Caroline Ghisolfi

We love food.  We’re loud.  We have huge families.  We talk with our hands.  We only eat spaghetti and pizza.  We say ‘Mamma Mia’ a lot.

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You might have guessed by now…  I’m talking about Italians, or at least common stereotypes of Italians.  Now, the thing is this: many of these stereotypes are true, while others are completely false.  I am Italian-American. My father is 100% Italian from a small town in the countryside of Piemonte, a region in the north of Italy. My mother was born and raised in Washington D.C. and moved to Italy in her twenties to marry my dad.  I was raised in Milan, Italy, and I lived there until I moved to Stanford, California, for college.  I can’t speak for every Italian out there, but I can give you a little insight into what Italians and Italian culture are really like.  In the past week, I’ve browsed every corner of the web to find out what different online communities think about Italians.  Today, I will ultimately reveal which stereotypes are true and which are notoriously inaccurate.

#1 Italians take pasta very seriously.

TRUE.  We love our pasta.  As an ABC News reporter wrote in her guide to visiting Italy, 'this is a country where people have serious opinions about which pasta shape pairs best with which pasta sauce.'  And while it is not true that we eat pasta (and pizza) at every meal, I can say with certainty that it’s on the table at least five times a week.

#2 Italians drink a lot.

FALSE.  Most Italians I know would say they don’t drink a lot - they drink right.  Just like food, wine is an essential component of Italian meals and, most of all, of Italian ‘aperitivi.’  The American equivalent of aperitivo is ‘happy hour,’ yet the two aren’t quite the same.  Condé Nast says it right when it describes the Italian aperitivo as 'a work of cultural genius.'  Italians gather for aperitivi about one hour before dinner (around 7:30 pm) to drink a glass of wine or Aperol spritz, nibble on olives and nuts, and chat and unwind.  In fact, drinking in Italy almost always coincides with a social occasion: a friendly gathering, a meal, a celebration, a meeting.  We love to pair our wine with delicious food, good music, and great people.

#3 Italians speak with their hands.

Absolutely TRUE.  Most, if not all, Italians gesticulate when speaking.  We move our hands to ‘demonstrate’ what we are saying or to emphasize passion, rage, elation, stress, surprise… pretty much anything.  And it’s contagious too.  Every American friend I’ve ever hosted in my home in Milan has returned to the United States with at least a hint of this curious Italian quirk.

#4 Italians say ‘Mamma Mia’ all the time.

FALSE.  It might have been a popular saying half a century ago, but you won’t hear ‘Mamma Mia’ from today’s Italian youth.  By the way, we also don’t speak like Mario and Luigi from Mario Kart.

#5 Italian men are openly emotional.

TRUE (sort of).  Italian men are known for being very passionate.  Yes, that means that, if their favorite soccer team wins they might hug multiple strangers, and if they lose, they might shed a tear.  That said, Italian boys are taught from a very young age to strive for a ‘macho’ image and hide their weaknesses.  Sexism is still pervasive in Italy, and Italian men have a long way to go when it comes to emotional intelligence.  (Sorry, guys!)

#6 Fashion is a priority in Italy.

TRUE.  And not just for women.  I bet that most of my male friends have as many, or more, shoes and beauty products than you do.  When my boyfriend and I go shopping at the Rinascente—a large designer department store in the center of Milan—we always spend twice as much time on the men’s floor looking at the latest Armani collection than we do on the women’s!  Massimo Gramellini will tell you all about it in this article.

#7 Italians are loud.

Mostly FALSE.  In our own country, our conversations are conducted at a generally appropriate volume.  Though, that’s not the case when we’re abroad.  When on holiday, we really do let ourselves go.  In fact, I don’t blame Business Insider for ranking Italian tourists 'among the rudest and loudest of all world travelers.'

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This is a country where people have serious opinions about which pasta shape pairs best with which pasta sauce.

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#8 Italian families are huge.

FALSE.  In fact, Italian families are getting smaller and smaller every year.  Statistically, Italian birth rates have been declining for years.  However, the notion of family is very different in Italy than it is in the United States.  On Christmas Eve, my Italian family dinner table doesn’t just welcome my immediate, nuclear family, but all of my extended relatives too.  Italians are deeply devoted to their families, which represent a fundamental source of stability and unity.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Italian culture!  As I mentioned, I can only tell you what I’ve experienced and learned in this country, and I don’t intend to speak for all Italians.  I believe that we are not defined by our nationalities, but cultural heritage is an enrichment to our lives.  By talking about it, we share a part of our own identity and give others a chance to better understand us and the world around them.  Please tell me about some fun (and true) facts about your own culture in the comments below, and feel free to contact me on bSmart or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Caroline Ghisolfi studies Communication at Stanford University.  She is interested in visual and multimedia arts, data journalism, education, and cultural diversity.  She is originally from Milan, Italy, where she hopes to one day work as a journalist.  In her free time, Caroline volunteers at the Haas Center’s Kids With Dreams organization and enjoys painting, storytelling, and video editing.  Follow her on Instagram at @caroghisolfi.



Comments (1)

  1. Margot Ranger

Good stuff. Have to share with my Italian relatives.

 

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