will come around and we’ll choose family, insanity, and exhaustion again. Because it’s too weird and too important to miss. 

Check out these awesome Holiday COSI Posts From My Badass Friends. 

Rochelle, Unwilling Expat – A Panettone Story

Georgette, Girl In Florence — 10 Holiday Fails From Around The World

Rick Zullo, Rick’ Rome-Christmas In Italy

My Mother-In-Law Is Stalking M.E. And It’s Hilariously Traumatic

It isn’t uncommon for moms everywhere to be on top of their kids like, “flies on shit,” as my mom would so eloquently say and Italian moms are no different. Italy is famous for the food, the beauty, and the tight-knit families which naturally include Italian moms who are known for being great moms. They’re sometimes teased for being crazy moms that occasionally try to re-womb their adult children like in this ad from Norway. Apparently, that ever-present helicopter mothering can go on until their kids are elderly. I once saw an old Italian mom clad in widow black lecture her elderly daughter on a street corner, passionately waving her cane around. The daughter who was also wearing widow black and looked to be in her seventies or eighties argued back indignantly until eventually teetering away with her mom yelling in hot pursuit.

Sometimes the helicopter mothering can be crazy, other times sweet, and every once in a while it’s downright comical in a “holy shit,” kind of way. F isn’t Mammoni, but when my MIL is around she takes full advantage of her time by being ever-present, kind of like a stealth ninja. Over the past week my MIL has been stalking us while we stay at her home. Somehow, no matter what we do or where we go she’s there. Almost magically like she materializes out of thin air. She’s given me so many heart-attacks I’m worried about my cardiovascular health AND it’s made me a little paranoid. I actually checked under my bed and behind the bedroom door the other day. Yes, seriously.

One night, after being surrounded by people for a long ass time, were desperate enough to “be marital,” in my in-law’s guest room because we are idiots. It was 2 a.m. so we thought we were safe to make the boom-boom. After, I tip-toed to the bathroom (ain’t nobody got time for a UTI) through the pitch-black hall, passed my in-laws room. I reached out for the light switch on the outside of the bathroom door and right as my finger felt the plastic nub, I heard the thundering voice of my MIL from her doorway scream for my husband “FRANCHEH!” I reeled back, totally scared shitless. I stood motionless in the dark hallway, listening to her breathe only a few feet from me. Francesco responded from the guest room where he’s drifting off to sleep (how typical?) “Yeah Mom?” I opened the bathroom door and closed it quietly wondering if she’d somehow managed to hear us doing the nasty despite our attempt to be absolutely silent, like two corpses in love, silent. Had she seen me standing in front of her in the hallway or did she just hear me and assume it was F?  She continued to Francesco, “Turn on the fan on in your room and don’t open the window too much! You’ll get sick or someone will sneak into your room at night!”

“Okay mamma,” he replied.

I waited in the bathroom for a minute, hoping she’d go back to bed so I didn’t have to face her. Finally, I snuck back to the bedroom. I whispered to F, “Holy, shit. Do you think she heard something?” while crawling back into bed.

“Oh, gross! Ugh! I don’t want to think about it, honestly.”

We both stared at each other for a minute and drifted off to sleep feeling like we needed to take bleach showers with a scrubby brush.

***

It was Sunday morning so Francesco and I woke up a little bit late and slowly got ready to head over to my Sister-In-Laws house for our nieces birthday party. I teetered into the bathroom, noticing that the house was quiet and seemingly empty. I piled my hair on top of my head and secured it with a few bobbi pins, brushed my teeth with my electronic toothbrush that sounds suspiciously like a vibrator, and rubbed some creme de viso face wash into my cheeks. I rinsed my face and reached my arm out into the air to feel around for a towel, burying my face into it to pat it dry. I removed it and opened my eyes to find my MIL Standing in the bathroom with me, her hands on her hips, her face two inches away from mine.”CLOSE THE WINDOW,” she barked, gesturing to the window behind me. I jumped back, nearly tripping over the bidet and screamed, “WHAT THE MOTHER FUCK!” in English (which she can’t understand) because for a second I thought I was about to get ax murdered. She shook her head at me like I was insane, rolled her eyes and pivoted out of the bathroom.

***

“It will make you incredibly sick! You’ll hurt your stomach!” My MIL explained to my three year old niece who was begging for water. “No! NO! It’s too COLD!” My MIL held the bottle of chilled water above her head, out of my niece’s reach. “Ma DAI! NONNA!” my niece pleaded, desperate after running in circles in the ninety degree heat.

“No! NO! You’ll get sick!” She said. My niece opened her mouth and let out a shrill scream of frustration, wondering why she was not able to drink water when she was thirsty. I watched, equally as perplexed. What the fuck?

My MIL has decided that along with wind chill, cold water will basically kill you. Drinking cold water on a hot day will destroy your stomach, causing unbearable pain and ruining your life with gastric discomfort. I’d spent my entire life guzzling ice water during the summer and wondered what made me genetically capable of downing the liquid poison? Cold water had yet to make me sick. No matter, I was still forbidden from drinking it, instead we were told that we were only allowed to drink cups of liquid the temperature of fresh urine. Mmmm. Every time someone would raise a cold bottle of water to their lips to alleviate the hot, hot heat she’d burst into the room, pop out behind a door, or spring up behind them, scream, and take their water away. It became a sort of family joke where we’d hide our cold bottles, or sneak away to drink out of them. But once after being outside in the sticky heat, and returning inside to the apartment without air conditioning, Francesco forgot that his mother was lurking. He grabbed a bottle from the fridge, an extra cold one with condensation beads, and started guzzling away. His mom magically appeared in the kitchen like she’d jet-packed in from the balcony upon hearing him swallow, slapped him hard in the back of his head with a massive “THACK.” forcing water to spurt out of his mouth onto the cabinets like a sprinkler. “MOM!” he choked and gagged.

“It’s TOO COLD! DIO MIO!” She grabbed the water out of his hand and slammed the bottle onto the table on her way out of the room.

Francesco turned to me, “ouch!” and we burst out laughing.

***

We went out drinking with friends and returned to my in-laws home around midnight. We crawled into bed and Francesco dozed off right away but I couldn’t sleep because I was hungry and my blood sugar was too low. I tossed and turned, counted sheep, and eventually accepted that I needed to find food. I pulled on my pajamas before padding down the hallway towards the kitchen. I slowly made my way past the office which I assumed was empty since it was the middle of the night. Suddenly, the office light flipped on and my MIL sat up on the office couch, “What are you doing?” She demanded.

I jumped, “Holy shit! Uhm, I’m hungry?”

“There is cheese and bread in the kitchen.” She looked me up and down. Then, while still looking at me, she switched off the light. I stood in the dark hallway for a minute pondering whether or not it was possible that she had super powers. How else could she possibly be EVERYWHERE at every second of the day, always? I pulled some bread and scamorza from the fridge and walked back to the room on-guard yet feeling somewhat safe. Maybe we couldn’t drink cold water, make the boom-boom, or sneak a midnight snack, but least it would be impossible for someone to sneak into our house and murder us.

Furbizia: The Italian Art Of Being Sly

When my in-laws were here last Christmas (some of you remember that insane three week period of my life), Francesco and I took them to Las Vegas for a few days. After our hotel lost our reservation, twice, and gave us a room without pillows (WTF!?) Francesco complained and the hotel gave us a discount. The moment my in-laws heard that we’d complained and therefore been given a discount their eyes all but burst out of their sockets. My God, the possibilities! My father-in-law joked, “We should go to a restaurant and say we’re sick so we get free food! We should tell them that all of their food made us vomit!” The ideas started to flow. How could we get everything for free in the US from that moment forward?

“But how are businesses still in business?” My father-in-law asked, “doesn’t everyone just lie to get everything for free?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because complaining about stuff has consequences and people could lose their jobs?” I responded, confused, “I mean, I guess dirtbags do it.”

“This would never work in Italy. The business would go broke!”

“If they had good customer service they’d go broke?” I asked.

“Yes! Everyone would lie to get it for free and nobody would pay for it anymore. It would be stupid for the business” he laughed.

My father-in-law is a man who loves rules, is an upstanding citizen, and a retired detective. This is a man who runs his home like a military camp, and yet he was thrilled that his son had been “furbo,” by getting a discount at the hotel. When I told him that Francesco wasn’t doing anything clever or sneaky, he was simply letting the manager know there were problems, and that in the US it’s normal to do that but not to exploit it, his mind was nearly blown.

I’m not sure that another scenario could better sum up the Italian sub-cultural phenomenon of Furbizia than that conversation. By definition, Furbizia is basically a quality of “achieving goals using ingenious tricks,” according to the Italian dictionary. Clever, cunning, sly, are some other synonyms. One could also call it being a massive douche bag, but often in Italy, within certain groups, it’s considered smart.

A common perception is that the person being sly is a badass whereas the person being screwed over is a moron who deserves it for not paying attention or not exploiting the opportunity themselves. If you think about it, it’s a genius way to be a dick and take zero responsibility for it. Sadly, it contributes to a cultural layer of manipulation and distrust. The sly trick can be as small as making a business agreement with someone then “accidentally” fudging it, feigning ignorance when caught, or it can be as large as Bettino Craxi who famously embezzled taxpayer’s money and then fled to Tunisia. How clever. It’s not necessarily lying or cheating, rather, exploiting possibilities. It is a game of who can cut all the angles or out sneak their opponent and by opponent I mean the rest of the world.

I’ve been overcharged for drinks, screwed in business deals (also recently, note: we bloggers all talk, bad idea to play sneaky with our crowd, asshole businesses), ass-raped by landladies, all in the game of furbizia. It’s not uncommon, especially if you’re foreign and speak Italian like a drunk toddler. It’s a lot more difficult to pull one over on a local because they are so damn prepared for it that they are constantly on guard. Even my eight year old niece is skeptical of the world already. My husband seems to think that everyone is trying to sneak one over on him and unfortunately it’s because people often are. He’s the kind of guy where someone will try to give him a free sample in Costco and he’ll back away nervously wondering what they want in return. When Francesco and I first started dating he wondered if I had ulterior motives, that I was furbo because “nobody is this honest, you’re trying to trick me.” I actually thought he was insane until I noticed that a lot of his friends approached the world with the same doubt. It isn’t to say that everyone in Italy is trying to screw each other, that’s not true at all, for example most of our friends couldn’t be further from this type of behavior, but sometimes it can feel like the whole country is trying to bend you over (without lube).

The “art,” of furbizia is basically the art of pushing all the boundaries and some people are pros. You’ve seen it before in every soccer game where an Italian player will throw themselves to the ground and pretend to be injured to buy time. Francesco’s teammates used to do that during games and the Europeans from the other teams wanted to kill them. “Just play an honest game mate!” they’d yell. The Italians would smile after the match, “Did you see what I did,” proud of their contribution to the win. It’s a bit different in soccer than the other examples but the idea is still the same.

Every country has liars and thieves, assholes, and douchebags. In the US we have it all, probably more of it, but it seems a bit different. In the US these sneaky types are usually either blatant criminals or involved in white collar crime (arguably much worse) but I’ve never worried that a Starbucks employee might over charge me for a coffee so they could pocket the change (not because Americans are better people, but because people would lose their goddamn jobs and their minds. And surveillance cameras of the all-knowing big brother are pervasive in American culture). Until now, I probably just gave everyone an awesome idea. Great. I’m onto you, Starbucks. 

You would think that after so many years i’d be used to it but I’m not sure that’s possible. Not because I’m gullible or naive but because I’m lazy. I don’t have the energy to check, double check, triple check to see if people are pulling one over on me or not. If I do notice, it pisses me off and I’ll end that relationship immediately (especially business relationships) but I can’t seem to get into the mindset of wondering constantly if there’s a loophole to take advantage of or if I’m being screwed. It just seems exhausting, although, if I did hop on the bandwagon of furbizia I might save a lot of euros here or there, and in a culture of the  cunning, with politicians playing the same game, and economies failing, we could all use an extra buck and an extra boost.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a COSI post! The fun never ends! Check out what my fellow bloggers had to say about the same subject.

Girl In Florence: Why Being Furbo In Italy Is Anything But Cool

Rick Zullo: What Does It Mean To Be Furbo?

Unwilling Expat: Italy’s Cheating Heart

Englishman In Italy: Furbizia

Sex, Lies, And Nutella: Tourists Beware Fighting Furbizia In Italy

Married to Italy: Furbizia- a blessing or a curse

The Florence Diaries: A life lesson in Con-Artistry

What Does It Mean To Be Authentically Italian?

“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.

us

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.”

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Total Tuscany Interviews M.E.: How Many Inappropriate Things Can I Say In One Podcast?

The awesome guys from Total Tuscany asked me to do a podcast and I gladly accepted because I love their stuff and really enjoy embarrassing myself publicly after having a cocktail (or ten) for lunch. I’m pretty sure that I’ll win an award for saying so many captivating things during one interview. You can find the podcast with M.E. on their website Total Tuscany. We cover a lot of ground during this podcast like my favorite things about Italy, what drives me insane, and threatening public masturbation. Let’s make this a drinking game. Take a sip (or a shot) of something every time I swear, say “camel-toe, unicorn, Capybara, or baptism,” or anytime Travis or Pat are audibly regretting their decision to interview me. In all honesty, it was so much fun, I love these guys and their awesome website. They do great podcasts that are fun and informative with expats I absolutely love. If you enjoy the podcast go ahead and share it with your friends (or use it as an opportunity to talk with your kids about the dangerous of drinking).

As with everything on my site, this isn’t kid-friendly so put on some headphones before you give a listen if you have little ones around. And also? Be happy that you’re not me, or not married to me (Francesco will be sainted, I’m pretty sure).

The Difference Between Stereotypes And Cultural Characteristics

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. 

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