Tuesday, March 25, 2008

International "Kiss an Italian" Day

According to one of my most trusted sources for news (Facebook), today is International Kiss an Italian Day.

So ladies, if you happen to be with an Irishman, African, German or Canadian, today you are absolved. You have a get-out-of-jail-free card. You can place all the blame on me. It's a holiday afterall...

Go find yourself un uomo italiano and plant a big one on him. You won't regret it.

Or, if you are a good girl, you can do as they do here-- one on each cheek.

(but, trust me, as I speak from experience, the "each cheek" thing isn't half as much fun...)

Happy Kiss an Italian Day!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Can someone remind me what decade this is?

What? It's 2008, you say? Huh, that's strange. Based on the conversation I had with my Italian teacher, I would have guessed it to be at least 50 years ago...

Much like America, the southern part of Italy moves at it's own pace. The weather is warmer, the people are friendlier, the food is better, so people tend to enjoy life and move a little slower. But not until I had the conversation with my Italian teacher did I realize just how slow they really are moving.

We were studying a southern phenomenon called "Mammismo," where men live at home until their mid-thirties and are waited on hand and foot by their mothers. In turn, when these big boys finally decide they are mature enough to be out of their mother's daily care, they find a wife they feel is as similar to their mom as possible, and fall into the exact same pattern with her. Now, obviously, this is not the case with many Italian men. But, it's prevalent enough that a term has been coined and it's been studied and documented.

So Bernard (my new classmate...another blog about him another day) and I were asking our teacher, about her husband. She is 33 and got married last year. After dating the man for fifteen years. They now live in an apartment above her mother-in-law's house. All of which is very, very normal here, in the heel of the boot.

One day last week she was yawning a lot in class so Bernard said "Sei stanca?" (Are you tired?) To which the teacher replied that yes, she was tired because she had to wake up early to start preparing lunch. Lunch is an important meal here in the south, and is often the biggest meal of the day. She then went on to explain that her husband does no cooking, cleaning, niente around the house. So she get's up early to prepare his food, then she goes to work, after which she rushes home to see that it's all ready for him on his lunch break. She said he has never done the dishes, and he doesn't even bring his dishes to the kitchen when he is finished. Instead he waits for her to bring him his coffee, and watches TV until it's time to go back to work.

Now, I've seen this same scenario with Paolo's parents, but could justify it in my mind as "well, they are of a different generation, that's how things were back then." And Paolo's mom doesn't work and she absolutely loves to cook. So when Paolo's dad would eat lunch, then leave the table without lifiting a finger and go pass out in the armchair for a bit, I did all I could to suspend my judgement. Afterall, he has worked really hard to give his family a good life, and Paolo's mom obviously doesn't have a problem with it...so why should I?

But when she told me this about her, I could feel my blood pressure rising. She's MY age! It was obvious that Stefania doesn't necessarily like this way of life, and she's tired and frustrated. But she said "I am a traditional southern woman" as if that excuses everything. I asked her if she ever says anything to him about it. She said, yes, everyday. But, she said she can ask him a hundred times help with the dishes or clean the house, but eventually the dishes pile up and the house gets dirty so she always gives in and does it herself.

Just like he knows she will.

This is one of the hardest parts about adjusting to another culture. Because with situations like this there are so many things that I find fundamentally wrong. First, are you kidding??? We are in 2008. Aside from a few of our very conservative friends (Dr. Laura) this mentality went out in the US around the same time as poodle skirts. Second, it frustrates me because who's to blame in scenarios like this? The guy because he's been a child for his entire life? My teacher because she allows this behavior to continue? Society because this is acceptable?

It's hard to remind myself that I am choosing to be in their country, and this is how things work in some cases. If I want to see a man doing the ironing, I can go back home and say hi to my dad. But seriously, living at home and having your mom cook you dinner until you are 33? It's one part of Italian culture that I'll never adjust to. But I guess what I have to learn to do, even if I don't agree with it, is accept it. This is how things are here, I am not going to change them, and there are benefits and downsides to all situations (for instance, I don't know a stronger family system than the one in Italy...)

Lucky for me, Paolo is in no way a "mammismo" (needless to say, we wouldn't be together). He cooks, he cleans, we split everything 50/50 (well, he might cook more, seeing that I can only make toast). But I'm starting to think he's an acception here in the south. His brothers (both older) still take their laundry home for mom to wash. Many of his friends have left the south for better career opportunities in the north and the vast majority of them are nothing like the "mammismo" types. The north and the south, I'm beginning to learn, are two very different places.

I've yet to tell my teacher that I'm divorced, because when she was talking to Bernard about his divorce, she said "you only get married once" when he mentioned his new girlfriend (mind you, Bernard has been divorced for 7 years) . I think I am nervous to tell her because I guess I'm a little scared of her judgement. Which is unfair since I'm totally judging her lifestyle.

After talking to her about this a bit more (and now remeber, this entire conversation was in Italian, so I could have thought I was hearing "He has never done the dishes" and really she said "My dog has fleas") I said ,"what do you say when he refuses to help?" To which she replied while making a slap-upside-the-head motion:

"Vaffanculo" (f-off)

Italians are so romantic.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Paldo J. Fox

I haven't written about any of the funny conversations that I've had with Paolo in a while. I could write a blog a day with the material I've accumulated, but that doesn't make for exciting blog reading, and really, I gotta give the guy credit. His English is getting better each day. I am still in the phase where he can't even make fun of the things I say in Italian because, really, it's not Italian. It's more like a random string of nouns and verbs, all in the present tense, thrown together in hopes that MAYBE the point will come across. In time I might say something funny, but now it's more painful than humorous. Anyway, there are 2 conversations that I've had with Paolo that still make me laugh out loud when I think about them. I'll try to recapture them as best I can:
Conversation #1: "J. Fox"

Where: At my parent's house before we went to the family Christmas at my aunt's house. It continued later during the festivities.

Why: It started because I was fake-scolding him about something (probably not putting the toilet seat down...he's bad).

Me: "Paolo ______ Johnson!! (obviously, not his real last name) You forgot the toilet seat again! Hey, wait, what's your middle name?"
Paolo: "I don't have a middle name. I'm just Paolo Johnson."
Me: "Huh. But that doesn't work as well in this situation. When I'm trying to be mother-like and scold you, I need a full name. Like Paolo David Johson, for instance. We gotta give you a middle name. "
Paolo: "Ok"
Me: "And should be 2 syllables, because that flows the best"
Paolo: "Ok"
Me: "And it has to be American, because you already have 2 Italian names"
Paolo: "Ok" (you have to love that he's so willing to go along with this)
Me: "How about Joseph?"
Paolo: "No, that is your daddy's name. How about Justin?" (I knew he threw this one out because he feels that he and one Mr. Timberlake have much in common)
Me: "uh, no. "
Me: "Michael?"
Paolo: "No... Thomas?"
Me: "Paolo Thomas Johnson? Nah...."

We proceeded to come up with 2-syllable, American names for a few more minutes, but couldn't decide on one. Eventually we gave up. Fast-forward to a couple of hours later. We were at my aunt's house and I'd totally forgotten about the middle name conversation.

Paolo (out of the blue): "I've got it! How about 'J. Fox'??"
Me: "huh?" (no clue what he's talking about)
Paolo: "For my American middle name. I like J. Fox"
Me: "Paolo J. Fox Johnson?" (trying very unsuccessfully to stifle my laughter).
Paolo: "Yes. I like it."
Me: "Well, ok, Paolo J. Fox Johnson it is."

To this day, I'm still not sure if he thinks "J. Fox" is one word--"jayfox" or if he realizes that "J. Fox" is actually a middle initial and a last name. But either way, on that day "Paolo J. Fox Johnson" was christened, and is still used quite frequently.

Conversation #2 "Where's Paldo"

Where: At our apartment in Otranto, two nights ago.

Why: His sister had bought him a new sweater. It has red and blue horizontal stripes. We both liked it when we saw it, but when he actually put it on...not so much. The following conversation ensued:

Paolo (looking at himself in the mirror): "Do you like it?"
Me: Ummm, it reminds me a little of "Where's Waldo?"
Paolo: "Who's Maldo?"
Me (starting to laugh): "Not Maldo...!"
Paolo: "Oh, scusa, sorry--who is Paldo?"
Me (erupting with laughter): Paldo!!?! YOU'RE PALDO!"

It took me 20 minutes to explain what this meant, who "Waldo" is, and why it all struck me so funny. He exhorts this kind of goofy humor without knowing it, and it kills me. When I try to explain it, it becomes funnier and funnier to me and more confusing to him. Which in turn makes me laugh even harder. And in this case, even though it's not truly all that funny, it was one of those things when I thought about it an hour later I would start laughing all over again. I would just envision him standing there in his "Paldo" sweater looking confused asking "Who's Paldo?" Awww. He has no idea how cute he is.

I'll have to take a picture of him in the sweater.

So, now he's officially become Paldo J. Fox.

Oh, and speaking of pictures. I've posted the pictures of our redecorated apartment and our Valentine's party. Enjoy!