One particularly amusing thing about being able to call two countries my ‘home’ (Italy & the US) is that at times I don’t feel neither is, that I am this weird mutant, where I don’t belong in either, yet I feel both are my homes. How can that be?
I was in a grocery store in Italy with my sister and her 3 month old little girl a couple of years ago, I had my camera with me and while chatting with her, when I saw these cakes in the bakery department, I took a picture of these delicacies without thinking I was doing anything ‘wrong’. A few minutes later this girl came out of the bakery and followed us into an isle and came up to me and told me ‘No pictures please, no pictures’. I told her “OK, Sorry!” and it wasn’t until she left that it dawned on me that she said this to me in… English. Wait a minute… “How did she know I spoke English and why did she assume I wasn’t Italian?” I asked my sister. “Oh, you don’t look Italian anymore” my sister told me. What? I am Italian… what does an Italian look like? “Oh, I don’t know” mused my sister, “it’s a vibe”.
Oh yes, THAT vibe! That’s funny. Interestingly enough, I can myself spot an Italian in the US or an American in Italy a mile away. I used to work at the Scottsdale Fashion Square, a ritzy mall in Arizona, frequented by many celebrities and travelers alike. I would always shock my co-workers when I would tell them that the person that just entered our store was for sure Italian. “How do you know?” they would always ask… I am not sure I always had an answer for them. It was the way they walked, the way they combed their hair, the way they dressed, the shoes they wore… the “vibe” maybe? I was never wrong.
I was in Florence, Italy in 1998 waiting in line with my sister and brother-in-law to enter the Galleria Dell’Accademia to see the famous ‘Davide’ of Michelangelo, when I spotted an older couple a little bit in front of us. I didn’t hear them talk or anything, but I told my sister… they are Americans. Hands down. Then I looked behind us and I noticed a younger couple that was also for sure American. A younger me would not have said anything, but I am not shy anymore, so I asked the older couple where they were from. ‘Chicago’ they said. I knew it. The couple behind us was from San Diego. I hate to say this, but when my sister asked me how I knew, well… Americans truly stick out!! There was no ‘vibe’ or ‘nuance’ to read, between the baseball hats, the snickers, the jeans, t-shirts, there is no mistaking them. I think that’s why the bakery girl surmise I wasn’t Italian caught me by surprise. I was not wearing a baseball hat, jeans, t shirt nor snickers. But oh yes, that ‘Vibe’!
But that wasn’t the first time that I confused somebody. A few years ago at a hotel in Livermore, a bunch of us EB moms made friends with this traveling businessman who told us he was an expert in accents. As each mom started talking, he could pinpoint not only the area, but even the city that mom grew up in or lived. He was amazing. When I talked to him though… he was confused. “You got me” he said. “I don’t really know”. You sound very “exotic”. Hmmm… ‘exotic’, nobody ever called me that, I will take it!
Here’s something else I can spot. Fakery. You know, where, in a US commercial, people pretend to be Italian-when it’s evident (to me, at least!) they can never fake the Italian accent even by saying a single word (Galbani, please, don’t get me started!) and viceversa. So many Italian singers try to sing in English and… oh boy. Just sing in Italian my friend. I know you’re trying to sell your record everywhere, but, clearly… I love what Eros Ramazzotti does. He has ‘duets’ where he sings in Italian and a major star, to the tune of Tina Turner or Cher, sings with him in English. Result? Fabulous!
Here’s a Pet Peeve of mine. If you are opening a restaurant and you want to give it an Italian name, please have good sense and open a dictionary to check the spelling. Same thing for your menu. A new Italian Restaurant opened here in the Antelope Valley called ‘Julianni’. It makes me cringe every-time I see the big sign. There is no ‘J’ in the Italian Alphabet, so unless you’re Jon Bon Giovi and are changing your name to Bon Jovi to start a rock band, please don’t open a restaurant and tell me you’re serving authentic anything if you can’t even spell the name of your restaurant in proper Italian.
There is also major confusion about Italian food in the US. Many food items that Americans consider Italian are “really” Italian-American, which means they were invented by Italians in the US. You will never find these items in Italy. Let me give you some examples…
Calzone, Macaroni & Cheese, Chicken or Veal Parmesan, Alfredo Sauces, Caesar Salads, Garlic Bread, Italian Dressings, “Pepperoni” on Pizza, Mozzarella that does not come in water, Spaghetti w/meatballs or sausage & Parmesan Cheese in a Can.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with these foods. I eat them myself! Just don’t expect to find them in Italy is all.
Real Italian Foods
Lasagna, Minestrone, Focaccia, Gnocchi, Polenta, Risotto, Cannelloni/Manicotti, Ravioli, Salame/Prosciutto, Asiago/Fontina/Mascarpone, Cannoli, Tiramisu’, Gelato, Rustic thin Pizza, Cappuccino…
OK, I could go on and on. I could tell you to please don’t order eggs and bacon for breakfast if you go to Italy and that Cappuccino is only for breakfast. I could tell you that in Italy you won’t find any salad dressings and that salt, oil and vinegar is what you should use. I could tell you that you will never find a pizza so delicious as you will find there. I could tell you that Espresso is drank standing up at a bar and that Italians love their food so much they take their time. Oh wait, I just did! Maybe at some point I will write a whole blog about going to Italy and what to expect and how to enjoy it, but for now, this blog just made me homesick.
Just… do yourself a favor. If you go anywhere in your life, put Italy on your bucket list. You will see life in a different way when you ride the Gondola in Venice or eat authentic pizza at a local Pizzeria. My husband was totally hooked when we went in 2007, and my children are asking me what we are doing in the US when we could live in Italy.
You will thank me later, promise!