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.


Cherrye said...

Yikes! I know this is the case in many homes around here, but Pep, like Paolo, is different...Thank God! The other day P's aunt told us she couldn't go with us, cause she needed to be home with the "kids" came home for lunch. The kids are 34 and 31.

Rhea said...

This was very interesting insight into Mammismo and southern Italian culture. I'm in shock how much your teacher is doing. Anything that seems unequal, seems unfair to me.

Where in the World said...

Cherrye, it's so differen't isn't it? I was talking to a couple of my classmates from northern Europe and we all agreed that a "happy medium" would be nice. In the US, do we ever sit down to a meal with family anymore? Around a table? But, in the same breath, do we still want to be doing it like we did when we were 6 when we are 36? There are things to be said for both cultures-- independence, and strong families. It's just so interesting to see...

Rhea, I agree. But I grew up in a very liberal household. It's a differnt world here, and it's taking some getting used to. In talking to some of my Italian friends they think that leaving the house at 18 and never coming back is equally as wacky. But slowly things here are starting to change. Which is good and bad. Gender equality is always a good thing in my book, but at the same time, as things modernize down here, bits and pieces of the beautiful parts of their culture also get lost.

JenniferLWilliams78 said...

i just finished up the italy part of eat, pray, love this weekend and thought of you the whole time! it seems like with paolo, you've found the best of all possible worlds. can you bring one home for me next time??