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I Knew I Had Become Italian When…

I Knew I Had Become Italian When…

As an American who has lived in Italy for over 30 years, my Italian friends and family often say to me “ah, you are Italian now.” My mental reply is always “nope, I’m not.” The July 4 celebrations in Milan organized by Easy Milano seem like a good time to share a lighthearted list of how I have adapted to my adopted homeland. And how I have not.

I knew I had (almost) become Italian when:

I couldn’t leave home without wearing lipstickWhen I first arrived in Rome in the early 1980s, I was shocked that the Italian men in our group of friends looked in the mirror more than I did. “Lipstick is very important,” one of them instructed me. I quickly interiorized this advice and now the only time I am without lipstick is if I am in hospital on the way to the operating room. Or in the gym.

I go to the beach carrying a survival kit. A few years ago, my extended family convened for a get together on the shores of Lake Michigan. On our first day at the beach, I appeared dressed for Santa Margherita Ligure, with matching beach dress, hat, flip flops and bag. My cousins were all empty handed, in shorts and T-shirts. Fine. But can we talk about the beach bag? Inside I had water, tissues, chapstick, band-aids, wipes, a book, and of course, a long sleeved shirt in case it got cold and the all important cambio di costume. That’s because I have interiorized the Italian view of the beach as a hostile environment akin to a desert, simply because they both have sand.

I must defend myself from air conditioningMy family vacation in Chicago this summer was delightful except for one thing. The air conditioning on Chicago public buses had me shivering like I was on the North Pole, and had me hopping around the bus looking for the warmest place while my fellow riders were blissfully basking in comfort. I have obviously interiorized the Italian view that air conditioning will make you sick if it blows on you.

I risked getting jailed for smuggling foodI used to chuckle or roll my eyes when Italian friends studying or working in London told me how they loaded up their suitcases with food because “you can’t get good pasta there.” (This is no longer true, of course.) But having interiorized the Italian reverence of good food, I now cannot make an overseas trip without stuffing my suitcase with homemade pasta sauce or pesto, a hunk of cheese or some special olive oil, because I am convinced that my friends and family can’t live without it. Unfortunately I sometimes forget that US customs asks you to declare if you are carrying any food items. I routinely say no, risking a fine or jail, or just public embarrassment.

I shrug off Donald TrumpThe US president conducts state business at his private residence. He makes outrageous statements about women. It’s hard to separate his business interests from his political role. He expertly manipulates the media. He has a weird hairstyle. Does this remind you of anyone? Living in Italy has made me interiorize the belief that all politicians are up to no good and will naturally take advantage of anything they can. Twenty years of Silvio Berlusconi has made me greet the Trump presidency with a shrug of the shoulders. Almost.

But after thirty years I still can’t seem to master:

The words of the Italian national anthemI know, this is indefensible. But maybe if Italy had a proper Fourth of July instead of a “Flag Day” (I dare you to tell me when it is) this would be easier.

Who is ahead in the soccer championship this year. I know, soccer is “the beautiful sport.” But to me it still looks like young men with extravagant hair styles running up and down a field. I briefly considered pretending to be a fan of, say, Juventus, to help me make small talk at work. But only briefly.

Italian pop music. I know, Italy invented musical annotation and just about everything else in the cultural realm. I can hum Verdi’s “Va Pensiero” on the way to work and sing “O Sole Mio” in the shower. But the San Remo song festival and Italian pop music makes me cringe. Luckily the country has 2000 years of history to love instead.

The cult of ironing. I know, neatly pressed clothes are the key to looking good. And crawling between smooth sheets makes you drift off to sleep happy. But can someone please start a support group to help wean Italy off of its obsession with the time suck of ironing underwear, towels, sheets? Big secret: there’s something called “permanent press.”

Clapping when the plane lands after a transatlantic flightI know, it’s a nice sign of appreciation for the crew. But I’m always too tired.

Article by Jennifer Clark

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