About a month ago, I stumbled upon a BuzzFeed video on Facebook called “Questions Americans Have for Italians.”
After having had a good laugh, I started reflecting on those questions, and realized that some of them, besides being extremely funny, might be linked to cultural stereotypes. According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, a stereotype is “a fixed idea or image that many people have of a particular type of person or thing, but which is often not true in reality.”
How often are stereotypes true? Having lived for a fair amount of time in the U.S. now, I think I do understand why Americans might have these questions for Italians.
Here are my responses to some of them:
“How can all of your men eat all the pasta that they want, but still be as hot as they are?”
Well, we can discuss this. Italian men are universally known for their charm and good taste in terms of fashion.
However, according to a report from the World Health Organization, almost 62 percent of the male population in Italy is overweight, and 20 percent is obese. They might be considered hot, but certainly all that pasta is ending up somewhere!
“Do you guys ever get sick of pasta? Because you eat it everyday, or not?”
Yes, pasta is a staple food in the Italian diet. No, we do not get sick of it, because we have countless different types of pastas and sauces, such as pesto, amatriciana, carbonara, and the list could go on for a while. By the way, I am sorry to debunk a myth, but no Italian has ever had pasta with Alfredo sauce in Italy!
“How do you manage to stay tanned all year round, like, seriously, what’s your secret?”
Please, someone reveal to me that secret too! Unfortunately for us, this holds somewhat true only in Southern Italy, where the weather is warmer and sunnier. Most people from Italy do not mirror the typical brown-haired, brown-eyed, and golden-skinned stereotype of how Italians look, and we do get sunburned very easily, like anybody else.
True! Italians gesticulate a lot. But that’s only because we are passionate about what we say and we want to give greater emphasis to it. Sometimes, words are not enough!
“Why do you guys have so many dialects?”
Our dialects are linked to our history and geography. Italy was unified in 1861 – much later than most European countries, – after centuries local populations were speaking their own dialects. As I’ve visited many different states in the U.S., I understand how people speak and pronounce words differently. But, trust me, our dialects are practically different languages! If I spoke in my Venetian dialect to my Sicilian friend, it would be as if a Norwegian spoke to a Portuguese – mutually unintelligible! Our advantage? Italian gestures are universally accepted, so we always have a loophole!
It’s true, our dinner structure, i.e., antipasto (appetizer), primo (first course, mostly pasta or any other carb), secondo (second course, meat or fish) and dolce (dessert), may seem a lot for one meal. However, we don’t eat like that all the time, only for special occasions, like it happens also here in the U.S. Besides, eating for Italians is not only a matter of getting fed, but more of a social activity. The more food, the more time spent at the table with friends and family, so it’s a win-win.
Summing up, I believe that oftentimes cultural stereotypes are somewhat true, but it is necessary to know their roots to truly understand them. I also think that a good number of them are funny and hold a positive meaning, as they trace us back to our cultural origins. However, it is important not to judge people based on such beliefs, and recognize that everybody (even from the same country) is different.
Stay tuned for my next blog post with questions Italians have for Americans!