Italians vs Italian Americans

28 Nov

I was raised in an Italian American family, complete with the pizzelles, ravioli and loud, hand-waving family members. We were always active in the Italian-American community* and maintained Italian friends. One of my best friends in the world, Tony Sylvester, is also Italian and our family’s relationship begin when our grandparents went to grammar school together in the 1930s at St. Anthony’s. Tony asked me if Italy Italians were different from our sort-of cliche Italian-American families. and this is what I have found.

First, let me give you a bit of a geography and history lesson to set the scene. Most Italian immigrants to the US came from southern Italy. Many from the regions of Campania, Sicily and Calabria. Italy is a very divided country, culture norms in the north and south differ as much as Asian and African. In the south they have a diet staple of pasta vs rice in the north. The south is more loud and “in your face” while the north is more reserved, mostly because of the German influence. Umbria, where Mitch and I lived is smack dab in the middle and takes bits and pieces from both as well as having uniques quirks of their own. Because most Italian Americans are from the south, that is the culture we associate with “Italy”. So while Italian Americans are Italian horn wearing, pasta and pizzelle eating, huge family in your face kind of Italians, Italy Italians from the north wouldn’t recognize you at all. In fact, our Umbrian Italian friends had never heard of pizzelles, I had to describe the Italian horn to them and we apparently do Italian food allllll wrong. According to them of course!

The other cool part of this story is how Italian words have crept into English as common place: cannoli, pizza, pasta, biscotti, cappuccino, pepperoni, ravioli to name only a few. The only problem is that the context in which we use many of these words, most Italians would have no idea what we were trying to say. The translations of the Italian American words to Italian is as follows:

Cannoli: the plural form of cannolo, you order 1 cannolo

Biscotti: cookies, any and all

Pepperoni: a bell pepper

They don’t even have pepperoni like we eat it! How crazy! Italians, as with most of Europe live a more structured lifestyle than us footloose and fancy free Americans! They eat at a certain time, in a certain way, have always done and will always do. I can’t tell you how many times Mitch and I got yelled at for eating something the wrong way or at the wrong time. Another huge difference, Italian Americans get drunk. Italy Italians very rarely do. They only get drunk when they’re young and strictly at a disco or night club. They do drink wine all the time and starting at a young age, but never in excess.

Pasta is pasta in America and in Italy 🙂


The most prominent difference we have noticed is efficiency. Italian Americans may be late sometimes, but they have been “Americanized”. Italy Italians live on the Mediterranean time table and are not only always and consistently 20 minutes late, they do very little with purpose and find themselves doing the simplest of tasks multiple times. Their goodbyes take 30 minutes on average, sometimes even up to an hour. My cousins and I get yelled at all the time for putting our coats and shoes on, saying we’re leaving and then standing their talking forever. Let me tell you, this is ingrained in our bodies! Italians typically say goodbye or “ciao” over 20 times before they actually walk out the door. Both groups talk with their hands, the difference is that Italian Americans use many gestures to mean a wide variety of things. Italy Italians however use fewer gestures, but with more passion and more often.

So Italian Americans are definitely Italian, if only Southern Italy. There are similarities they can’t deny, but also differences that are bond to occur with an ocean and decades between you and your old county. Thanks for all the memories Italy, we’ve learned a lot and had so much fun experiencing the beauty of your country and people! Ciao!

*For those of you how don’t know, Canton, Ohio has a rather high and recent Italian and Greek immigrant population.


3 Responses to “Italians vs Italian Americans”

  1. Mom November 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    An amazing last Blog from your Italy trip! Thanks for the great info one more time!

  2. Rana November 28, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Great info and great job “reppin'” the C-Town lol!


  3. Camilla June 19, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    Hey! First of all, I found your blog just surfing through the internet and this is the only post I’ve read so far. I’m sorry if my english isn’t that good: I’m an Italy Italian, as you’d call me…I’d just say I’m an Italian. I was born and raised and lived all my life in Italy. I had fun reading your post about our country and our lifestyle, but I can’t help myself to notice that, as much as you’d like to think you know how Italy works and how Italian people truly are, you’re quite far away from the truth. I appreciate the effort you made to draw a line between Italy Italians and American Italians families: too often people who are americans and just have some old and forgotten relative coming from Italy are convinced they know everything about Italy while, infact, all they’re talking about are a bunch of stereotypes that couldn’t be further from the truth. So thank you for you’re effort. Anyway I’m sorry to tell you that many of the things you wrote are quite false, or at least imprecise. What you’ve seen and experienced is not only your personal perception of our country and culture, but also a small part of our country (just one region, for what I could understand) and just a bunch of people who, as it’s natural, are not rappresentative of how we are as a whole.
    Food first of all: you say you americans do italian food all wrong, according to us. well according to who, then? italian food is our tradition, our history and our culture…if we don’t know what we’re talking about, then who? the only kind of italian food that is genuinely italian is the one cooked and made in Italy! we like to eat at certain hours and all toghether, gathered around a table, and that’s not because we are strict (infact i would say that, compared to many other european cultures, we’re quite the free ones!) but because we know how to enjoy the company of our beloved ones, while having delicious food! Eating in Italy it’s not just about the food, it’s about being toghether, chatting, having a good time and so much more. same is for the long time we take to say our goodbyes, we’re people who really like to be with each other, that’s why saying goodbye can be a long operation!
    Quoting you: “Italy Italians live on the Mediterranean time table and are not only always and consistently 20 minutes late, they do very little with purpose and find themselves doing the simplest of tasks multiple times”, well I’d say this is quite disrespectful, woulndn’t you? sounds like we’re completely stupid people. i can swear not all italians people are constantely late: we can’t show up late to work,for example, just exactly like anybody elses in the world, how we would survive, then, if we weren’t able to be on time? same goes for the simple tasks you mentioned and that, according to you, would take us multiple times to achive? well, just let me remind you we are the culture who brought to this world some of the greatest masterpieces in art, science, architecture and so on…this makes me quite sure we can’t be so thick as you seem to think!
    i hope you won’t take this the wrong way. I just wanted to set some things straight as an Italy Italian girl 🙂 thing is: just because you took a trip to our country you don’t really get to know how thing work around here…but i’m sure if you’d like to learn some more about our beautiful culture you’d be welcome, like anybody that visits our country, we know how to be warm!

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