I am in Milan for the weekend. This weekend, more than any other time in my life, I have never been so sure of my un-Italianess.
I grew up living in a neighbourhood full of Italian immigrants and their children and went to a high school with a sizable population of students with Italian origins. These students were very proud of their ancestry and could be quite ostentatious with showing it publically. I didn't associate with this group as I didn't have the right look to get in with the "Italian" kids. I was nevertheless proud about being "Italian".
When I was 17 I went to Italy on holiday. I remember telling a bunch of Dutch people how I was Italian. They roared with laughter, saying, "You're as much Italian as I am Greek!" I was crushed, but I learnt an important lesson - Europeans identify with the country where they grew up and your parents' country doesn't matter (at least with white people, but I am not going to talk about race on this blog). North Americans identify with their parents' country (or grandparents' country, etc.). That's when I started to stop saying that I was Italian. But I was still convinced that I was.
|Sicily in January. Author of photo: Den Nation.|
"But of course I am," I thought naively. "I don't identify with being Canadian at all!" Now I know better. And this is why (please keep in mind that these are my experiences and that I am generalizing):
1. I am too dirty. My house is not spic-and-span. I clean when I see dirt. If there's some dust so be it. And this includes myself as well. Today, upon walking barefoot on my friend's balcony (it's a North-American style motel balcony that is shared with the neighbours) she exclaimed, "What are you doing?! The balcony's filthy and my neighbour never cleans!" Oops, doesn't look so dirty to me. And then there's the "cleaning up" after me. I swear I'm being clean, but there they go moving my shoes, re-making the bed behind me, etc. I'll never measure up.
2. How many times have I been served a glass of water, taken a sip and gagged... I hate fizzy water. Italians love anything with gas in it. Canadians, in general, hate fizzy water. I remember growing up how we would talk about how disgusting tonic water was. In Italy... never. And I don't particularly like to drink Champagne or anything else with bubbles in it.
3. I don't particularly like wearing heels. Italian woman seem to love them and the higher, the better. Today my friend was talking about how her stomach sticks out too much and her aunt replied, "Wear high heels, that'll fix it!" I can only stand small, wedge-style heels.
4. My clothes are rags (well, I get the feeling that they think this). I almost never buy new clothes and don't really like shopping. Image is everything here. Even though Italy is suffering from the recession, people still magically find the money to look like a million bucks. I just don't care.
5. I go out with wet hair. I hate using a hair dryer. Whenever they see me with wet hair they gasp. If they only knew how cold it was in Canada when I used to go out with wet hair...
6. I love peanut butter, doughnuts and other so-called horrible North American food. Of course most of the stuff I like isn't healthy and filled with chemical ingredients, but I love it just the same. They probably secretly like most of it, but they wouldn't like to admit it.
7. I don't go the hair salon, have never had a manicure, I don't wax anything, have never dyed my hair. They are shocked when I tell them. I really don't care much about beauty.
8. I don't drive like an Italian. I am not confident behind the wheel, I hate driving and am not a risk-taker.
9. I identify more with other anglophones. It took me a long time to admit this, but it's true.
10. I don't know how to cook like them. They can be quite rigid with their cuisine. French people are more innovative in the kitchen; they like to try to be different. Not the Italians - every dish has certain ingredients and there shall be no deviation from this list!
11. I'm probably too polite.
12. I wash my hair way too much. Doctors say that the oil produced by your scalp is healthy for you and they are probably right, but I can't stand it just the same.
13. I can never be "La Mamma" and all that this entails. And I left home at 19, not when I got married (and even then, some of them still don't leave!).
14. I don't think I'll catch cold when I go outside.
15. I'm sure I'll think of some more tonight while I'm waiting to fall asleep.
|I just loooooove maple syrup! Author of photo: Den Nation.|
The most important thing I learnt about real Italians is that while they are proud of certain things in the Italian culture like food, history and architecture, in general they are NOT proud to be Italian. They know the image they project to the rest of Europe and are actually very disappointed with their country. A lot of Italian-Canadians are completely oblivious to this fact, often openly exclaiming how "Italian" they are. They are proud to be "Italian" and keep up the traditions (many of which are not Italian, but actually Italian-Canadian).
There are so many reasons to be proud of Canada. Things that affect everyday life like having a healthy government. I have realised that food or architecture doesn't make for happy people. I am proud that my country can offer such a good quality of life to both citizens and immigrants alike.
I still love Italy, though! Maybe I sound negative about Italy, but I have a soft spot in my heart for it. I can't just erase my heritage.