Defending the Italians (Well, somebody has to do it!)

Does he look romantic to you?
I-tal-ian (ĭ-tălˡ-yən). noun. A native of the country of Italy, or one who is descended from natives of Italy. Characterized by enormous intelligence, great talent, compassion, generosity and high moral principles. A superior person.

All of you non-Italians out there, per piacere, forget everything you ever learned about Italians, because most of it probably isn’t true. I’m here to set everything straight. So let’s debunk the myths, one at a time. Let’s start off with a couple of myths about Italians in America.

1. All Italians are gangsters, or at least related to one. This is news to me. If my grandfather Rocco was a gangster or related to one, he wouldn’t have been scrambling for a meager living his whole poor-but-honest life. My father was so tender-hearted he couldn’t hurt a mouse, let alone put a bullet in someone. My grandmother Angelina could wield a shoe with the best of them when she thought her kids needed some old-fashioned discipline, but that was as violent as she ever got. My father’s family was pretty typical, too. So don’t believe everything you saw on The Sopranos. The lives of average Italians here in the United States aren’t interesting enough to be put on HBO.

2. Italians have tempers. This idea probably came about because of cultural misunderstanding. Italians don’t get mad any more often than anyone else; they just act like it. Italians have a lot of energy when they talk, they talk loud and everybody talks at once. Anything else is just unnatural. They also tend to be direct in their assessments of friends and relatives. (“Ah, you talk too much!” “You look terrible. What happened?” “Don’t be so stupid all the time!”) But nobody is fighting. They’re just talking. When an Italian is really mad, he or she is just as likely to get really quiet as to yell around at everyone.

Now let’s take on some myths about Italians in general.

1. All Italians can sing. Well, it’s true that Italy produces a whole lot more than its share of singers, including great ones, and good singing voices are plentiful. But that doesn’t mean that you can pluck any Italian off the street to be the lead singer for your band or opera house. There are tone-deaf bleaters even among the people who produced Caruso, Pavarotti and Connie Francis (also Jon Bon Jovi – BIG apologies to Bill Y. Ledden for this one). The tone-deaf bleaters usually prefer to shut up and not make a disgrazia. Thus is the myth perpetuated.

2. Italians, both male and female, are sexy, even the ugly ones. A whole lot of men thought Anna Magnani, who was not beautiful, was pretty damned hot. On the other hand, nobody thinks that Marie, the nasty woman with the hairy face who lives up the street, is even tolerable, let alone sexy. Enough said.

3. Italians are romantic. Maybe I’ve met the wrong ones. I’ll start over again and let you know what I find out.

4. Italians are great lovers. This I wouldn’t know, but if anyone wants to share some juicy stories, I’m all ears.

I promise I will end this little tome, but first I want to say one thing. Like most European names, Italian family names are a fine tradition going back to the middle ages or earlier. For example, my family name, Minicozzi, is a form of the name “Di Domenico,” which means that sometime back in medieval times there was a peasant named Domenico (Dominic) in southern Italy and his line has continued to this day. It is a proud tradition. So the next person who calls me Manicotti is going to get a pan of marinara sauce on his head and a pound of linguine up his nose.

I could write more, but I’ve already gone on long enough.

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4 thoughts on “Defending the Italians (Well, somebody has to do it!)”

  1. Well, my parents grew up in Little Italy in NYC. My grandmother did make sure all her sons, all 6 of them (my grandmother also had six daughters) went into the army before the others recruited them. LOL That was the story anyway, and because we ate dinner down in Little Italy every Sunday, we did know the exact seat at Umberto’s clam house where Joe Gallo got whacked. That being said, I don’t have a gangster among my Italian family and to be honest,it pisses me off because I have accumulated a list of people who have wronged me. Also, my dad hates the Sopranos because it did a horrible job of stereotyping Italians.

    1. Well, I confess to being addicted to documentaries about Italian mobsters on cable TV, and every time The Godfather or The Godfather II comes on I am right there. Likewise for Goodfellas or Donnie Brasco. And when I lived in Brooklyn, I used to trade greetings with a friendly old guy who hung out at a certain spot. That is the extent of my “connections.”

  2. How many people can claim to have a grandfather with a name as cool as ‘Rocco’? I was recently in Italy and met some of the friendliest, accommodating people you could hope to meet. I’ll jot down a few words and post about it tomorrow.

    1. Believe it or not, as much as I have traveled all over the place, I have not yet made it to Italy. I HAVE to get there sometime, even if it’s just to visit the place where my father was born.

      Hehe! A lot of Italians have relatives named Rocco. The same names tend to crop up a lot in families, because of the tradition of naming children after grandparents and other relatives. Somehow I escaped that. Nobody else in my family is named Kathryn. My non-Italian mother chose that name. My sister and brother were both named after relatives, though. In fact, my brother’s name is Rocco!

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