Friday, March 09, 2012

The (un)making of the Italian man

Dear Readers,

Who doesn't like them? And who wouldn't want to have one (at least every now and then)? I'm talking about Italian men, of course.

A group of multigenerational Latin lookers
source: magtrends
They're well-tailored and stylish and typically fit at any age. They have great taste in shoes. They preen and strut like feral peacocks--though at the same time they're sweet and rather boyish. They enjoy good food and know about wine, but they don't get drunk and sloppy (if they make fools of themselves, they tend to do it sober). Yet for all their undeniable, perennial, animal allure, there's a dark side to the Italian man. There's definitely a dark side.

And this is it: behind every handsome, fashionable, charmingly bestubbled, motorino-revving Italian man are two women: the mother who ruined him and the wife who makes excuses for him. Both should be shot.


Pictured here is Captain Francesco Schettino, the man whose ego, irresponsibility, and lack of intestinal fortitude allegedly caused the recent Costa Concordia disaster which claimed so many lives. While I'm not saying that he typifies Italian men (after all, every nation has its moral and intellectual laggards), I'd argue that he's the inevitable product of certain cultural tendencies in Italy, and it is this culture--from whence such a lily-livered lounge lizard springs--that I'd like to explore. I'll begin with a few vignettes from personal experience.


***

When my Italian nephews were in high school, they used to come over to my MIL's house every day after school got out for a hot lunch, since their own mother was at work. She would have the table set and their primo of pasta ready as soon as they dumped their backpacks on the floor and flopped into their chairs. They'd flick on the TV and zone out to anime cartoons while she busily set the food in front of them, then she'd scurry back into the kitchen to prepare their secondo and side dishes while they wolfed down their pasta. If they needed a napkin (which were located in the sideboard about three feet from where they were sitting), they'd call out, "Nonna! Napkin!" and she'd scuttle out to get it for them and then scuttle back to her hissing frying pans. If she'd forgotten to give them a lemon wedge for their fish, they'd call out, "Nonna! Limone!" After they'd been served their last course of ice cream or fruit, they'd reluctantly switch off the TV, rise from the table with a carefree adolescent burp, volley a "ciao" towards the kitchen where the chintz-swathed MIL was vigorously scrubbing pots, and saunter out of the house--leaving the table strewn with dirty dishes, bread crumbs, spilled water, and orange peels.

I never saw these boys--who are as sweet as bomboloni, mind you--take out the garbage, or hang a load of laundry up to dry, or do any chores whatsoever around the house, and both of their parents work full-time. They always wore trendy jeans and sneakers, had cell phones, ample allowances, and rode to school on their own mopeds (one of them even had an additional motocross bike, just for fun)--which is fine, of course. It's just that nothing was ever expected of them in return. Their mother pampers them--still--even more than their nonna, treating them like babies who can barely be trusted to feed themselves or wipe their own behinds. When one of them--at age 21--was horsing around in front of his girlfriend and destroyed our large outdoor storage bin, my husband waited a week in vain for the young man to at least apologize before confronting him and letting him know that we expected it to be replaced. Rather than deal with it himself, his mother (my sister-in-law) knocked on our door and proffered €50, and somewhat in a huff said, "Matteo è rimasto male [is upset at being chastised]. After all, he's only a boy."

***

One of my husband's old school friends from the neighborhood, Guido, separated from his wife some years back. A 46 year-old father of two, he had a good job and a good income by Italian standards, and drove a late-model BMW. As nearly always happens in these cases, he moved back in with his parents and into his old bedroom, sleeping on the narrow twin bed of his childhood. His mother prepares all his meals, does his laundry, presses his shirts for work, and tidies his room--exactly as she used to before he married.

*** 

Okay, this isn't relevant but
I personally have a real thing for Carabinieri ;-)

***

Another twenty-something nephew of mine recently landed a decent job with a much-coveted permanent work contract. He has a longtime girlfriend and they talk of getting married. Since boyhood he's been sharing a 7 x 10 foot bedroom with his slightly younger brother and his sister who's younger by some 10 years. He still sleeps, contentedly, in the cramped upper tier of a bunk bed which is crammed into the suffocatingly close space, stuffed as it is with the beds and bulky wardrobes and computer desks of two grown young men and a 15 year-old girl. But there was no question of him moving out--instead he bought himself a new car.

***

One of my brothers-in-law who has two kids has never changed a diaper. (I'll pause to let that sink in fully). Another brother-in-law, once it was established that his gag-reflex was too pronounced, poor thing, never had anything more to do with the diapers, illnesses, or potty training (or much else related to child-rearing) of his three children, even though his wife, like most Italian women these days, works. A third brother-in-law--the one who lives across town--brings his laundry over for my MIL to do when his own wife is away, and insists on dragging his wife and daughters to the MIL's every weekend for a big lunch prepared by mamma's loving hands, even though her age and ailments make this an increasingly difficult burden. (And when the nonni moved into their small granny unit, this same brother-in-law insisted they keep the enormous refectory-style dining table--even though it makes their dwarf-sized salottino impossibly cramped--so he could dine in accustomed comfort on the weekends).

***

Laura, an Italian mom with whom I'm friendly--our sons go to school together--recently separated from her husband. She confided that for years her husband has simply not been "present" in the marriage (incidentally I've had one other friend and a hairdresser say the same thing about their husbands. They both chose separation). Like so many Italian men, he prefers to hang out at the coffee bar or soccer stadium, or surf the Net or peruse the Gazzetta dello sport, and tends to get restless and bored when forced to hang out with wife and child. He also seems to have had a dalliance with another woman (and the fact that she was a foreigner, to boot--a Filipina--counted as another black mark against him). And yet, like so many Italian men, he expects to find the cupboards and fridge full of food and his dinner on the table every night, his clothes laundered and pressed, and his child scrubbed, homework done, and ready for bed. Well, she'd finally reached her limit, telling me that she already has one kid to look after so why should she want another, one who's 40 years old? But marriage is a two-way street, of course, and knowing how Italian drivers are I think we can allow for a fair amount of  irrational behavior on both sides: in fairness, I have to say that all this woman does when she's not at work is clean her house (or the car, or the stairwell of the building, or the persiane). Seriously. Her house reeks of Lysol. Once when I was over there and she was attempting to converse while frantically scrubbing down the kitchen like some disinfecting dervish, her husband said to me, "Look at her! She's constantly cleaning; it's a sickness." Apparently her own presence in the marriage was up for debate. Anyway, she sent hubs packing and, in typical fashion, he moved back in with his parents.

Too close for comfort? This same mom recently gave her 10 year-old son an enema because "l'intestino era bloccato" (the poor little guy vomited afterwards). And now the two of them live like happy newlyweds in their cozy little love nest, without that pressed-jeans-clad non-entity of a husband casting a pall over the house, and she can coddle her precious, wavy-haired boy to her hearts' content for many long years to come.


'Smother-love

Mammoni. We've all heard this term with regard to Italian men: mamma's boys. One thing's for sure, they don't exist in a vacuum; behind every Italian man there's an unbroken line of Italian mammas, nonnas and bisnonnas reaching back in time through conquests and cantos to the peninsula's murky origins. These are the apron-clad culprits who've perpetrated the irreparable warping of long, spooled chains of psychological DNA for generations of Italian men. From cradle to grave, by mother, wife, and eldest daughter--Italian males are pampered and spoiled, shielded from reality and consequences, and their behavior--no matter how outrageous--indulged. If my MIL is sick or otherwise absent, the FIL--who's in robust health--has his meals prepared and his clothes laundered by some female family member. He never, ever goes to the supermarket or picks up his own prescription meds. He certainly never participated in any of the child-rearing or care of invalid relatives (even his own wheelchair-bound mother)--that was solely women's work. In short, he--like so many other Italian men--has been kept in a child-like, irresponsible state, frozen in a kind of carefully cultivated uselessness and degenerative ineffectuality. I often think how surreally wonderful it must be to go through life like an Italian man--a pasha who merely has to sit down at table and a three-course meal magically appears. And when one has eaten one's fill, all one has to do is arise and go on to other pleasant diversions and let the scullery maid (i.e. the wife) worry about such trivialities as cleanup. And to have all one's clothing washed and ironed and neatly folded and arrayed in one's dresser or wardrobe--not knowing if elves or sprites did it, or one's tired, old, long-suffering handmaiden. And not really being bothered to care either way.

How can such men--grown out of this nascent ooze of medieval manhood--become fully functioning husbands and fathers and students and employees and managers and politicians? How can they become contributing partners in marriages, in companies, in the governing of a nation? How can they be counted on to do the just, right, selfless thing when the ship is sinking? How can they be proper lovers--real soul mates--or innovative entrepreneurs or resolute leaders of men when they can't even boil water for pasta?


The slimy shirker extraordinaire

Francesco Schettino comes from the small town of Meta di Sorrento, near Naples. In the aftermath of the disaster, journalists deluged the town and interviewed locals regarding the erstwhile captain's character. Not surprisingly, his wife vociferously lauded his prowess in all fields, and rose to the defense of his integrity and bravery. The local priest followed suit, proclaiming Schettino's unquestionable virtues, while asserting that the overly-aggressive northern journalists and media were demonstrating an age-old prejudice against Neapolitans specifically and southern Italians generally. In other words, the usual battery of excuses was invoked for a man who has doubtless been pampered his whole life and whose rectitude lies limp and flaccid within the starched, molly-coddled confines of his metaphysical Jockeys.


Adorable. But remember: they either live with their mommies or their wives.
Who do you think ironed their underwear?

Insomma, though there exist some notable exceptions, Italian men are like Italian fashions: lovely to look at and to drape over one's body--with some mighty fine detailing and workmanship--but which, alas, usually prove utterly impractical in the end. With every new season, they become obsolete. They become, regrettably, those rather embarrassing choices pushed far to the back of the closet.


Yours,

Campobello

*For a fun, informative and spot-on romp on the subject of Italian men, check out Sara's post at When in Florence.

78 comments:

  1. How delightful! I relished every word and laughed with glee. Can't think of a bigger turnoff than underwear ironed by Mamma.

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    1. Thanks, Isabel. I'd wager Indian men are also located somewhere on the spoiled, mamma's boy continuum! ;-)

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  2. w.o.w.a. as JLO would say...that's just too much..

    sadly it's the same story wherever the "italian" family resides..and they aren't the only culture that cherishes the male to the extreme...

    to an outsider it's ridiculous but I'm sure if you are brought up that way "c'est normale"..

    I don't understand how any woman would allow herself to become basically a "slave" but like you say it's a two way street and her need for stability and someone to pay the bills and keep a roof over her head may be behind alot of it...

    personally I couldn't have any respect for a man or woman who still lives with their parents at age 30..I mean that's just pathetic...

    what Italy needs is a strong woman at the helm to iron the country's underwear and show the rest of the italian woman that there is more to life than scrubbing pots ...

    BASTA!

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    1. That's exactly how it is regarded here, debbie: normal. In fact, if a "kid" (and I'm talking a 35 year-old here) moves out on his or her own it's considered strange.

      And you're right, what Italy needs IS a strong woman at the helm--unfortunately almost all of them are busy waiting on their menfolk ;-)

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    2. Anonymous4:13 PM

      My daughter is married to an Italian man and everything in this article is so very true. She being American has had enough after 5 years!!! It is beyond his comprehension that a women is not there to do as his Mama has always done, he jus does not 'GET IT'hence I would say relationship is probably over. In saying all this I must say he is a good man, his problem is that he is ITALIAN.

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    3. Dear anonymous, thank you for sharing this--it's so sad, though, when entrenched mindsets and/or cultural differences are so pronounced as to perhaps spell the end of a relationship, especially when, as you say, your son-in-law is at heart a good person. I have known a few Italian women who have said "enough!" to their mamma's boys husbands, their feeling being that they were not acting like true marriage "partners." I sincerely wish you and your daughter luck in dealing with such a difficult situation.

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    4. Debbie,

      Italy does not mean a strong woman at the helm as this will not change a thing. And that strong woman might still be raising his son like a little king.

      What Italian women need to stop wanting to stay at home entirely focused on their sons, they need to go out in the world. The very sad thing is because of cultural and religious pressure many Italian women don't realize that they unknowingly participate in their own enslavement.

      Also Italian women have to stop that particular Italian trait of complaining and not doing a thing. I mean Italian women must stop at the same time complaining about Italian men and raising their sons like little kings.

      You know in Italy it's time to stop being PC : mother son relation in Italy (but aslo in Greece and Spain) is nothing but a legal, socially accepted incestuous relation. Honestly how can a boy raised in such a society ever become a man ? ... he just can't or makes it with difficulties.

      I'm Italian myself and did cut relations with my mother to the strict minimum. It's sad be often the choice Italian women give to their sons is either : love their mothers or love women.

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    5. to Anonymous4:13 PM

      you said this "In saying all this I must say he is a good man, his problem is that he is ITALIAN."

      Italian mothers don't realize, or rather selfishly don't want to realize, all the harm they do to to their sons, potentially damaging their sons emotional health. Very sadly many Italian mothers put their sons in a damaging partner solution and this is emotional incest (widely accepted in Italy making it difficult for sons for cut the apron string). Italian fathers are sadly useless as they have been raised by an Italian mother.

      Myself, like many others that managed to get out of their mothers influence soon were left with just a 2 choices : Hate my mothers & love women or hate women and love my mother. I chose to cut relation with my mother. I remember younger that I had to drink the "guilt potion" these women give their kids to keep control and I just said no. And I said no to my family as well as none of them could understand I did not want to be my mother pupet.

      Many view Italian mothers as dedicated loving mothers, but I see them as selfish rather, possibly among the worst mother, as they don't teach their kids to become independent adults

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    6. Patrick, thanks so much for both of your very interesting comments. It's good to have a male perspective, and particularly the perspective of an Italian male. I have often wondered why Italian women seem to perpetuate the cycle. I did write about Italian women on the blog more recently (see the posts entitled The Skin Their In: the Uneasy Paradox of Italian Women parts 1 & 2 from April/May 2013) and mentioned my confusion over this fact.

      Teaching children to become independent adults, as you pointed out, is so key! Thanks again for stopping by :-)

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  3. Who says Never Neverland isn't real? Here it is! A whole country for Peter and his lost boys!!! O Dio!! Brava Elizabeth! Come sempre! Fortunately, I know many strong, independent, (stranieri, of course) women who are putting (at least some of) these lost boys in their place!

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    1. Sara, thank you for dropping by and commenting (and for your own terrific post on this subject). You're right: it IS Never Never Land, isn't it?!

      I, too, know many women (and they're usually foreign, as you point out) who are hitched to non-traditional Italian men. Come to think of it, it must be the non-traditional ones that seek out foreign women--perhaps they long for/appreciate something different, or at least a woman who has more going on upstairs than preoccupations with cleaning fluid, high heels, and starched linens!

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    2. Snorting-with-laughter!!!!!! Amazing post.

      My fiance (Italian) and I just had a blast reading through this, he was literally in chuckles agreeing 100% with everything you said. He said that he was raised exactly like your example #1, him & his brothers were a bunch of brats who did this at their Nonna's house everyday after school.

      He made a few interesting comments. First he said in respect to the nonna & mamma. That for the women that do this full time for their children, it brings them such pleasure in providing, because let's face it : It's-all-they-know. I know the look and pleasure on his Nonna's face when we show up at her house and within 10 minutes a 5 course meal is on the table, she is always ready to provide.

      Then, he also made the most darling comment "I already have two grandmothers and one mother, I don't need another woman to take after me". Aww, sweet! Then, I reminded him as much as he thinks he is the true, modern Italian man who has detached himself from such core traditions with these women..... He still leaves his underwear & socks EVERY MORNING in the bidet. The last time we were at his parents home, guess what - So do the other brothers! Because mommy never told them otherwise.

      This morning, guess what? No undies & socks in the bidet for me to put in the clothes bin! BRAVA for writing this post.

      Genius!

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    3. Christy, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment (sharing your and your fiancé's experiences). I am so glad he could laugh about it! Actually, I find that most Italian men readily admit to being mammone, and can have a good laugh over it--it's an entirely accepted behavior and cultural norm.

      That said, I'm glad your hubby-to-be saw fit to pick up his dirty laundry! ;-)

      It's true that many Italian women appear to derive pleasure from serving their menfolk and grandchildren, etc. And your fiancé is right when he says that it's all they know. But I'm not so sure that, deep down, if perhaps they were more self-aware, they wouldn't prefer to receive more appreciation and even actual help. Hmmm, something to ponder. Ciao e grazie di nuovo!

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  4. Amazing. Thank you for this! I moved to Italy... and met an Irishman!

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    1. Smart girl, Natalie ;-)

      Thanks for dropping by!

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  5. So sad. It's especially stressful for non Italian women. My son does chores, dishes, and cleans; much to husband's horrors. It's those masochist, Mary loving martys that adore keeping their boys in metaforical diapers. In their little lives, it's the only place where they can exert control. I think often of potenial talents being lost as I want them clean the persianes, bleach all the linens, and sweep down the sidewalk in anticipation of the local priest coming to bless the house and fill up their coffers, Great,great post! Thanks

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    1. dear papaya,

      I have heard about half-anglo kids who do chores being considered anomalies at best/freaks at worst (and the mums who insist they do them considered fire-breathing sadists). Good for you in raising your son to not take things for granted! It will serve him well in life.

      Yes, there is something weird/Oedipal about the whole mamma's boy thing here--it definitely seems to serve to fill some void in women left by either a lukewarm marriage or a total lack of hobbies/intellectual pursuits--or talents gone to waste, as you wisely point out.

      As always, dear, thanks for reading :)

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    2. "It's those masochist, Mary loving martys that adore keeping their boys in metaforical diapers. In their little lives, it's the only place where they can exert control."

      It's very true, and mother / son relation in Italy looks to me quite often close to covert incest. If women want to improve their situation in Italy, they must absolutely stop pampering their sons or nothing will really change.

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    3. I agree, Patrick--the relationship between raising mammoni and the status of women is definitely related.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  6. yet again , another fantastic spot-on , well written article. I identified with every word. I remember when I first moved to Florence and was shocked that no one was helping my boyfriends mom after she prepared a 3 course meal, or bothered to give her a birthday gift ( in her words "nn devi spendere!" , or celebrate anything for her really, even the month long sabattical in August is expected to be managed by her... mamma mia! but then i slowly realized after irrationally getting mad at the table and saying things that brought the conversation to silence, that she herself "wants' it that way. She is a housewife and wants her grown sons to live with her. My boyfriends 35 year old brother still lives at home while she does everything for him , while he works part-time ( maybe ) and goes on month long vacations every year. When we moved out together , that was a huge deal. I remember his mother suggesting at one point that me and my boyfriends brothers ex-girlfriend get an apartment together so that her two bambini could stay at home and live...of course they could visit us during the weekend. scary and seriously true. I feel lucky that my guy cooks better than I do and is no stranger to the (pink) rubber kitchen gloves but that took time! geez-o, I do wish my boyfriends mom had more hobbies other than cleaning and sewing but this is all she knows and she is not likely to change now, nor her children. It was a real eye opening experience for my boyfriend when he came to visit my family in the US for the first time...

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    1. Georgette, thank you so much for sharing your experiences--wow! Everything you mention rings so absolutely true--I can see it happening. I'd love to hear more about your boyfriend's reaction to your family in the States :)

      As you point out, yes, many of the women want it this way (especially the older generations)--even if it means they do do double and triple duty as slaves while working outside the home, seemingly leaving precious little time for themselves. Scary.

      Again, thanks for dropping by!

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    2. This brings up an interesting question I have always struggled with. Growing up in the States, after dinner, my brothers & I ALWAYS did the clean up.

      So now, when am visiting the MIL, she insists on doing everything herself. I only ask two times and she always says not to worry.

      Do I keep insisting to help, or let her be to clean it up the way she wants? After all, it is HER kitchen and its always perfect. Aiuto! - Christine

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    3. Hi again, Christy!

      I, too, have experienced your situation at my MIL's or various SIL's, etc. I think it's a good idea to respect their wishes, keeping in mind however that this is a Catholic country where female martyrdom is part of the DNA--meaning, they may refuse assistance, but they may secretly appreciate it ;-)

      I usually at least help clear the table, letting them have domain over their kitchens.

      But something that's always bothered me about doing even this--probably because I'm a hopeless curmudgeon--is that HOW COME NONE OF THE MALES DO IT???????? Why does it ALWAYS fall to the females to do this shit? I mean, it's not like I'm programmed to do housework--like some kind of gender-biased computer--I do it because it needs to be done, and I regard it as teamwork. And both men AND women are on the team.

      Anyway, regardless of my righteous feminist pique, I continue to help out, even in small ways such as clearing the table, because it seems the decent thing to do after a 5 course meal prepared from scratch :-)

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    4. You are SO RIGHT! It is amazing. I sit there, filled in a room with 8 men and ME. Not one of them lifts a fork or napkin to help clean up. Then, the thing that realllllly erks me is this:

      When I do get up and ask to help, and am refused, I do try to tidy up a little bit on the table (so grazie, for letting me that is okay). However, when one of the men says "CHRISTINE! tranquilla, don't worry!"

      Ohhhhhh man, how do they have the right to say that? On the inside I want to go over and smack their cute little faces. Next time, I will carry on as planned and at least stack all the dishes neatly and she can manage the placement of dishes herself (I am sure she has the system perfectly in order).

      Grazie per informazioni! XX, Christine

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    5. Good girl, Christy--you gotta do the right thing! ;-)

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  7. I loved this post so much I wrote my own post about it! Amazing, as always.

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    1. Dear Michelle,

      aw, thanks! Just read your post and am so flattered :)

      As you mention, there are more and more Italian men who are participating as fathers and help-mates, things have changed (to a degree) and continue to change--though I am constantly surprised at how many of the younger generations of maschi italiani still behave as relics from the Dark Ages. Again, if the women expect nothing more from them, they remain stuck in these outdated modes.

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  8. Anonymous1:44 AM

    Awesome post!!! Reminds me of far too many of my Italian family members. My Italian-born husband could have chosen to live like this too (his mamma would have been thrilled!!) but luckily for me he chose to move out and move abroad after college and lived on his own for years before we got married- as I'm writing he's cooking dinner and doing the dishes :-) His brother is still back home being waited on by mamma, now into his 30s. When I worked as an English teacher in Italy, I had countless students who were professional women on the verge of breakdowns from work/caring for elderly parents/caring for adult children/constantly cleaning, all with zero help. One alternated with her sister driving an hour to sleep with their very ill mother- the brother lived in the apartment below mamma, but obviously couldn't be bothered to take a shift. It was sad and kind of sickening. Like you said, a two way strada, the women who do it, and the men who accept it! God knows if we ever have boys- they will be getting a nice weekly chore list much to nonna's horror! -Jen in Chicago

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    1. Jen, I really appreciate your taking the time to share your invaluable experiences with me! Your husband--like many Italians I know married to/partnered with foreign women--is the exception to the rule (and thank goodness those exceptions exist!). It's to his great credit that he flew the nest and established his own life (nothing against family, of course, but you know what I mean).

      The observations you made about Italian women are very astute--and I plan on writing about that in a future post. They are still stuck in roles as primary care-givers to children, husbands, and elderly relatives--all while holding down jobs outside the home and making sure the house is spotless and there's home-cooked food on the table to boot! I don't know how they do it.

      Thank you for reading/commenting!

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  9. I'm lucky I got a totally independent Italian guy who owns his own home and is better at cleaning than I am, but I remember an ex-boyfriend's brother who, at age 33, still slept on a tiny little itty bitty single bed at his parents' home. I really don't get the single bed in adulthood thing.
    I'm glad I know about your blog now!

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    1. Tina, thank you so much for commenting and I'm happy to have you as a new reader.

      Ha ha--yes, the tiny twin bed for grown men! Such a mystery. I've always wondered what they do for--ahem, YOU KNOW--with their girlfriends (or hey, even boyfriends), girlfriends who also live with their parents of course.

      I mean, automobiles here are so small--ever take a look at the backseat of a Fiat 500? ;-)

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  10. I guess I fit the profile of a foreign woman married to an Italian male who is exception to the rule. His brother is also married to a foreigner. The key in both cases is that their working feminist mom made them both pick up after themselves! Smart woman. Their father cooks and cleans and does his fair share, although with some generational hang-ups. I plan to be like my MIL and make my boys pick up after themselves and learn chores. My husband plans to make them learn to cook for sure!

    Oh, I do still worry about the MIL influence. Now that she is retired, she has gotten more hands-on in terms of pampering her sons. If she ever gets around to washing or ironing their clothes, I'll scream.

    I know many American women married to American men who complain about the same thing though, despite having more "equal" status. I think the difference is that some of the complaints is based on having to micromanage the chores and still keep a mental calendar for the family, rather than having a totally self-sufficent male partner. We have a long ways to go!

    Finally, is it horrible that a tiny part of me hopes that my boys will be mama's boys? Horrible, I know...

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    1. Dear oilandgarlic, thank goodness there are exceptions to the rule and I'm glad you've found one, too!

      MIL's are probably worrisome in every culture, though especially so here ;-)

      Interesting point you bring up about American couples. There probably is no such thing as total equality--and maybe some aspects of family life are simply better-managed by women, who knows?--but the surrounding cultural attitudes toward women do say a lot.

      I loved your last two sentences--wonderful! Don't feel bad--a part of me is almost glad I do live in Italy and could in theory keep my kids home until the ripe ol' age of 40 if I wanted to. Loving your children and wanting them near you surely must be as natural as breathing :-)

      Thanks for your invaluable comments!

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  11. Anonymous11:59 PM

    Such an interesting post. Living in Florence the past several years has made me aware (more via my spoiled male teen students than friends or such) that this behavior carries on in 2012. Maybe I'm lucky my boyfriend isn't from Florence and has lived on his own here (for study and now work) for the past 9 years. He cooks and does the dishes because he's done so for himself this whole time. I consider myself pretty lucky. :) I definitely relate to the comments about the MIL and the whole 'offering to help' quandary. When visiting, mainly I help clear the table too, and then hang back and eye my boyfriend for a cue. Usually I'm then relegated to the sofa to watch tv with the others. I actually don't mind this because I'm terrified what would happen if I broke something in the kitchen anyway. ;-)

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    1. Yes, surely your boyfriend is unusual, but lucky you to reap the benefits :-)

      I loved your comment about being afraid to break something in the kitchen--indeed, sometimes it's best to let these women rule over their own territory as they see fit!

      Thank you for stopping by!

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  12. Your stories are colorful and really work to bring home your point. However it seems like there's a bit of anger behind it, kind of like this disgust at how these men are babied and pampered. But there's a much larger context here that I think was completely glossed over. The whys. The cultural context. Fish don't know they're in water, and Italians certainly do the things they do because the Italian culture is just that, a culture with its own unique values that were born for specific reasons. Just like the US has values that other countries might not understand or appreciate. This post paints Italian women as pathetic doormats to be vilified and Italian men as vain and thoughtless parasites. I understand that the Italian cultural norms aren't very palatable to those raised in Anglo-Saxon (US, UK for example) cultural contexts and that being polite and kind and courteous and contributing are good values in general. My kids, a boy and twin girls, are biologically bi-cultural (Italian dad and US mom) and being raised in Italy, so they'll reap the benefits of both cultures, but I would hate to think they'd have to face this kind of disdain just because half of their biological and cultural make-up has values that differ from their other half.

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    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, and you've certainly given me some much-appreciated food for thougt. I wasn't aware of any anger per se, but being a product of Anglo-American culture, I certainly carry around my own little suitcase of conditioned prejudices and opinions--and these inevitably come out, I'd dare say, in writing about my adopted home. I do happen to think that the way men are raised here (not EVERY man, but many) has profound cultural implications/impact--and that it is not--again, in my opinion--very healthy. But, hey, if everybody's happy with it, more power to 'em.

      Since it's a blog post and not a book, I suppose I didn't get too deep into the "whys"--though those considerations certainly merit further pondering and exploration as you point out. I was painting a picture, and like any painter, I chose a certain palette of colors, inevitably leaving others out. I suppose I also took it for granted that my vignettes would highlight aspects of a culture that quite obviously--though not exclusively--privileges males and has certain not-so-pleasant things to convey about females (the example of their portrayal on Italian TV being spot-on).

      Gee, I hadn't intended to portray Italian women as doormats, though in my experience I have seen a fair share of it--and I do ask myself "why?"(Choosing to write generally on any subject has its obvious pitfalls, not the least of which is reductivism). I have also seen/known some pretty strong Italian women--just as I've seen/known Italian men who are wonderful, participatory husbands and fathers.

      As the veteran mother of two completely bi-lingual/bi-cultural children, I agree that I wouldn't want my children to face any kind of cultural insensitivity based on differing sets of values--but at the same time I'll be inevitably raising them with certain values that I feel are important, at times making choices between those which are Italian and those which are more American (thank God the universal ones are just that!)--and I'd wager many bi-cultural mothers necessarily do the same. Doesn't mean we wholeheartedly dump the other set of cultural values, or even denigrate them. But in that act of choosing I'd say we are making value judgements.

      In other words, though I love my children and would LOVE to keep them with me until the ripe old age of 35 (and which would be perfectly acceptable here in the Boot), I won't because my Anglo-American viscera tells me that that won't be the best thing for their personal development. If there's a right or wrong in that, surely it's a matter of (cultural) opinion.

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    2. Thank you equally for your incredibly thoughtful reply! I am right spot on with you on so much of what you express in your reply. And I really struggle with a lot of this cultural stuff all the time. I try as much as I can to observe and merely poke fun at the culture without trying to judge, but there is a part of me that has to really bite my tongue especially when it comes to men living at home. I can understand a lot of the financial arguments for kids living at home until late. I also try to respond intelligently when Italians accuse Americans of not being "about family" and not caring about their children when they "throw them out" at 18. It's just such a constant juggling act, isn't it?
      Luckily my very limited experience with Italian partners is that they have been far from the preening peacocks and very participatory. But there's a part of me that wonders if that's by choice, since I, coming from my American background, simply wouldn't be able to tolerate a man not participating. But then again...there were many times in my marriage in which I found myself doing a lot. And then I wonder, is that cultural or simply that women tend to shoulder a lot of the burdens in keeping a household? So many complex questions.
      In short this blog post was just what the blogosphere needs more of: intelligent, thought-provoking, and open minded discourse. Bravissima.

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    3. Shelley, I'm really enjoying this discussion with you--thank you for taking so much time to debate.

      It IS a juggling act, this straddling of two cultures--thoughtful expats need to constantly be tuned in to their own responses and ever-watchful of feelings that bubble up when their own culture is on someone else's chopping block. It's a wonderful learning experience and, for me at least, it has seen a kind of arc. The first few years were all flushed with the whole honeymoon-like euphoria of living in Italy, the next few are a total blank because I fell down the rabbit hole (or was it sink hole?) of motherhood ;-), then came the period of, for lack of a better phrase, more "honest assessment." Now--because I'm old enough and have enough experience under my belt--I have formed some definite opinions, and I'm not really ashamed of that fact. (I'm also not ashamed to wear schlubby clothes and sneakers to the supermarket, or to have my kids clothes look as crumpled as if they'd slept in them for a week--but those are stories for another time...). I've reached a paradoxical point wherein I feel I know Italy quite well, from the inside as it were, and yet still have much to suss out about the greater cultural "whys," as you put it. There are probably many things I simply will never understand, not having been born and bred here. In this perhaps my children will have something very valuable to teach me!

      It's good that you find the humor in things and try not to judge. I too adore looking at the world through the lens of humor, but I do judge--feeling that age and experience and a certain (debatable) amount of intelligence gives me that prerogative--but I'd like to think that I do it with a mind that is always open to changing its point of view, learning, and exploring heretofore unknown perspectives. That's what life's all about, whether one is juggling two cultures, or three basketballs while riding a unicycle (I'm not making that up--saw it in Portland last summer) ;-)

      Again, lovely to have had your comments!

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    4. A rhetorical aside, not necessariy directed at Shelley (though she has proven most inspiring), musing on the question "To judge or not to judge?":

      Why does it seem okay to judge something as good, i.e. Italian food, art, architecture, their wonderful affection for bambini, but when you judge something as bad, i.e. the way many Italian men are raised, Italian drivers, or Italian politics, it seems not okay? What is it about our intellectual apparatus that cannot be trusted to judge cultural mores in our adopted country but which can, with impunity, make judgements on gelato or sugo di cinghiale that are considered acceptable? I get all the arguments that as a "guest" in one's host country, one should shut the f*** up--but after how many years of residence, citizenship, raising children, working, paying taxes (an anomaly!) etc. does one earn the right to voice one's unabashed opinion?

      In other words, is criticism (done with an open mind, of course) allowed?

      Is there room for satire?

      And why has Italy become such a sacred cow?

      I'm opinionated in America and I'm opinionated here. I judge Santorum to be an unmitigated, slavering ass and Berlusconi as the same. If I speak out against one, can I do so equally and validly against the other?

      Food for thought.

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  13. that's why I am married to a Dutchman. I'm Italian.

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    1. :-)

      Nice to hear from an Italian woman! Thank you for the input!

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  14. In theory yes, "marriage is a two-way street" but we all know about cars double parking everywhere here and making a mess of your basic circulation.

    I am glad that my husband is not a typical Italian man (not a style addict, no taste for gadgets or cars, no sporting of any kind - we don't even have a TV) but it is however true that as soon as his mother (or even one of his sisters!) is with us for a visit, his usual helping around the house disappears.
    He sits at the table and a huge screw must somehow come up his bum, tying him to the chair: He stops getting up to grab what is a mere metre away, he stops cleaning out the table, or doing the dishes (his tasks, normally) etc. This trend is even worse, of course, when we are visit her. Total regression.
    I tease him mercilessly on this and the sarcastic approach works a little but its a long battle.

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    1. Ok, good thing I wasn't sipping tea because your comment about the "huge screw coming up his bum" would have cost me my screen :-)

      Sounds like you have a good guy there--a little regression at mamma's house is probably fine, as we moms DO enjoy pampering (to a degree, personally speaking)!

      Thanks for dropping by!

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  15. So much truth here. I see my SIL in the same situation, while I am viewed as shoddy goods because I've hardly ever sat down to battle through my kids' homework. Very early on I established that I wouldn't be slaving over the house. I don't do massive meals unless I have helpers or am in a cooking frenzy.

    I remember when I was miscarrying at the local hospital. My MIL dropped me there as I cried, then rushed home because an adult son in bed had to be woken. I was beyond shocked. Women are expected to bear pain, to fade out.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences--my goodness, how awful that must have been (and quite the shock) when your MIL left you there to muddle through a mere miscarriage while she had more important things to do!

      Your story evoked two memories for me. One, when I was pregnant with my first, the MIL told me it was wrong to have an epidural because of Original Sin--because Eve (woman) caused Adam's (man's) downfall and henceforth was commanded by God to bear children in pain.

      Two, when one of my nephews (at age 21 or 22) got his first part-time job. His own mother left for work too early to wake him up to go to work (and apparently he couldn't be trusted to heed an alarm clock), so my MIL would go over to their house herself and see that he woke up in time.

      You just couldn't make this stuff up!

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  16. Reading your brilliant and refreshingly well-written post, two things came to mind:
    1) how lucky I feel to have married one of the few exceptions to this rule, and
    2) how the hell did my Italian husband become an exception?
    My husband neither lived abroad nor moved away from his family at a young age. In fact, his mother is similar to the ones you described and in the comments, in that she waits on the family hand and foot, cleans constantly and refuses a helping hand. The answer to my question is, I believe, his father. His father (a southerner!) was extremely strict with him growing up, teaching him to be respectful, honest, hard-working, ethical and also what was acceptable behavior. Anything less was not tolerated.
    Although I agree 100% that the fault lies mostly with the mothers who coddle and slave over their sons (and daughters!--my sister-in-law is 26, with a good job and a steady boyfriend, but refused to move out, her attitude is, "why should I spend my own money when I can live at home for free?" she actually said that to me!) but I think we underestimate what an important role fathers have in the character formation of their sons. I imagine you are right that very few of them take an active role in child-rearing, and this cannot be blamed on their poor overworked mothers. Although don't get me wrong, I am also sickened by the excessively close mother-son relationship that is so one-sided! I fear for the day my own children come along!

    Here's a post I did on the same subject, placing the blame for the plight of italian women at their own door: http://thepinesofrome.blogspot.com/2011/08/are-italian-women-really-unhappy.html

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I am so happy I found your blog! I will be a regular reader!

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    1. OMG Tiffany, talk about serendipity--I have read your post and I even quoted that story about the old woman with the duffle bag recently on the LfF Facebook page (but I couldn't remember where I'd read it)! Great post with some very astute postulations regarding Italian men with expat women partners--it was a pleasure to read it again :-) That article has been bookmarked in my browser since it came out because it inspired me to write a (future) post on Italian women.

      Thank you for your comments--so very interesting about your FIL. I think you're right in supposing that it was his strong presence and loving discipline and influence that made a big difference in your husband's outlook/modus operandi. These coddling mammas are as much a product of the culture as the mammoni--it's all intertwined somehow. Perhaps with the new crop of involved husbands/fathers we'll see a larger cultural shift in the coming generations!

      Thanks again for dropping by--I'll be visiting you, too, over at Pines of Rome :-)

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  17. This is my first visit to your site - what can I say but Brava! What a wonderfully amusing article. My own husband, though born and raised in America, tells the most remarkable stories of having been pampered in his youth by his mamma, zie and nonne. Yet, he grew up to be a kind and wonderfully thoughtful and helpful individual, cognizant of the needs of others and even better at housework than I. Call me lucky! Thanks for a wonderfully amusing post.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and jumping in and leaving a comment first time round! :-)

      You bring up a good point--there are times when the coddling and pampering serves to sweeten the men deliciously and make bang-up individuals out of them. Perhaps it depends on the nature of the pampering, the pamperer, and/or the pamperee?

      Thanks again!

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  18. I had to comment again...I'm glad someone pointed out the influence of fathers (FIL). I hadn't thought about it before but my FIL is pretty considerate and would want to ensure that his wife isn't overloaded and stressed out. In other words, even if my MIL was the over-pampering type, the FIL could offset that influence to some degree. Many feminists here (U.S. blogs) have pointed out to me that the father's example is oftentimes more important than the mother's for boys.

    I think I may also have less "conflict" because in my Chinese culture, it's also OK to live at home as an adult, until marriage.

    And I'm really glad to know that even you half hope that your kids will stay close by til age 30-40 or forever!

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    1. You're so right, the influence and importance of fathers is not to be underestimated. They are an integral part to the whole idea of a team.

      I think the classic American way of booting kids out at 18 is not always good--it really ought to depend on the character and maturity level of the person and their readiness/willingness to leave. Economically, it doesn't always make sense either. The rush to grow up is not necessarily a sound practice.

      I think that anyone who loves their children--and who doesn't love their children?--would ideally like to remain close to them, both physically and psychologically. But good parents need to be guided by what's the best fit for the individual child, what's best ultimately for their development, enrichment and fulfillment. Of course, you know this ;-)

      Thank you so much for keeping the conversation going!

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  19. Michelle10:24 AM

    This is so dead on! I too think I got one of the "good ones." He is a really independent only child and though he was doted on in many of these same ways, he is naturally a "doer" so sitting on the couch is pretty much not in his DNA. If he's home from work, he's constantly organizing or cleaning something. I think growing up in a really immaculate, organized home made him want the same for his own home and because he's a modern man, he wouldn't dream of expecting me to do all the work around here. We are in Milan not the deep south so maybe this makes a difference as well. I've been here 12 years but what STILL bugs me is that even on their birthdays, Mother's Day and the "festa della donna" women still do all this crap. My MIL still waits on everyone like a slave on her birthday or on Mother's Day. There's no "breakfast in bed" or "sit down, honey, it's your day" or mani/pedi and massage. I know I have Italianized and now that I have a son of my own (with another on the way) I understand the desire to dote, but it only goes so far. Plus my son is still young (4) and I really don't see me giving him an enema at age 10. He already has to clear the table when he's done with dinner. No backpacks on the floor and calling out for a "limone" when he can get it himself. One of my mom's favorite phrases was "Are your arms/legs broken?" I don't think an Italian mother has ever in her life said that.

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  20. Michelle, thanks so much for commenting and sharing your experiences! So glad to hear you, too, have scored a real helpmate in your husband. I can't imagine living any other way--and I'll bet you can't either :-)

    I've seen the phenomenon you mention, too--my MIL would never HEAR of anyone waiting on her or giving her a gift ("Non devi spendere soldi!!!!!!!!"), and I think she'd drop dead if she ever got a mani/pedi or a massage! (Hey, that almost sounds like a plan ;-) )

    I'm going to remember and use your mom's phrase "are your legs/arms broken"--that's definitely a keeper.

    Thanks for reading.

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  21. Michelle1:32 PM

    Another personal favorite is when men who do nothing to prepare the meal (from the shopping to merely setting the table) turn into nitpicky food critics over every course. If my mom had cooked up a multi-course meal (can't say I remember that happening...) and we had deigned criticize it, I think we would have been wearing it in our laps. And on dishwashing duty for life. My FIL will wrinkle up his nose and ask my MIL "Ma da dove viene questa carne? Did you go to the butcher's or buy it at the supermarket?" The subtext I guess is "If you bought it at the supermarket, you are a slacker. How dare you have cut some corners in preparing this 5-course meal you got up at 6 a.m. on a Sunday to make while my ass was sleeping, on the couch reading the paper and watching Formula One pre-trials!" Or the men in my husband's family love to complain about the fruit not being to the exact ripeness (the local market is on Thursday and the big family lunch is on Sunday. Pazienza if your nocepesca hasn't ripened to your exact liking in that time - but my MIL apologizes all the same!) or the pasta being "insipida."I think the nitpicking is now just a natural part of their Sunday routine. Glad my husband didn't inherit that trait.

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  22. My goodness Michelle, you had me in stitches :-) Love the vignette but feel sorry for your MIL--however, mine has gone through similar stuff! Thanks for sharing those stories. Gotta go now and make sure the fruit is ripening just so... ;-)

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  23. This is Brillant!!! I couldn't agree more....living in Italy, married to an Italian, with many Italian women friends, I have personally experienced or heard about all the stuff you describe about Italian men. Bravissima!

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  24. Grazie mille Elizabeth, a soulmate of sorts (I too hail from Detroit)! My book, Burnt by the Tuscan Sun offers up the X Commandments of Life in Italy: the first being LA MAMMA IS THE OMNIPRESENT & OMNISCIENT LORD OF THE HOUSEHOLD.

    I now have two teens that I deal daily with (my boyfriend's sons) -- they live together, the dad has a horrid commute, & yet they've never - never ever - lifted a finger to help out around the house.
    What are we teaching them????

    I will be adding you to my blog roster, & following you religiously...! Ciao for now.

    Francesca Maggi
    Burnt by the Tuscan Sun

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    1. Francesca, it's a pleasure to (virtually) meet you! We Motor City types certainly ought to stick together ;-)

      Your book sounds fascinating and you certainly were spot-on in making your Commandment #1 about La Mamma. Re: your boyfriend's sons--I just don't get the not helping out around the house thing, which seems to be endemic. I mean, Italians as a rule are fairly helpful to one another. Must be some vital molecule missing from the cultural DNA.

      Thanks for dropping by and for adding me to your roster--I am happy to reciprocate!

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  25. Anonymous3:28 PM

    I, too, have an Italian husband who puts his socks and underwear in the bidet, along with a dirty shirt thrown on the floor. He was cured of this common habit after I put his soiled articles on his side of the bed everynight. It took about three days, and no words were exchanged.

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    1. You. Are. A. GODDESS.

      Seriously, bravissima! Thanks for sharing that bit of sheer feminine brilliance :)

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  26. Anonymous4:17 PM

    I am from Northern Europe and have lived in Italy (Florence) for 3 year now, working in a non-Italian (international) research organization. I moved here for my education/career, and not because I was especially in love with Italy.

    I am honestly surprised about all these especially American women who see Italy as the answer to all their romantic dreams. I would (typically, there might of course be exceptions) never date an Italian (or probably even Latin) guy, and I really find most Italians (Florentines) really rude (if you don't know them personally).

    Now I must add however that I do not speak Italian. Still however, no one would ever dream of treating a person like they treat strangers who approach them in English, in my home country, or anywhere i Northern Europe (or America, or even Asia..).

    I've lived for extended amount of years as a foreigner in two additional (western) countries (6 different towns/cities), and NOWHERE have I been so badly treated as here! Last week I attempted to sent a letter from the central post office down town, and the person in the office almost did not want to serve me because I spoke English. For example, he refused to let me borrow his pen to fill out the mandatory address paper! In a store recently I was just ignored, and when asking in English I was told I would get served soon (which never happened). And when I call for a taxi, they often just hang up the phone in my ear. This can happen about four times before I reach a person who is willing to take my booking. (No excuse is made before hanging up, neither in Italian.)

    They most often think I am American here in Florence, since I approach them in fluent English and am light-haired. However, if they find out where I'm from (i.e. not USA), they start treating me much better, often saying something like "oh that's very nice -- I thought you were American". I honestly don't understand why nobody talks about these negative aspects of living here, and especially among the Americans. Do you not understand that you (I think) are hated by most Italians (even Europeans in general unfortunately). Are you aware of that Italy is ranked the most rasist and xenophobic country in EU, according to a range of different studies surveying individual attitdes and values among Europeans?

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    1. Thank you for your thought-provoking comment, and I'm so sorry that your experience of Florence/Italy thus far has been so negative. Unfortunately, this "dark side" does exist and it would probably be more healthy and certainly realistic if more expats touched on the subject in their blogs--but often they do not wish to appear to be dwelling on the negative (so they say). I can see that point, too, as it's already difficult enough being bludgeoned by negativity and rudeness and indifference so often in daily life here! (Which your experiences attest to as well).

      Sigh. As an American, I know all too well how we are viewed in much of the world. But stereotypes exist for many peoples/cultures, and I think in many ways Italian rudeness is universal in that it seems often directed at just about anyone. However, I have noticed in my nearly 12 years of living here that "outsiders" (this includes all races/ethnicities/accents) are often treated differently, at times in subtle ways of exclusion or tentativeness in social terms, at other times in out and out curtness or impoliteness. Another point is that many Italians still remain very provincial in many of their attitudes, even the ones who live in cities.

      I was not aware of statistics regarding Italy and racism. There was a recent shooting in Florence of two African men by an Italian man with racist apparently motives. But again, based on my observations, I can't say that it surprises me much. I hope you meet some nice Italians--they do exist!--and that your experience living here will be rewarding. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  27. Anonymous7:04 PM

    Hello again,
    thanks for your answer! I have absolutely met nice Italians too, but those have been people I have been introduced to by mutual friends, and since I work in an international organization it's not really determinant to my experience here. I still think however that the way foreigners are treated in stores, authority institutions etc is embarrassing, especially for a person who comes from the same Union of countries, and actually share large parts of one's economy and even political leadership with Italy (including supporting the region with one's taxes). As I understand it, the younger generation has also learned English since the age of 10 or 11. Too me it's, sadly, a little bit of a proof that the idea of the EU and EMU does not work. Why cooperate with countries that do not even welcome you? And in today's society, where educated people often have to move around to different countries due to work, it really does not work learning the language of the new country each time you move. It is simply too time-consuming if you only stay for a shorter period. I think that in Europe, the nations that are more open and accepting of foreigners, and of changing between languages, will flourish and deepen their cooperation; and the rest will, unfortunately, lag behind and be pushed further out to the periphery.

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    1. You are absolutely right--treating foreigners with such disdain and rudeness, particularly in the public institutional setting, IS embarrassing, and certainly indicative of the kind of close-mindedness that, as you point out, can only hurt Italy's future in the long run.

      As I understand it, in northern European countries English is spoken very well and widely. Clearly in these places the outlook is international. As you astutely point out, in Italy this is not the case--often at international conferences and such the Italians require a translator in order to give presentations, while everyone else is able to speak in English. (I'm not advocating the global dominance of the English language, but obviously it has become the lingua franca of our time, one necessary to international business, etc.).

      You bring up some very interesting points and observations regarding the EU--I hadn't thought of it from that perspective. This is where I think Italy's provincialism comes into play--it is resistant to outside influence, change, governance, economic reform, etc. I agree that, in the end, this can only prove detrimental to Italy's future.

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  28. Woman - respect! How is you write what many of us are thinking, and still (apparently) remain on speaking terms with your family. I came across you in the Florentine magazine in an article regards bi-lingual children and the "oppressive shadow" that follows them through childhood and beyond. Wow wow and wow.

    Thank you for being so very brave!

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    1. Hi Suzi, thanks for dropping by! I'm probably not brave so much as pazza... ;-) I just need to wrap my head around this place. I have fun with it.

      My husband is utterly lucid when it comes to all this crazy stuff and is wholeheartedly in agreement. As for the rest of his clan, they don't know this little ol' blog exists.

      Shhhhhh.....

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  29. Anonymous6:31 AM

    There is a solution ladies....I am from an italian-american family and i grew up with 2 sets of rules: one for my brothers and one for me. I questioned the women always doing the all of the work, while the men relaxed. This profoundly affected my choices. I am not a romantic-but a realist. My answer is to have a boyfriend, not a husband. In Italy, I feel I share more in common with the men than women. I have my career, pay my own way, and do what I please. To each his/her own....but the "game" cannot be won....so I do not play. Italian men are fabulous fun and
    when I go back to my little appartamento...I don't have to cook or clean for anyone! For a lady in her 50's-it's a great life!!

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    1. My dear, you have found the perfect loophole! Brilliant ;-)

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  30. couldnt agree more Sarah ! where have you been for the last ten years while I was going slowly mad with having to live silently among these useless creatures?
    MY GOD they are never worth it. They are masters of deception and so many foreign women fall into that trap every year. This article and its million comments, are the best thing thats happened to me all day. we should meet up next time im in florence email me. Dee

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Dee--I'm happy that this struck a chord with you. I've had a couple of raging, nasty emails sent to me over this (from Italian men), and your words, like many of the above comments by women, reinforce the fact that I'm on to something here. A certain stereotype does exist, though, as I've said, there are many exceptions--thank goodness!--to the rule.

      By the way, my name isn't Sarah...

      Thanks for dropping by :-) Elizabeth

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  31. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I was just in shock to read this article. My mouth hung open and my eyes were big as dinner plates. I swear to God I thought it was only my family that this... stuff... happened in!

    As a child, I was expected to clean up after my brothers, wash their clothes, strip and change their beds, clean up the mess they left after making themselves a snack, and when they came home late for dinner I was expected to get up, get their dishes etc and set their places while they sat there.

    Mom, of course, would serve them because God knows the spoon was too heavy for them to lift after they'd exerted themselves in their efforts to get home, and goodness knows those chairs were *heavy* so pulling them out from the table.. well, need I say more? Poor darlings, but luckily they had just enough strength left to feed themselves and chew their own food, those brave, brave souls. (Wipes away a tear.)

    Afterward, of course, guess who had to clear the table and do the dishes while everyone else sat in the living room and watched TV because they were so tired after the strenuous activity of eating and drinking and then... (gasp!) having to get up and walk to the next room under their own power.

    Until the day she died, my mother took care of my brothers, (who are now in their 60s) buying them groceries, clothing, and paying their bills.

    Despite all that she did for them, they had no qualms about stealing from her, and now they're adrift not only because mom is gone, but because their exes caught on to them years ago and are now married to decent men, and yes, one of them is Italian and is an absolute dream, so no, in their defense, not all Italian men, or men in general, are 'mammoni'.

    To the men who complained I will say that not all men are little boys wearing daddy's clothes, but in my experience, they're more the rule than the exception.

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for bringing this subject to light.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing such a detailed description of your own experiences--all I can say is "wow!" Your dinnertime certainly echoes what I saw in my in-laws' homes, and the fact that your brothers did not learn the autonomy or self-sufficiency that might have served them well later on in life is certainly a shame. You highlighted an important point about the full implications of "mammoni-hood".

      And yes, thank goodness, not all Italian men (or men in general) are like this!

      Thanks for reading,

      Elizabeth

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  32. Your blog is incredible- everything I wanted to say but didn't know how to put into words. I have to say- I've lived in the south near Napoli and preferred it. The myth of firstworld/thirdworld that supposedly splits Italy in two is nonsensical- life is the same, yet freedom is a little 'freer' down there...
    What gets me, is that when I complain about Florentine men to my lovely Italian teacher Camilla, she shrugs and says they are the same the world over! I beg to differ! Florence is a city in which women step off the pavement for men. I forgive it every time as ten seconds after, something antiquated/pretty distracts me. Watching my friends fall time after time for 'mammoni', I can be grateful for my oasis or 'room of one's own' which is completely Italian-man-less!

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    1. Thanks for commenting :-) I had to smile with recognition at "Florence is a city in which women step off the pavement for men".

      I was interested in your take on Naples--I've only visited it briefly but it seems like a fascinating place.

      Glad you have your oasis!

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  33. Anonymous9:33 PM

    Hi, nice blog. I often read stories about Italy that only focuses on the positive, but its good that you are expressing your point of view in a way that could be beneficial and bring awareness to a particular society or culture. Im a foreigner, married to a south italian male. I agree 100 percent with the things you have said. Thank God, my husband is not the traditional italian male but i have observed his brother and family members that resemble everything you quoted. I personally dont think that the attatchemnts italian males have to their mamas are healthy. I believe in family, and respecting the ederly and your parents, but also any form of attatchments leads to retardation and evolution of ones own spiritual growth. This also reflects on the country as a whole and its progress. There has to be balance in everything we do. On the positive side, italians are very helpful and kind people (just dont tell them to change and dont express your point of view or you will be sorry!

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    1. Hi and thanks for reading and leaving a comment :-)

      I'm glad your husband is of the enlightened variety of Italian male--thankfully there are more and more of them these days. And I agree that balance is key in just about everything; certainly in relationships it's great to be close to family but tricky when it comes to over-dependence.

      You're so right that in general Italians are often so very kind and helpful, particularly if they know you or you're part of the neighborhood/local fabric.

      Again, thanks for sharing your viewpoint and experiences :-)

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