dimanche 12 mai 2013

Why I can never be Italian

My parents are Italian. They were born in Italy and immigrated to Canada. I grew up with Italian traditions and hearing Italian being spoken at home. But I can never be Italian.

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.

12 commentaires:

  1. So funny... because I can relate. Part of my family is Italian/from Corsica, and I have an Italian last name. I am often mistaken for Latina in both Latino countries and here in Canada.

    In my teens, I went trough a "where are my roots?" phase where I wanted to be more Italian. Now I don't relate to the culture anymore. I am European, for sure, French, and Canadian. But I speak more Spanish than Italian, for sure!

    1. You wanted to be Italian when you were a teenager?! I can't imagine that!

      Well, I should talk as when I was a teenager I couldn't imagine going through a "proudly Canadian and not Italian" phase at age 30. Only I hope that this is not a phase (see my response to Crystal below). I was so pro-Italy and anti-Canada back then. If I only knew then what I know now...

  2. BTW... I know you take your privacy seriously for reasons I understand but I would love to see a pic of you! I'm not being weird, it's just that we have so much in common, I wonder what you look like physically. If you ever feel like it... do email a shot :-)

    (I'm a visual person, not some weird voyeur :-D)

    1. I send you a message though the contact section of your site!

  3. Sounds like I would fit in even less in Italy than I do in France!

    1. Yes, it's harder in Italy than in France, that's for sure. All the problems I encounter in Italy exist in France as well, but they are far more present in Italy.

      At least the French government is a lot healthier - I am so thankful for that.

  4. lol I agree with Mil! I say just be YOU with no apologies or need to justify!

    Your post made me homesick for Canada and I'm actually still there as I type this!

    1. I have to confess that when I arrived in Europe I was kind of anti-Canada. I don't know what I was thinking! I am so glad that I have come to realize just how great Canada is and I am so happy to write about my feelings on my blog. I hate that person that I used to be, so naive with my "Europe is perfect" thoughts and I am so happy that I have found my love of Canada and realized the effect that this great country has had/has on me and how it continues to shape the person that I am.

  5. I think people define their identities based on two things: what makes them the same and what makes them different. I suppose in Canada everyone was Canadian, so you were more aware of the Italian bit of you that made you different, but perhaps you're also more conscious of your Canadian-ness now you're in Europe.

    I think the best thing about having lots of different "home" countries or cultures is that you get to take the bits that you like from all of them!

    1. I am definitely more aware of my Canadian-ness now! Back when I was still living in Canada, I could only think about how boring it was. How stupid of me! There are so many great things about Canada.

      Yes, there are so many good things about Italy as well! I am glad that I have first-hand knowledge and experiences of both countries, languages and cultures.

      How do you feel about Italy now? You used to live there, right?

  6. Hilarious blog post, I am with you whole heartedly though - especially regarding the whole Italian driving thing, I was terrified trying to cross the road when I was in Rome!!

    1. I can't stand driving in Europe. I know exactly what you are talking about in Rome - the only way to cross the street there is to just throw yourself into oncoming traffic. Otherwise they never stop even though you have the right of way!