I don't think I fully understood what being Italian means until I left Italy. It was when I moved to the UK that, as an outsider, that I got to be defined by my nationality. In the attempt to understand how other people see me, I developed a sort of extra sensorial perception of myself that made me realize how being Italian impacted on my personality and my life in general. When I moved to London I was young and scared. I did not have a system of support or people who would look after me, as my family had done up to that point. I went to live in a flat in East London, where I met a cheerful group of Italians who had been living there for years before me. They immediately ''adopted'' me: we came from different parts of the country yet we felt that bond that tied us together and the moral obligation to take care of each other. They cooked for me, they gave me advice for my job, they drank prosecco with me when I got a conditional offer by City University, they told me to look out from all the bad people (yes, even other Italians) out there who attempted to take advantage of an unexperienced teenager in a foreign country. Most of us, especially in a city like London, lived the same sort of difficulties and were presented with the same dilemmas. But most Italians who faced the same challenges before me tried to help and make it at least a little bit easier. It was natural and spontaneous, I didn't even ask. I remember when I told about my financial difficulties to an Italian co-worker of mine whom I had met the week before: she told me I could borrow money from her, if I ever needed to. I was a total stranger and we had just one thing in common: we were both Italians. But that was enough for her. I could write countless anecdotes like this one, and they would all prove one point: As Italians, we look out for one another, moved by a natural feeling of humanity. Now, I'm no anthropologist and I don't know how your culture can affect this kind of behaviour, sure is that for most of us this is normality. (Clearly it's not always rainbows and butterflies, if you meet a bad Italian I can assure you that he or she can be as mean as they come. But hey that's mankind).
I just got a fresh haircut. The hairdresser was Italian. He knows I'm a student with a shitty part-time job. When I put the hand in my pocket to pay him he stopped me and said ''You can go buddy. This time's on me.''
As you can see, it's difficult to choose, But I'd say that this is probably the best thing about being Italian (and in a perfect world this should be a normal trait of human behaviour): WE CARE.
When you start to live abroad, you quickly get used to be identified with the stereotypes that describe your home country. That means, as an Italian, people always ask me if my favourite meal is “Fettuccine Alfredo” (no guys, it doesn't exist in Italy. I don’t even know what it looks like); or whether it’s true that I use a lot of gestures while speaking (well yeah, that might be true); or if I drink at least 5 coffees a day (okay, that’s definitely true.)
But to be an Italian is a lot more than this, so here is a quick list about what it really means to grow up in Italy.
• Food is a big part of your culture. You learn how to cook from your grandma/mum/aunt …. It doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it, but you’ll definitely be good at eating. In fact, pretty much all of your social events will take place around the table.
• Wine is also a big deal. Most of us start drinking a drop in a while since childhood, but it doesn’t mean we become addicted. Actually, it only teaches us how to handle it.
• Your mum will always be the most important person of your life. It doesn’t matter whether you are a 12-year old girl or a 50-year old married man, you’ll always come to your mum for advice. The unbreakable rule for all Italians is “family first”. Oh guys, that sounds a lot like Game of Thrones.
• Dialects. Every single town, city or village in Italy has its own dialect. Some of them are pretty similar, some are completely different. To know the dialect of your home town means to be bilingual, because most of them sound just like a foreign language and have been influenced by German, French, Arabic and all the other languages of the countries that divided Italy till 1861.
• Last but not least is the sense of community Italians feel. To grow up in Italy means to grow up in a country that will always be by your side and save your back. We might not have the best political environment (we definitely don’t have that), we can argue a lot and maybe even call each others names, but wherever in the world you are there will always be an Italian ready to help you in whatever you need. And you may even find out that you are somehow relatives. It'a not that rare.