Working with American students means that I often encounter questions on Italian culturalisms.
Sometimes I know the answer and sometimes I don’t. But, I am always eager to share when they ask me what it is like to have family in Italy.
I like this question because it is one of my favorite things about my life here.
I may not get to see my family often, since they live 6.5 hours down the boot from Florence, but I always know they are nearby if I need them.
1.) Family means food.
Food is a huge part of Italian culture, and that means that feeding your relatives is a sacred act.
If I let her, my aunt Gerarda will feed me until I explode. At her house, I know I, and my dear pup Stella, will never ever be hungry.
Stella is invited to eat whatever we are having, and should she turn her tiny black nose away from it (she’s prone to pickiness), then my aunt will gladly cook her something else, like a slab of the freshest meat, grilled to perfection.
2.) Family means forever.
Having an Italian family means you are a part of a bond that time, distance and differences does not separate.
I felt this firsthand when I was with my cousin over All Saints Day in November. Per tradition, we went to the cemetery to visit relatives of lives long past.
My cousin showed me many tombs of people I had never met, yet she showed them to me with a purpose.
“This is your cousin too, this is your grandfather too, this is your…relative too” she would say.
I was invited to say prayers, kiss my hands and place the kiss upon their effigy as if I had known them every day of my life, because family is family.
The bond is that strong.
3.)Family means forgiveness.
The last time I saw my family, I committed a few travesties that would have gotten me disowned in the US.
One of the worst offenses was, as soon as we arrived, Stella decided to take a massive pee on their beautiful floor.
The second was that the next day, my husband accidentally caused the glass shower’s door to fall off.
We have no idea how this happened, but imagine our horror a sea of glass surrounded us in what was otherwise a pristine bathroom. After I extracted my husband from the glass, I slunk downstairs to tell them what we had done.
I offered to pay, and I apologized 1000x. And you know what they did?
They didn’t care about the shower, they wanted to make sure T was safe and unharmed.
They offered to call an ambulance (we didn’t need it, he was fine, thank Padre Pio) and they refused my money to fix it.
4.) Family means open arms and homes.
My Italian family is full of such open, warm and caring people that they actually playfully compete over where I will stay when I go.
When I left last time, one of my uncles took me aside and asked me to stay with his family next time, since I had already stayed with my other aunt and uncle this time.
He promised me even more food, which at the time sounded impossible, and even as he was asking, he was filling my hands with candies and goodies to take home.
They genuinely want me to visit and spend as much time with each of them as I can.
5.) Family means I am the American.
Even though I am a dual-citizen, speak Italian, live in Italy, etc, I will always be “the American.”
I accept this with honor now because to them it isn’t a bad thing or something that makes me different, but instead it’s what makes me unique and special.
I am a part of the branch of family that moved away from the hometown. I was able to grow up in a different culture speaking a different language, and I absolutely love this level of acceptance because it is something rarely felt in Florence. I don’t ever have to hide my differences with them because they embrace every single strange American habit as an endearing feature of their American relative.
Have you noticed these characteristics – whether you have Italian family or not? Tell me a story about it in the comments below.