I can still remember my first day in London. I was at Piccadilly Circus with a map in my hands trying to figure out where to go. A passer-by offered to help me. He was very gentle and wanted to know where I was from.When I said I was from Rome, he seemed surprised, as he asserted I didn’t look actually Italian( What do Italians look like? Short?Dark?With moustache?). Then he started the following charade: ” Oh, yes, I know Italy well: pasta, pizza, mamma mia, papa, pappa, mandolino, mafia ” he mentioned also some famous Italian football players of the time and started to sing me this song :” Solo un cornetto give it to me, delicious ice-cream of Italy“, it was a tune of a commercial, I guess. I was actually amused by the situation, however, it was only the first day in a foreign country and somebody had already placed in front of me the mirror of what I was supposed to be,only, I didn’t recognize myself in that mirror. Well, at a closer inspection, maybe a little.
The question is, that some of those common places that make the Italian stereotype abroad could be true, maybe, for just a few of us, but where is prototype that you seem to see so clearly from? Where can he be found? You have to know, in fact, that we are very different from one another: 20 regions with at least 20 dialects, which seem more languages as they have produced wonderful literature. Different habits and food from North to South as gift of the long dominations of the past from all over Europe.So, for example , if I go only 200 km far from where I live, I may soon realize that even the codes of behaviour are different, as if I were in another country. Maybe we are a little unreliable, individualist, intolerant to rules, shrewd, I admit, but this common trait is also heritage of those invasions: the dominated never co-operate with their dominator.
The place I’ve just been on holiday is an extreme example of what I’ve just said. Trentino-South Tyrol (Italy) is a magnificent place with green valleys, the enchanting Dolomites, rich forests, streams that become waterfalls, golden lakes, super tidy and organized villages, houses of marzipan with balconies covered with red, pink,white geraniums and that sweet, intoxicating smell of apfel strudel (apple pie) that surrounds everything. A paradise. The languages spoken are three, German, Ladin and Italian in order of importance. Trentino-South Tyrol,in fact, had been part of the Austrian Empire since 1814 and was annexed to Italy at the end of the first world war and you’ve got to believe me if I tell you that after one hundred years they cannot swallow the tremendous reality that they are Italian. If you placed that mirror if front their faces they would be disgusted and humiliated.
Therefore, it may happen that some of them still feel the need of stressing their not being Italian, particularly in the presence of the Italians, not all of them of course, but still many. For example, they could pretend not to understand a single word of what you say and speak German only, or make you wait a lot at a restaurant, while you see all the non Italians who have come right after you served. You know, the usual warm, welcoming Italians. That’s why we always try to behave well, in order not to be too soon spotted . I also speak a little German and after all I don’t look that Italian as somebody said. But you know, there is always a moment of looseness, as when I gently called my husband , with my slight Roman accent “Amò vieqquà “(” Would you come here, love?”, well, not exactly so gentle .) ) and we soon realized we would have paid the consequences of that weakness.
After having struggled to get a seat at a restaurant in Brixen for more than one hour, a waiter eventually came, handed the menu, looked at us sneering and pronounced the following words in an uncertain Italian:
“I warn you, you’ll have to wait long” ( it was 2:00 p.m)
“Ok, but, how long? An hour?“, we asked, after all there were not so many people then.
“Long“. And he turned his back .
We understood we’d better go away, if we wanted some food and decided to go back to Selva di Val Gardena, where we lodged and get some rolls. We went to a bakery and the young lady, who had to serve us, very likely the sister of that waiter in Brixen for what concerns politeness, barked ..oops I mean, answered, in this way to our request of rolls:
” But , you haven’t chosen the bread!!!”
” No, we haven’t, in fact. What kind of bread do you have?” We asked.
” Look!” She pointed at the bread .
We looked at the bread, but we couldn’t recognize anything familiar, therefore, we gently asked her to explain what was in front of us. She was clearly annoyed and started to make a very quick list of the types of bread, while I tried to match words to images. We eventually agreed to buy a couple of “coppiette“. I’ll spare you the tiring conversation we had to decide what to fill the rolls with.
We sat on a bench outside the bakery and when we started to bite our rolls, it was about 3:30 . Fresh, crunchy bread, tasty speck and mortadella,uhmmmm, delicious, when , in horror, I realized that we were dropping some crumbs. I was just thinking to pick them up nonchalantly, when a sparrow came in our help, enjoying every single crumb, till the pavement was clean and polished again :)