No one can tell you how to survive an Italian better than...an Italian herself! Thanks Djamila for the highly entertaining post!
Whether they're your in-laws, your neighbors or your own family, spending time with these lovely (and loud!) people can drive you crazy. Being born and raised in the Netherlands I've actually only just come to realize how much my Italian background affected me. For one thing I have been fed sarcasm my entire life, so please bare with me here. I know how loud and nosy and sometimes even obnoxious we can be, but I kind of always forgot that that's not really the 'standard' way of doing things in non Italian families. Below you'll find my seven tips on surviving an Italian family, with a hint of sarcasm.
1. Bring Your Etiquette!
This one kind of goes without saying right? Well you would be surprised of how much gets categorized as rude. Entering the house without saying hello to everyone? Forget it. Leaving the house without saying goodbye? Even a bigger no-go. As a member of the family you're expected to say where you're going, what you'll be doing, with whom you'll be doing that, what time you plan on getting back and of course(!) whether you'll be home for dinner or not! For me this just became routine but I can imagine my friends can get a little overwhelmed by all the questions. You didn't think the family would hold back just because you brought company, did you? If anything they will also ask your friend tons of questions, bring up embarrassing stories about you and try to feed them like they're poor little orphans. Some other pointers: ask whether it's OK to keep your shoes on or not, when presented food try to accept at least once but never eat everything, never ever wear a hat or cap while eating at the table. My grandfather literally took a cap of a dinner guest his head and swung it out of the kitchen one time. Talk about etiquette grandpa..
2. Food is Important, Really Important
What's one of the first things you think about when thinking about Italy? It's food isn't it? The idea of all those mouth watering pastas and pizzas will always be intertwined with the idea of Italy. And it's not just the food itself, which preferably is the best you can get, the company you're in while eating it is just as important. Food connects people. In my family it's almost unthinkable to have dinner by yourself, sitting on the couch, while watching television. Dinner time is family time. It's the time of day when we all come together and discuss our day, tell funny stories and have fierce discussions. And of course like 'real' Italians everyone interrupts each other, hands are making all kinds of wild gestures and non of this can be done in an ear-friendly volume. It's pretty overwhelming when you're used to a nice and quiet dinner. Vice versa I usually feel uncomfortable when I'm a dinner guest where everyone just sits and chews, it always reminds me of that scene in an animated cartoon where a rolling piece of paper is blown forward by the wind during an awkward silence. So when you're a dinner guest at an Italian home, expect lots of food, shortage is something we're unfamiliar with, mentally prepare for the noise, learn to say no or you will leave with unwanted weight gain, try to join in in the conversations and if you're looking to score some points bring a small gift and offer to help cleaning up. Buon appetito!
3. Try to Not Be Introvert
I understand this can be a challenge when you are an introvert by nature, but be warned, these people will prey on you like a group of hungry lionesses cornering a poor gazelle. So be prepared and have your witty comments ready! Of course no one intends to harm any feelings but it's just so darn easy to make fun of the quiet one in the group. I have seen this 'phenomenon' too many times in my own family and usually boyfriends and girlfriends are the victims. They want to know everything about them, joke around a lot and ask non serious questions just to see how the puzzled gazelle is going to respond. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking bad about Italians here, heck I even am one of the hungry lionesses myself most often. I'm just trying to help my fellow human being here ;) And like my mum always says: "Hey if I don't care about you I wouldn't even make the effort of trying to make fun of you, so see it as a compliment."
4. Understand We're Proud People
Do not come into our homes and make fun of anything Italy related..only we are allowed to do so haha. On a serious note though, I've noticed especially in my grandfather that he is really proud to be Italian. Even though he married a Dutch woman over fifty years ago and has lived in the Netherlands since. As a former musician he traveled the world but nothing compares to Italy for him. The people are more welcoming, the weather is better, the music is better and of course only Italians know how to cook a decent meal. It gets worse: I remember being bullied when I was about ten years old and he said to me I should tell this kid: "Well at least I am Italian." Really? That was supposed to be my big come-back? Of course I never took his advice on that one for everyone out of my grandfather's reality would consider this to be a humorous but sad excuse for an insult. Oh and by the way, technically speaking I'm only 25% Italian, I'm just a Dutch girl with an Italian grandfather which resulted in an Italian up-bringing, so go figure nonno.
5. Know That Mum is Always Right..even when She's Not
This is absolutely the most annoying point on my list, but keep this in mind and spare yourself a whole lot of endless discussions. At some point during pregnancy there must be some kind of weird process going on that totally clouds the judgement of mum-to-be. As if Italian women weren't already interfering enough, once they become mothers they get worse. They need to know everything about everyone and they stick their big Italian noses everywhere. La madre always knows best...at least that's what she believes. The annoying thing is you can't stay mad at her for too long, she's such a loving, caring and hard working mother who will do anything for her children, and besides most of the time she is indeed right. But even when she's not, just agree and get it over with, otherwise you're up for a very long and very loud discussion you probably won't even win.
6. Have Some Me-time
I cannot stress enough how important this is. Even when you're not living with Italians, it's so important to just check out and have some me-time every once in a while. Personally I find this hard because I live with five other people including a toddler in a single story house. Trying to read a book can be a real challenge! Even waking up isn't nice and quiet around here, there's people chatting, bickering, laughing or singing, a toddler running around, dogs barking, and of course none of it in a quiet sort of way. They only have two volumes, loud and louder! So I carefully pick my moments, when junior is taking a nap, when everyone has gone to bed or the scarce moments when I'm home alone. I love to take a hot bath and just lay there enjoying the silence, or I read, take a nap, watch my favorite movie or whatever makes me feel good at that moment. Get creative with your time, and spend it just the way you want to.
7. Just Go with the Flow
In the end maybe the best advice is to just go with the flow... OK and maybe invest in ear plugs. Yes we're very loud, we stick our noses in everybody's business and we probably seem crazy at times with our hands wildly swinging around. But we're also very warm and welcoming, we're loyal and we know how to turn a house into a home. And if this seriously isn't your cup of tea, just enjoy dinner and be glad when you return to your quiet and peaceful house, knowing I envy you.
That concludes my mini survival guide! I hope you had fun reading it and maybe read some familiar things. What tips would you like to add? And remember, no matter where someone is from always treat them with the respect they deserve.