Pasta smeared on a thick Luigi beard and hand gestures thrown up more than gang signs; that’s what the world thinks of Italians. For some reason, Italy has some of the strongest and well known stereotypes on the block of International judging whether true or faux.
Their marketing team must have been award-winning because whether people of various nationalities have stepped foot on Italian soil or not, it seems like everyone thinks they know the Italians.
This country has always been on the top of my “must visit in the next five years” list because their culture seems to overlap with Brazilian touchiness and family oriented values. Aside from that, they have their own authentic quirks that I experienced first hand. These are by no means the rule of life for each and every Italian, but there were enough people doing them for me to take note.
1. They Actually Say “Mamma Mia”
Within my first few hours of my 10 day trip to rural Italy, my Italian host mom laughed at me for carrying three huge heavy bags. She watched me lug my crap into the house and said “Mamma Mia,” I laughed a little on the inside because that is SUCH a stereotype. I thought maybe she said the expression because she’s a bit older. But no, later at the town bar I heard 20 somethings say it too. And if it wasn’t the classic “mamma mia,” which means “my mother,” it was “ma donna,” meaning, my lady.
2. They really eat a lot of pasta
For ten days straight, it became a joke when the family would ask me if I was up to eating pasta as if it were a new option on our culinary menu. Any kind of pasta, all shapes, sizes and textures, with fresh sauces and meats is the staple. Of course, if you jones for soggy noodles this won’t be your place because all of the pasta is cooked “al dente” or barely boiled. The texture can be felt on the tongue and chewing is required.
3. They actually know everything there is to know about a pizza
Next to pasta, pizza was also talked about or munched on regularly. The thing about pizza though is that it’s so delicate to make within the house and according to a real Italian, it’ll never be the same as in a pizzeria. You can make the dough from scratch and pick the best toppings, but what I learned is that it’s all about that brick oven life. In the small town I was living in, they told me right off the bat, which pizza places had the best ovens for the perfect pie, and that no matter how good your oven was at home, it’ll never even come close.
4. They absolutely talk with their hands
From 50 years old all they way down to 10, I saw Italians use the same two hand gestures at least a few times a day. My favorite is the “go f*ck yourself/what are you doing/are you kidding me?” gesture which is when you put your right pointer and middle finger together and touch the thumb of the right hand letting the ring finger and pinky dangle while shaking your hand sideways in an up-down motion close to your chest. The second gesture is when you put your palms together at their heart, spread your fingers and sway back and forth from the chest; this one is more of a “I don’t understand you/are you for real.”
5. They actually really like eating pig, and horse, and ostrich
Depending on where you are in Italy, there will be culinary delicacies. Where I was, there were more pigs than people so salame, or as the Americans say “salami” was the real deal. I tried some, of course, and the taste was so intense that I couldn’t go for seconds. Apparently the salame is made from the left over parts of the pigs. After the feet, ears, and nose has been removed, everything gets mashed up and salame is born. Yummmm betcha want some now right? Another meat that just had my mouth watering (not) was equino, aka shredded horse meat that’s made like a bresaola, after trying horse burger in Slovenia, I was impressed with how easy shredded horse meat was to swallow, but I couldn’t stop thinking about eating something I’ve enjoyed so much so I stopped.
My favorite weird eat was definitely struzzo, or ostrich; there was never any emotional connection to ostriches so I didn’t mind having a taste. The meat is known for being lean, thin, and perfect to eat with fries and wine, classy.
6. They only drink cappuccini (plural of cappuccino in Italian) in the morning
I thought I was clever when I ordered a cappuccino at a bar around noon and in reality, I made myself look like such a n00b and received the first hand gesture from number 4. No Jo, you don’t drink a breakfast beverage at lunch.
I found out that it’s not common for Italians to drink anything other than espresso during the day; meaning that cappuccinos are meant for morning only. Why? Because the foam is so thick that it’s considered too filling to drink after you’ve eaten real food, now do you see why America is so big and Europeans are tiny? I broke this rule because I need my milk and coffee fix throughout the day and if you order a “latte” all you’ll get milk because here’s a fun fact: latte means milk in Italian.
7. They use cazzo as often as Frenchies say putain, Brazilians say porra, and Americans say damn
Cazzo is hands down the MVP of Italian swear words. You can throw a cazzo in almost any sentence to add emphasis whether good, bad, or ugly. It originally meant cock/f*ck but since everyone uses it’s now as mainstream as damn in the US or even better, putain in France. My favorite use of the word; “faccio un cazzo” or I’m not doing a damn thing only a tiny bit more vulgar.
8. They show their extreme pride of their country and language almost too much
When Damon and I were passing through Tuscany, it was a miracle if we could find someone who spoke English well enough to help us book a train ticket. I didn’t get why the minute we left and entered Slovenia, everyone spoke English without hesitation.
I finally understand why there was a language gap while living with an Italian family; there is so much pride in their language, land and culture that they don’t want to adopt anyone else’s. Italy is one of the slowest countries to adopt English within elementary schools and even then, public schools usually only give five hours a week of classes. I’m not saying everyone in the world should speak English, but it was hard to find people that spoke anything other than Italian. The pride is a beautiful but dangerous thing that I both admired and was frustrated about.
Personally, their lack of language education increased my struggle of having to express myself, no one could understand me in five languages so I stuck to hand gestures and looking like a dummy mumbling and flailing my limbs everywhere.