Monday, April 14, 2008

The Italians!

Sophia Loren
I am by no means an expert on the Italians but, here are a few impressions I had of them while there. The Italians, as a whole are a very handsome group of people. That beautiful olive skin and dark hair are a gorgeous combination. If you are a blond American you will stand out like a big sore thumb over there. I did not see a single light haired, blue eyed person other than our family and people on the base until we got to the Genova area in the northern part of Italy.

The middle class and poor Italians have a much harder life than we do. They do not have the creature comforts for the most part that we are accustomed to here. Forget about your favorite recliner, an overstuffed arm chair, or a table that you do not have to straddle the legs of or box spring and mattress combos. They do not have comfortable furniture and often times it is impossible to even find a place to sit down in a public place and this includes tourist attractions visited by thousands every year. They do not have any disabled accommodations for their infirmed or elderly and Laura told me that a lot of the elderly are homebound because of it. If you have mobility issues you are kind of out of luck as the streets are uneven, often cobblestone or in disrepair. You also have to factor in the crossing of streets which requires swiftness and agility and a clear and quick mind if you want to survive. For many, the only mode of transportation is public transport in the form of buses, trains, planes, taxis, boats. Because everything traveled in seems smaller in Italy, their ideas on personal space are much different than ours. It is most noticed in these various types of public transport where you will be uncomfortably close and cozy. Those who do have cars drive in a really crazy manner, especially in the south. It is quite the "me first" paradigm in action and believe me, no one is backing down. Their freeways are wonderful, well maintained and very expensive toll roads. There were days when we paid more than 50 Euros ( over $75.00) for tolls but the money is used to keep them in top condition. They actually have a great sense of driving on the freeway compared to the smaller towns. As Jim said, "it is a dance" and he loved it. He drove like a champ there! Laura and Robert did too. It is amazing how they have all learned to do it. This does not, however, negate the fact that I have had to add that they will all be safe each time they get into the car, to my very long prayer list.

I would not say that the Italians are overly friendly to Americans, but they are not nasty either. It is more total disinterest in your visit to their country that we experienced. If you give someone a little smile they look at you like...what, why are you looking at me? It is pretty hard to avoid when you are crammed in like sardines on a bus or when your knees are rubbing together with theirs if you happened to be lucky enough to get a seat at all! I just hated the seats set up in that lovely conversational style with two seats facing two more seats. Ugh! So, OK smiling at any strangers on the bus! "Mi scusi."

I found the Italians to be a very courteous people in the market place. You hear "buongiorno" constantly and it is customary to greet small shop keepers upon entering their shop. You hear "grazie" (thank you) and "prego" (you are welcome...not spaghetti sauce! ) all day long. It is very nice. They are very friendly to one another and seem to really know how to enjoy time with each other. Their social graces seemed quite refined.

We saw many groups of men just hanging out in the plazas everywhere enjoying the fraternity. We saw many out at night with their buddies eating dinner and enjoying the guys. One night Laura and I went out to dinner quite late while Grampa minded the boys and we discovered we were the only women in the place. The ten middle-aged men at the table next to us were having quite the party and there was no 'birthday sombrero' present so it seemed like just a routine type of gathering. It seemed they do this on a fairly regular basis. Women are definitely not thought to be entitled to equality in that department and they are expected to stay home and tend the house and children. American women that go out to lunch together and do things with friends out in public are not too highly favored by this patriarchal society. If this activity 'got out', it could definitely pose a threat to the original "good old boy clubs" over there in the old country. This was my impression anyway, and Laura substantiated it with experiences from her Italian friends at church.

They enjoy each other in the streets and in the open air markets with lots of loud chatter and hand gesturing and what sounds like shouting at each other, but in reality is just their way. After what sounds like a fight~they kiss each other on both cheeks and go on about their business.

They have really beautiful little children. And they speak such fluent Italian at an early age .. and the pets even understand it! Amazing! Just kidding! I saw two little boys about four that were riding their bikes and nearly collided but they avoided the crash in exactly the same maneuver that their dads would have used driving on the streets. It was almost instinctual. Had they been Americans, you would have had two crying, hurt little boys.

They really seems to struggle financially with the euro so inflated and the cost of everything so high. Gas is about $8.00 per gallon. They cook simply and as inexpensively as possible and pride themselves on their regional differences each thinking theirs is the superior way. They specialize in slow food as opposed to the fast food craze here. Everything is prepared with great care and love and usually from scratch. They look healthy but you can just tell they have the wear and tear of a harder life than we do. They walk a lot and they look pretty fit for the most part.

They love to wear tight black & brown clothes, lots of leather, and, the men wear a lot of gold chains, and they are generally more dressed up than we are here (who isn't?) No shorts are worn except at the beaches, no casual shoes really, no flip flops that I noticed, and the old people all look like they are heading to church. The men wear a lots of business suits and the older guys have on their hats. The young people really go in for the funky look but are still nicely dressed and groomed. They look more like a high fashion ad than the sloppy pants you see on American boys with the crotch down to their knees. The girls go in for the peasant type blouses, jewelry and lots of tight pants and short skirts and a lot of exposed skin. As a whole, they do look better than we do, all things considered. At least they seem to have a fashion sense and make a noticeable attempt at looking good in public. We did not see a single pair of flannel pajama bottoms out and about!

The few people that we communicated with were very nice. One old guy we ran into talked Jim's leg off on the train and didn't speak a word of English. He would just get a little closer, gesture a little more or talk a little louder if Jim looked puzzled ~ and somehow they understood each other. This guy was 84 and he was being very flirtatious with me! I am like, hello, it is 7:00 am and I am young enough to be your daughter? Jim was like...what the heck? That kind of "Latin Lover" I don't need! Mama Mia, Laura was dying laughing!

I guess we are all more alike than different but it was fun to see some of the differences in our cultures. My disclaimer is that I know these are all just stereotypic thoughts~but you can do that on your own blog. "Si?"