Tag Archives: cultural differences

Italianisms: Part 1

19 Apr

This post is dedicated to all the weird and wonderful little things that make Italy Italy and that make the Italians Italian, some of which I find amusing, others which drive me crazy.

I’ve already mentioned several times how Italy suffers from a major case of technophobia, and recently I found out just how deeply ingrained (engrained?) it is within the language itself. One of the first words I ever learnt in Italian is macchina, meaning ‘car’, although it translates more literally as ‘machine’. Ok sure, I’ll accept that, back when cars were first invented I guess they were novelty machines.

I also found out that a camera is called a macchinetta, or ‘little machine’. Maybe pushing it, but I’ll let that one slide. However this extends even further, as I discovered watching the Italian-dubbed version of How It’s Made. While the English track in the background would say something like ‘the dough is transferred from the industrial-sized mixer to the divider using a conveyor’, the Italian version would translate as ‘the dough is transferred from the machine to the machine using the little machine’, as apparently it’s not possible to distinguish between anything that looks remotely mechanical or electricity-based. They all run on witchcraft anyway right?

Next up are a couple of things I’ve noticed both here and in France:

Although the English are known for being conservative prudes, we still manage to say the rather straight-to-the-point ‘oh I’m just going to the toilet’ without any embarrassment. The Italian/French way of doing things just makes me cringe: I have heard university students and grown adults say (in Italian) fare pipì or (in French) faire pipi which literally translate as ‘go for a wee wee’. Come on guys we’re not 5 years old any more.

Secondly, I find it slightly bizarre how often I have heard people say ‘that’s disgusting’. I swear people in the UK hardly ever find things so repulsive that they need to point it out, especially not 3 times a day which is the average amount I hear this phrase. There’s also a scale of disgustingness which translates quite well between the languages, with the use of the handy cover-all verb/noun/adjective ‘fuck’.

Italian : fa schifo                           fa schifoso

French: c’est dégoûtant            c’est dégueulasse

English: that’s disgusting           that’s fucking disgusting

So now if you ever need to complain about something being gross (which apparently EVERYTHING is over here), you’re well-prepared.

Moving on, we’ve had some beautiful weather here this week, with quite a few days averaging 26 degrees. Being the optimistic Brit that I am, I’ve been straight out in the sun in a bikini and shorts getting some vitamin D in me, much to the displeasure of the retirees who live nearby. Having found a field the size of Stoke Park (sorry for the very Guildford-specific reference) I was surprised to find it completely empty.

Italians making the most of a beautiful day

Italians making the most of a beautiful day

I settled down for a couple of hours with some Murakami (definitely give at least one of his books a read) and the whole time saw a grand total of 4 other people, all of whom were walking through the field to get somewhere else rather than relaxing for a bit. A woman in her 60s from Lombardia came over to chat after her chihuahua decided I was its new best friend, and she ended up talking at me for 50 minutes about: problems in Spoleto, problems with living alone, problems with her apartment building, problems with Italian police, problems with immigrants and people from Napoli, the holocaust (?!), and finally her dog’s dietary requirements.

Aside from not going outside to enjoy the weather, people also don’t seem to dress according to temperature, but rather according to season/month. It may be unseasonally warm, but it’s still April, and that means coats/jackets/scarves/boots/trousers. I’ve only seen people in tshirts for the first time in the last couple of days, and the only people I’ve seen in shorts are middle-aged men jogging. I don’t  really own shorts longer than hotpants because I don’t want a weird mid-thigh tan line, but this realllly doesn’t go down well with the locals who openly stare at my naked legs as I walk around.

What makes me laugh even more is how one person even complained to me how they were too hot (while wearing black trousers and a puffa jacket) as if there was just no way of avoiding it. Logical thinking is not Italy’s strong point, and most choices made are based less on ‘what could make me feel more comfortable/happy’ and more on ‘what would be the right thing to do in other people’s eyes’.

Logic also doesn’t make an appearance when it comes to healthcare. Italian’s are hypochondriacs who still subscribe to the belief that you can catch illnesses from cold air, but not just in winter! The dreaded colpo d’aria (blast of air?) can occur any time of year without warning if you are silly enough to leave any area of skin exposed, and you have to make sure you also wear your maglietta di salute (vest of health) to prevent this wind attacking you. Of course I think it’s all bullshit and the nation is just suffering from a widespread case of mass hysteria, but that’s just my opinion.

At dance this week we’ve had longer classes which means everyone leaving red-faced and sweaty and generally gross, but still everyone insists on putting on a couple of jackets and zipping them up to the neck when they leave despite the toasty temperatures outside. When I asked what the hell they were doing, they explained that when you are sweaty and go outside without covering up, the sweat cools down and then you get ill from it…

Hmm. There seems to have been a major breakdown in communication somewhere down the line in understanding the purpose of sweat in the first place. I also find it worrying that educated people my age still believe this kind of stuff. But hey, it’s not my place to say, I will freely walk outside cooling down after exercise while everyone else runs to their cars to avoid the killer Italian air.

My own Nonna has many strong beliefs about what causes illness, and she still has a go at me if I walk around her house without shoes or socks on as it will definitely give me a cold. I love you Nonna, but until you can give me an explanation for how being barefoot makes you ill, I’m not going to change my ways.

Oh and lastly, it’s both difficult and expensive to find tampons in this country. I can only blame Catholicism for this.

Well I think that’s enough for now! I’ve named this part 1 since I’m pretty certain there’s much more I have to say about Italian culture which I’ve forgotten to put in this post, but which I will surely remember as soon as I click ‘Publish’.

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