Tag Archives: Italian Americans

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.

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