Stranger at home


Selva Di Val Gardena

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.


Typical Italians?

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.


Selva Di Val Gardena

20140811_154808The 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 “AmΓ² vieqquΓ  “(” 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 πŸ™‚



34 thoughts on “Stranger at home

  1. Look at the bright side. They have geraniums. What is better? To live as Bree VandeKamp or as Lynette Scavo? Maybe all the beauty and cleaniness is worthy, included the ruthlessly behaviour many northern fellows have.

  2. This made me laugh ….in England live in a town which had a huge wave of Italian immigration in 50s and 60s ….the people came from Naples and Sicily. Recently I visited Rome with my Bookgroup , when I came back I was telling the lady ( Italian) in our local shop about it . She kept asking , but what about the people ? What about the food ? I could tell she was disappointed that I kept saying how lovely all those things were !!!!!! Funny !

    • This is because our regional identity is still stronger than the national one. Try to say to a Neapolitan that you loved the pizza in Rome. It would be like insulting him πŸ˜‰

  3. Nothing like being a stereotype Stephy, even if you don’t look Italian. You have to admit that Italian people are usually portrayed as those from southern Italy and Sicily in the movies. πŸ™‚

  4. Hi Stefy,

    Your post is so ready-witted… You had me at giggles and nodding in agreement even with some of those incorrigible italian behaviours… Stereotypes:yes!. The classic one regarding italians is that they tend to be quite lazies and love to eat and speak loudly and /or argue (these are the ones I know)
    Being my name Amalia Pedemonte you may know that I have italian roots and as a matter of fact there is a village close to Veneto called Pedemonte, which honors me somehow:)

    Thanks for sharing…Always a pleasure to drop by your blog!.
    Migliori auguri, Aquileana πŸ˜›

    • Hi Aquileana, Γ¨ sempre un grande piacere averti qui. However, we speak loudly? How can we deny it? But certainly not the people I met few days ago. We love to eat well, for sure, this is a common trait, but lazy? Maybe less organized, but there is a great difference from south to north. The truth is we are different,and that’s why this country is so difficult to rule but it is also so beautiful.
      Super hugs

  5. Thanks, Stefy, for this wonderful tour of your country. I dipped my feet into Italian soil while on a Mediterranean cruise – Rome, Florence, The Amalfi Coast, Venice…What a beautiful country you have. πŸ™‚ and thanks for the valuable info – 20 dialects! Oh, my! πŸ™‚

    • Hi Carol, a Mediterranean cruise! Wow, beautiful. I’ m glad you loved my country and I hope you’ll come back soon. You should visit the South, it is enchanting πŸ™‚

  6. Oh dear… It was so funny reading about your experiences in Northern Italy, as they mirrored my experiences in Florence. A beautiful city – and lovely country – but Italians would be served right away, and greeted with a wide smile, whereas foreigners were literally frowned upon. At some point we were waiting outside a palazzo, when a passing carabinniero shot us a dark glance, murmuring, “bastardi!”

    So, maybe it’s a good thing that no one spoke a word of English – or any other language: between my wife and me, we speak 6 languages. And yet, we found it impossible to communicate with people! Even at the airport, we had to order our pizza in broken Italian! The only exception was a lovely little shop that sold handmade shoes. The owner was a terribly helpful and friendly young man, who did speak English. I bought half a dozen pairs – they’re still among my favourite shoes.

    A case in point: at some point, we had trouble at a bank ATM. We used the phone next to it to contact support. Naturally, the helpline was answered in Italian. “Do you speak English? French? Spanish? German? Greek? Russian?” Nope. The only language available to us was Italian. We hung up in despair and had to call our Greek bank long-distance from my mobile phone to sort things out.

    Still, the country was lovely. And I have since met a lovely Italian couple (they live a little outside Venice), who have, thankfully, mitigated that poor first impression…

    • First of all, I cannot but make my apologies on behalf of my country for such an unwelcoming behaviour and then pass this comment to the Minister of Education so as she may realize the poor quality of language teaching here 😦 We cannot make miracles with 3 hours per week in classes of 25/30 students. However , do come back and give us a second chance πŸ™‚

  7. Stefy, Thank you for stopping by my (very infrequent) blog! A couple of years ago, my husband and I rented motorcycles in Munich and rode the Alps in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Our absolute favorite area was the Dolomites. Just spectacular! We were amused by the cross-over of languages and cultures, but everyone was so friendly, despite our lack of skill in Italian, French or German. I guess I am lucky that we had a wonderful experience. πŸ™‚

    • Hi, apart from the fact that the place is actually amazing, everything was ok because you are NOT Italian, that’s it. You can safely go back there and you will be heartily welcomed again. πŸ™‚
      Nice to see you here.

  8. I know a little about Italy and the different regions and dialects sort of like Spain. And the stereotype for a Spanish in the U.S is ” Torero”, what was a bummer is that you are actually Italian, I thought I was writing with an American that had lived in Italy for a long time. Mrs.Tink, come on you are Italian and blond? Italians should be dark hair and Americans blond with blue eyes. So youΒ΄re not American….bummer, but nevertheless I will still like reading and giving myself a headache with your literature analysis once in a while. About the Mafia, thatΒ΄s the first thing I said to and Italian guy when I traveled to England quite some time ago to find work. DonΒ΄t know why, he seemed Mafiosi. He didnΒ΄t take it badly though, plus I think it was that year they won some kind of championship because the little Italy part of England, it was all in the backpakers young people sleeping in those “hotels” erupted in party the all the freaking Italians and they where a lot there. Had good time though with those guys, but none of them would tell me if they where Mafiosi, must be the code of honour I thought.

      • Yeah, I thought you where the all American girl, blond hair blue eyes maybe a southern accent…..well, the wold is not perfect IΒ΄ll have to deal with it( I would like to put one of those sad yellow creepy faces but have no clue how to do it).

        O.K! So youΒ΄re not Italian then, right? At least lie to me and tell me youΒ΄re from Mississippi with a southern accent. I could live with that much better.

  9. Your post was a real treat to read – made me smile and brought back a lot of “Italian memories”. Must admit I don’ t have any bad experience from the times I have visited Italy- it has always been a pure pleasure to discover, notice, hear, taste…enjoy – not only places but also people. Haven’ t seen the South at all but definitely will get there some day.
    I also know how easily it is to slip into stereotyping – I try not to but sometimes the tiny voice in my head, based on the things read and heard, speaks a bit louder than I would want it to. πŸ™‚ Still I promise the image of an Italian with big moustache, holding pasta in one hand and pizza in another definitely hasn’ t been among any stereotypes I have thought of. πŸ˜€

  10. Thanks for the smiles, Stefy πŸ™‚ Sounds like you’re better off abroad! The nearest I’ve been to the area is Arco, just north of Garda (and very beautiful, incidentally) but I have to admit, the tourists were ‘king’. Hard not to love Italy, though. I spent some very happy holidays around Garda, Como and Maggiore, and down south in Naples Bay. (Sue’s next port of call, and how I come to be visiting you today)

    • Hi, thank you for dropping by ( thanks to Sue) and confirming my words. Despite the way we have been treated, I love those places and I go there almost every year, but next summer I think I’ll go to the South. It’s better to take a break πŸ˜‰

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