Last week I was thinking about the moment I decided to leave Italy and start living abroad: it seems like yesterday, but it actually happened in 2008, almost 10 years ago. Which means that I’ve lived nearly one third of my entire life, and basically all of my adult life, abroad.
Shocking, huh? Well, it is for me at least.
You would think that, after all this time, I’d be able to analyze the Italian stereotype from an impartial point of view. Are we Italians really the way we are portrayed? What makes us so peculiar and “colorful” when compared to other nationalities?
When I first moved abroad, I became angry every time someone dared to mention anything about how Italians gesture; namely, our loud voices or anything related to pizza. But now, after all these years, I have to admit that some of these infamous stereotypes are not stereotypes at all!
Here’s my personal list of what I think makes Italians immediately recognizable.
1. Vast knowledge of food
Ok, ok — I know this is probably the most obvious one. But we’re talking about clichés here, right? And I assure you that the sacred link between food and Italians is not a stereotype at all. We Italians have certain rules about food (some dos, but especially don’ts) and are absolutely inflexible when it comes to fantasy and creativity. Cheese on fish is not a thing, pizza doesn’t come with the weird toppings I saw with my very own eyes in the US and New Zealand (Pineapple? Are you serious?), and the coffee… guys, you have a lot to learn. The espresso you know is simply called “caffè” (“a coffee”) within our borders, a cappuccino simply doesn’t exist after lunch (Milk in the afternoon? How disgusting); and, moreover, Italians have never heard of a “latte” (the way you mean it), “frappuccino” or “mocha.”
Our rules are made to be respected. Don’t ask questions: trust us. We know what we’re doing.
2. Fashion and style
First of all, when I say “fashion” I don’t mean clothes designed by famous stilisti italiani. I’m not really an expert in alta moda, I don’t watch the runways, and I tend to be quite opposed to mainstream trends and the homogenization dictated by so-called “influencers.”
However, I do have a “genetic” sense of style. And, trust me on this one, all Italians are more or less like me. It’s not a matter of buying expensive clothes or wearing sunglasses indoor — it’s something that we have inside, a sort of sixth sense that tells us what is good and what is not.
Blue and brown together? I’d rather be naked!
3. Let’s talk with our hands
Italian gestures are not just simple movements that we do with our hands — they represent an independent language that should have their own dictionary. Yes, we use them to underline concepts or ideas, but we also use our body language for entire conversations that can actually happen without the use of verbal communication.
It’s part of our essence: asking an Italian to stop making gestures and to keep his hands in his pockets would be very cruel!
4. Loud? Maybe melodious
Our voices are a little bit louder than normal, I know, but we are certainly NOT the only ones in this world. I’ve heard so many people speaking louder than me, I swear!
What I cannot refute, though, is the musicality of our language: when I enter a bar or restaurant, I can immediately recognize the Italian in the crowd, even if he’s not speaking his mother tongue, and there’s a lot of background noise. If you want to hear the musicality of Italian for yourself, start with these beautiful expressions which I use (and try to translate) every day!
5. “Bloody” and passionate
I’m still not sure if this one’s a strength or weakness, but I tend to go with the former. We Italians are considered impulsive and sanguigni (lit: bloody) because we can’t hold our tongues, we raise our voices and we defend our opinions with strength and vehemence no matter what.
If you think that we are like this because we’re unable to be reflective or can’t put a filter between our brain and our mouth, it could be considered a fault. But if you choose another point of view, that being passionate and spontaneous is a good thing, it’s surely a strength. Isn’t it?