Tag Archives: culture

On Being Italian

OK. Not all Italians are easily excitable, dramatic, exaggerate and gesture enthusiastically but it is not uncommon and I’m afraid to say I got the gene! I do not speak for all Italians. I speak for me and those I know.  I can also tell you honestly that the times I’ve visited Italy it was heartening  and satisfying to see all the characteristics mentioned above, playing out in lively scenes that are deemed “too much” or too dramatic here.

Outsiders can mistakenly think Italians are upset, angry or yelling but we are just showing interest in a somewhat loud way. Every man who joined our family asked the same question, “what’s wrong?” What do you mean one of us would say quizzically. “Why are you all talking and yelling at the same time?”  Yelling!?! We aren’t yelling, we would say, looking at time as if they were crazy.  My interpretation is that we care about whatever it is that has caught our attention.  I would think people would appreciate this fact! I am always suspicious of people who don’t show any emotion…what are they hiding?  What are they not saying? Eh, must be the Sicilian in me.  I just don’t understand this I’m-too-cool-to-release-an-emotion, thing.  We all have them people, let them out!

Drama. One person’s drama is another persons way of life.  When an Italian says things like: You’re killing me here, Madonna Mia! (as in virgin mother not the stroppy singer), Va fancula (don’t use this one), A Fa Napoli (go to hell or get the hell outta here), I can’t take it!  (In Brooklyn “I caaaan’t”)….It’s language meant to express the feeling they are having. They don’t necessarily mean what they say. It is the same reason I exaggerate.  If I say it’s 100 degrees in here. I don’t really think it’s 100 degrees but that’s what it feels like.  When there were two dogs in the house I would say things like , oh God, I can’t walk with 27 dogs in my way!  Again, capturing the feeeling, nothing more nothing less.  I crack up when someone tries to explain the realities to me. “Dana it’s only 72 degrees in here.”  You’re killing me!

A typical conversation between my husband and myself:

Me: “When are you going to mow the lawn?”

Him: “Later”

Me: “But it’s 7:00pm now”

Him: “I know”

Me: “So you’re going to mow the lawn at 12 o’clock at night?

Again, simply underscoring the late hour. The come back is always an explanation of the actual time and how he didn’t say he would mow the lawn at 12 o’ clock. Sighhhh…message lost.

When I’m upset or excited about something, it will be expressed in hand gestures or my speech or both. One way or another it is coming out! It doesn’t matter what the reality is. So one will hear: I’ve had 100 calls today at work (20), I had to pay like $1,000 to get the car fixed ($350), There were 57 people ahead of me in the supermarket line….you get the picture.  And, when I hear something upsetting for myself or someone else, I’ll gasp or say WHAT?!!!  I think being Italian and apatheic is impossible!  Contrast this with my husband, a Brit, who would respond to the same information with “riiight” as he calmly took in the information.
I could write a post on the phrase Oh My God alone. It is used liberally and in many different situations. It is not reserved for a calamity.   There is “Oh my God!” meaning, I don’t believe it, I’m shocked or got bad news. Then there is oh-my-God which means, he or she is an idiot or something is ridiculous.  Let’s not forget  OhmyGod! which means I forgot something or someone or something is in danger and action needs to be taken. And lastly, Oh my Gaaaawd which is said as a cry (not a whine) which means I’m being stressed to the max . Usually because someone is doing my head in and/or annoying me. When this is used the receiver of the phrase will have a short amount of time to correct their offending behavior because the sender is about to blow up!  Each version is said with its own inflection and different words are stressed.  Of course Italians don’t own these three words and other nationalities have their own versions.

When I lived in England, exclamations were frowned upon. Though Brits do know how to curse and do so very well I might add, Brits do not appear to be comfortable with general outbursts as a rule, rather it seems to be a source of pride that one can keep it together in any situation. Keep Calm Carry On was a war slogan meant to remind people that they were not to freak out once bombs started dropping remember!  I once called (called mind you. I didn’t shout or scream) to my husband who was further down the supermarket aisle than I was and everyone turned around. His face went pale and I thought he was going to pass out. He looked at me as if I’d jumped into the refrigerated section and was throwing thing around like an ape.  I’m not uncouth and am appreciative of manners and etiquette.  I was innocently holding  a package of fresh mozzarella but when I saw that it had come from Italy, I had to share it and thought he’d be as happy as I was.

Ever see someone you hadn’t seen in a long time? Do you quietly approach them or call to them in whispering tones? Or do you act Italian and squeal “oh my God! I can’t believe it! Hiiiii!  How are youuuu??? Complete with delight and lots of hugs and kisses? Again, demonstrating care and interest!

I don’t know if it’s an Italian thing or a New York thing but when I get angry, I curse.  I don’t know many New Yorkers who have a problem with this. Cursing is not seen as coarse or crude, rather it is a creative way of expressing one’s self.  Cursing and degree of anger are positively correlated.  Spouses take heed!  Again, it was nice to hear people exclaiming, cursing, and generally expressing themselves in Italy without it being seen as a character flaw!

Italians talk. They talk with their mouths, their hands, their facial muscles, their shoulders, their whole bodies really.  You will always know what we think, how we feel and where you stand.  If we love you, you will be showered with affection and if we are angry you will know it, the offending situation will be addressed and it will be done with.  We are an expressive people and don’t usually hold things in.  What’s the point of having emotions and feelings if you can’t express them?  Viva Italiano!



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Craziness Part 1-Driving


Here are the 13 craziest things I’ve noticed

other drivers doing on the road lately, all whilst in motion:

1) Woman using an eyelash curler then putting on mascara.  Not lipstick. Mascara, that entails putting a very pointy wand near the eye, not to mention the need to stare closely into a mirror. Not the road. A mirror!

2) Men, speeding up, then slowing down, speeding up, slowing down….oh! they are on the phone and unable to take in information, process it and respond while maintaining the same speed.  Cut to me, accelerating, slamming on my brakes, accelerating, slamming on brakes, cursing, slamming on my brakes. Gotta love the narrow corpus collosum and inability to multi-task.

3)  You knew texting would be on this list-I see people looking down, looking up, looking down longer than looking up and getting the full effect of my horn which beeps more than bellows when they regularly cross the double yellow line and are heading right toward me.  Daily occurence this.

4)  People holding a cigarette in one hand, and phone in the other. Others hold coffee cup in one hand and ciggie in the other.  What is driving the car? And, you’re “driving” behind me!  That’s comforting.

5)  Man driving glacially slow in front of me.  Why?  Well I found out as I passed him at the earliest convenience, dirty look at the ready. He was patting down and trying to brush his very messy bedhead with his little stubby fingers. He then proceeded to whip out his electric shaver. Sigh.

6)  A maddening 30 minute drive behind a woman who put on a full face of makeup-from foundation to mascara. Her car was slowly drifting off to the shoulder and I prepared myself to have to maneuver around her when she finally went off the road. So, should I make out my will because she’s running late?

7) Woman driving slowly because she’s talking to her kids in the car- reaching behind her to get “things”, pulling “things” out of a bag, hoisting bag from the back to the front seat, passing “things to said kids in backseat. I never understand why these parents don’t have a problem putting their kids lives at risk.

8) Older gentleman driving ridiculously slow.  Why you ask? Because, he was thoroughly enjoying watching his lap dog enjoy the wind in its hair. At 8am in the morning? Are you trying to give me a stroke?

9)  I was driving behind a man who was there one minute and gone the next as his head popped down and then stayed down! Where did he go?  Uh, hello? Who is driving the car!?!  Did he check into an alternate reality?  Was he hungrily fishing around for old french fries? Sending a fax? Let me guess, he dropped the cell phone while texting and putting all of our lives at risk while he attempted to retrieve it!   I’m sorry, that gets an automatic beep from me.

10) Woman, um, teacher? Marking papers on her steering wheel while driving to work during rush hour.  What a sterling example of those setting examples for your children.  Just thought you should know.

11) As I approached a left turning lane and proceeded to steer through the intersection, I noticed that the woman to my right was holding a china dish in one hand and flatware in the other, eating what appeared to be an enjoyable meal with not a care in the world.  Again, what was driving the car?  The all-seeing knee?

12)  A couple of weeks ago,  I witnessed a  woman driving as she took a picture of herself.  She was drifting all over the road, then decided the first pic wasn’t good enough so gave it a good smile and took another, at speed. Surely you can finish off your online dating profile when you get home…if you get home, I should say.

13) I was waiting at a light to make a left hand turn. The light turned yellow (amber for my Brits) and something told me not to go. Sure enough, a man ran the light that had turned red, as his head and neck were facing the back seat. That bears repeating. The man drove through a busy intersection, through a red light facing the opposite way! Gobsmacked!

I find myself beeping at people to help them from hurting themselves. I’m more afraid for them than I am for myself in most of these scenarios. To paraphrase the captain in Hill Street Blues, for the love of all that’s holy, let’s be careful out there!


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London Olympics

Olympic Tower Bridge


Danny Boyle has done his country proud. I was very moved and impressed by his creation for the Olympics. I absolutely loved the intro as they flew over the country and along canals until they reached London and the Thames. The wink and nod they gave to Eastenders cracked me up.  Then the country anthems sung by British children. Oh! He killed me with that.  Each one a touching tribute to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Jerusalem and The Flower of Scotland are my favorites and when I hear them I get a lump in my throat.  However, I was surprised when other Yanks didn’t share my enthusiasm.  There was great attention to detail in incorporating the best the Brits have offered the world.  I don’t think people realize how much we have all been affected by their culture and innovations.  There was a lot of symbolism and a myriad of cultural references that may have gone over the heads of those not familiar with British life.  Boyle wove a celebratory fabric made up history, humor, literature, trends and fads, music, inventions and showed the world what Brits are most proud of. Even so these triumphs and treasures were shown with hallmark understatedness and humility despite the spectacle.

20120725 Olympic opening ceremony rehearsal DSC_3438.jpg

Powder Photography/flickr

The ceremony began in a bucolic scene, the English countryside which was put in context by American commentators as an illustration of early British life however the English, Scottish and Welsh countrysides remain still and offer some of the most stunning views in the world. Countryside is as much a part of being british as tea and crumpets and has been the muse of writers for centuries: picnicking in, cycling past, walking along daffodils in and meandering through on a Sunday afternoon, pastoral scenes continue to entrance.  No matter the size of the city, in no time one can be back in the gloriously green. One can gaze at fields of lavender and rapeseed or watch lambs suckling in open fields in the spring.  It is a celebrated part of British life and no wonder that Boyle made it the beginning point of his ceremony. Of course it has also been the scene of strongholds and skirmishes between clans and countries too. The iconic hill is reminiscent of Glastonbury’s Tor, a mystical, spiritual area of England that again is engrained in the psyche of the British people and has been inhabited for many hundreds of years.


Nick J Webb/flickr

Another point that seemed to confuse was the pause of the workers as they gazed at poppy flowers.  While Americans celebrate Veteran’s Day, Remembrance Day in the UK is another part of the culture. Every November, on the 11th day and at the 11th hour, everyone stops to pause for a minute of silence. Heads are bowed, lights are turned off, traffic stops. The UK comes to a halt to remember those who have died in war and to commemorate the end of the Great War, the war to end all wars as termed by H G Wells, famous English author.  No matter the size of city, town or village, there will be a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Great War (first world war), which devastated the UK due to the staggering number of men who perished. British traditions are steeped in history and there is great feeling behind what they do, for a reason.

Poppy Wreaths at The Cenotaph, London. Credit: 1 hr photo/flickr

Do people realize that the industrial revolution, which propelled us all out of fields and into cities and allowed life as we know it today, started in England?  British discoveries lead to the first cast iron bridge which lead to larger steel bridges and sky scrappers!  While most saw it as gritty, and no one does gritty like Boyle, the industrial revolution was highlighted in the Olympics for this reason. Do people also realize that the one invention that has propelled us farther still and changed life as we know it, the world-wide web, was created by a Brit named Sir Tim Berners-Lee.  A fellow blogger pointed out that he typed out “this is for everyone” which I somehow missed.  He was singled out during the ceremony, as he sat there humbly.  A man who deserves a Nobel price for bringing the whole world together and allowing us to have information at our fingertips, and, never asking for anything in return, as most would!  Everyone’s lives have been changed by these two things alone and that is why they were brought to the worlds attention.  I found the forging of and the lighting up of the Olympic rings to be very moving indeed.  What people from the UK have given to the world is a lot. Other British inventions as the Geordie in my life never tires of reminding me are: Subways, Telephone, phonograph, Electric Light (Joseph Swan, not Thomas Edison as is largely believed and yes Dave, he is a Geordie), Jet Planes, Steam Locomotive, Television, Electric Motor, Vitamins, Raincoat, Cement, Lawnmower and Vacuums! Get the picture? And this is not including discoveries in medicine, architecture, science, physics, etc.  Most of what we know as useful in our everyday life came from England. Now do you see what I mean when I say the Brits are understated in their showing off accomplishments?

Another huge contribution to the world has been literature and Boyle highlighted Shakespeare, J M Barrie and J K Rowling. Who can forget A.A. Milne, writer of Winnie the Poo, children’s poetry and Beatrix Potter? As well as Dylan Thomas, Rabbie Burns, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Jane Austen, The Bronte Sisters… Again, a few mentioned, hundreds just as esteemed, not but an indication of what British literature has done for the world.

Then we had a taste of British humor with the Queen getting in the act and agreeing to be filmed for her grand entry into the Olympic stadium.  She was heard commenting today “I hope it made them laugh.”  The Brits have a wicked sense of humor which is quick and often times self-deprecating. I loved the Rowan Atkinson segments and the royal parachute jump. It really showed that Brits aren’t usually about pomp and circumstance and don’t take themselves seriously most of the time.

Then politically, Boyle highlighted the first Women’s Movement which allowed women to work and vote, rights that were forbidden not so long ago. Humanitarily, Britain created a nationalized health system recognizing long ago that health care is a basic human right and that lives should be treated and not left to private companies and insurance companies to decide if they will be greedy or benevolent. Funnily enough the rest of the world agreed with them save one country. Cheers to them for celebrating and recognizing this.  I wonder if this piece wasn’t meant as a reminder to those previous colonies who have gone astray, wink wink.

United Kingdom

United Kingdom (Photo credit: stumayhew)

Brits have every right to be proud of the opening ceremony.  They have had  mountains more accomplishments than were shown and this was just a tasting, a reminder that they have been and continue to be one of the first and still greatest societies ever!  Sure they could have beaten the drums louder, the Scots know how to do that, but that is not their way. Brits know where they have been. They know their own history as well as ours!  For a small country they have succeeded against all odds on many occasions.  I’ve no doubt this will be an Olympics to remember!


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Mexican Coke-It is the real thing!

A Bottle of Mexican Coke.I was in a Mexican restaurant that prides itself on having only the freshest ingredients.  Instead of the usual cheese covered Mexican food that we all know, it was clean, crisp and delicious! My husband asked for a Coke and the question came back, “would you like to try Mexican Coke?” Mexican Coke? We didn’t know there was such a thing. So, being the adventurous travelers that we are, we tried it. Wow! I was instantly transported back to my childhood. Back to glass bottles, and the simple sugary taste of Coke shining through without the bite or aftertaste that all sodas seem to have nowadays.

It got me thinking, as most things do, about why American food and drink is so often second-rate in the ingredient department.  We seem to be the only country that accepts without question questionable even dangerous ingredients and ingredients that are genetically modified. The only reason Mexican Coke tastes different, going by the list of ingredients on the label, is that it has replaced high fructose corn syrup with cane sugar, an ingredient that is more natural and not modified. I assume the reason that Coke uses high fructose corn syrup is because it is dirt cheap, coming from the thousands of acres of genetically modified corn fields and because, frankly, we accept it where other countries don’t.

As it takes hundreds and thousands of years for species to change there is no way to know what the effects of genetically modified food is having on us, is there? It just seems to be common sense that it will have some effect as we are ingesting things that are not natural. How long will it take to adapt to the myriad of chemicals and alterations that are being thrown at us every day? It reminds me of the film the Incredible Shrinking Woman and instead of shrinking what do we see but high incidents of cancer. Does high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified food cause cancer? I don’t know, do you? Young, middle-aged and old people are getting all sorts of cancer, the prevalence is taken as normal now as cancer rates grow exponentially and we throw our hands up in the air and give millions of dollars to research as if it is such a great mystery. How can we take in all these chemicals and think it wouldn’t affect our systems? Again, I don’t know what the effects will be or have been but how can we just accept it without knowing?  I have noticed lots of these Frankenstein additives such as high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, sucralose and propolene glycol-a synthetic liquid petroleum, used in making plastic and anti-freeze and oh, it happens to be cheap and sweet and therefore used in ice creams, drinks, mustards, bacon and loads of other products. Next we’ll be seeing commercials taunting  “Don’t be silly, your body doesn’t know the difference between petroleum and sugar” Really?

I bought nuts one day and then threw them out when I realized they had sucralose on them. Why on earth would a nut need an artificial sweetener on it? There must be a reason they do this right? What is it I wonder?

Other countries have refused to have chemicals and GMOs in their foods and their governments have responded by banning them. Let me say it again. People in other countries said that GMOs scared them and that they didn’t want it in their foods and foods were pulled off shelves and banned as governments listened and acted on behalf of their people. But no, we allow them all, no matter the consequences.  For a country that is supposed to be the epitome of Democracy, why aren’t OUR voices heard when we say we don’t want Franken foods? There are some organizations out there screaming about this.

So, now we are importing an American icon, Coke, from Mexico because it IS the real thing! Thousands of people want it and stores here are already stocking it. While Americans stick their head in American sand, corporations are raking in millions on inferior products using cheaper and potentially dangerous ingredients. They are benefitting from our increasing tolerance of unpronounceable concoctions. Why don’t companies do the right thing and make their products with the finest ingredients they have access to, to begin with? I think we think that companies will really choose safety and health over greed.  It’s not going to happen people. Look what we are importing from China-lead, pesticide and chemical laden products that are making people sick every day.  I know Coke is not equivalent to carrots and celery but bravo to Mexico for providing a product people can trust and enjoy and for showing America how it’s done. That mentality is refresco! OLE!


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Rude Awakening

Italiano: versione ombreggiata e ingrandita de...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This falls under the “is it just me?” category.  Is it just me or are other people annoyed, put off or offended by the lack of manners shown by those nearest and dearest when using social media? I am often surprised that people I consider close friends or family relinquish manners I know they once must have had. Surely I would have noticed before I allowed them into my virtual world via Facebook, Twitter, email and texts! I see this trend growing and need to address it…at once.

The bane of my existence is the ‘like’ button on Facebook. I know we are all busy people. But, if I take the time to read everyone’s posts and more time to respond by saying things like “Merry Christmas, hope you feel better, Happy Birthday, Happy New Year, congratulations on the promotion, hope you have a good day, have a great weekend, thank you….etc, I am quite affronted to receive a cursory ‘like’ in response! (In high pitched voice) I didn’t have to say anything at all, you know! The correct response for those who should know better is, in order: Merry Christmas, thank you, thank you, Happy New Year, thank you, thanks you too, thank you, hope you do as well and you’re welcome!

So, the question remains…how do people grab and go when a compliment or greeting is laid before them?  They don’t reciprocate but then don’t even thank the benefactor for their very thoughtful and caring greeting. How can this be?  Is it anonymity or laziness that leads people to slough off years of engrained manners in favor of a click of the mouse, risking loss of friendships, grudges and horror of horrors being unfriended? I think I should start a PSA declaring the dangers of the FB ‘like’ button!

It is as annoying to me as people who walk through a door when you are opening it for yourself without so much as a thank you and cashiers, waiters and any other person to whom I give money and my custom, hello, who do not thank me for doing so. And while we are on the subject, if I reach out and post that I’ve had one of the worst days of my life, ‘liking’ that cry for attention is like pouring salt in a wound. You’re killing me people! I’m sorry, that is blatant misuse of a Facebook widget and should be taken away to avoid future transgressions. Is it just me or have the “like” boundaries been blurred? Liking a video of a puppy that can’t roll over? Yes. Hitting the like button when someone says they just got laid off?  Not so much.

Etiquette and manners form a fragile thread that holds us together.  They force us to look beyond our self-absorption and egocentrism (default settings) to acknowledge others and encourage a baseline of compassion and connection. Those of us who were forced to practice good etiquette and manners (ie, say thank you, say I’m sorry, what do say when Grandma gives you a gift…) were instilled with this responsibility to fellow human beings for a reason.  Is it that young people are not being taught manners any more?  Are manner as outdated as a Walkmans, floppy disks or VCRs? I’d love to play the old lady card  (in my day people actually said “thank you and you’re welcome) but I’m noticing this trend with young and old alike!  The Facebook like button isn’t cool and it wasn’t meant to eschew being socially competent. If you can’t use it responsibly, please refrain.  Thank you.


Filed under Musings

Glorious Italy-Lake Como

Pictures from my last trip to Italy:


Lake Como

View from Varenna

Another view of Varenna


All photos property of Serene Scribe: www.serenescribe.wordpress.com

Copyright Serene Scribe 2012