We've all seen Italians talking with their hands, waving them wildly in the air, sometimes right into the face of the person they are talking to. To the onlooker it seems random, yet it does seem tied into their facial expressions, which will change swiftly depending on the gesture being used. It's led people to paint a caricature of every Italian, although most Italian Americans don't have a clue about this unwritten language. Yes, it's a language in and of itself.
Where did it start?
What's the reason?
It more than likely started in the port cities of Italy after the Roman Empire. I say after, because before that Latin was a widely spread language. After the fall of the Roman Empire, imported languages started taking over, as conquerors and immigrants came from many different parts of the ancient world: The Carolingians (mixing early German and French into northern Italy), The Visigoths (mixing German, Spanish and French), the Normans (descending from Vikings from Northern France, they took over Southern Italy), Saracens (Muslims that invaded southern Italy and settled in Sicily), the German tribes (in pre-Christian times and in the middle ages), French (taking over northern Italy in the 1400s) and Austrians.
Leaving Latin Behind
Latin itself morphed into what we now call the Italian language. But even "modern" Italy didn't become a cohesive nation until the 1860s, and still today Italians are very region-centric, with many varied dialects still spoken throughout the country. One example I witnessed is on the train from Bari to Rome. The announcements were in three languages: English, Italian and Southern Dialect. And believe me, Dialetto sounds very different than "proper" Italian--my Dad spoke it. He was from Molfetta. My Mom couldn't understand him. She spoke another Dialetto from Naples.
The port cities, like Naples, Venice, Bari or Palermo needed a way to communicate with the many different people, all speaking different tongues. Every so often a a new population and ruling class would be established, depending on who the conqueror was. Hand gestures became a necessity in Italy, and it remains today a large part of how people communicate. For this reason, this might make things easier on travelers to Italy as Italians have many ways of getting people to understand what they are saying.
At the end of this post is a video of a charming Italian gent illustrating the many subtleties of hand gestures. You could learn to have an entire conversation without words!
When I was a kid, my parents told me not to eat with my hands... but speaking with my hands was absolutely permitted.
"Americans never really get a day off. When they are on vacation, they still check for messages, file reports, talk to their boss and attend phone conferences. The vast majority of Italians don't do that. If they are on vacation, they are on vacation. They have no conversations about work, don't think about it and certainly don't call up their bosses to hear about what's going on while they're away."
As a young Catholic, all I knew about St. Joseph is what the nuns taught us: that he was a foster parent to Jesus; he worked as a carpenter; and that if your parents were selling their home, burying a little plastic statue of him upside down in your garden would help get a buyer. As a grown man and a father to my Lucas, I realize that St. Joseph's real strength was as a father. He must have been a man of great faith and trust and love to accept Jesus as his own son. Because of this, in Italy, the feast day honoring him is used to honor all fathers...
La Festa di San Giuseppe (Feast of St. Joseph) on March 19th in Italy is a saint day celebrating the mortal father of Jesus--namely, Joseph. There are two meanings for this day in Italy: as a Name Day to celebrate anyone with the name Giuseppe, Joseph, Josephine or Beppe, but also as La Festa del Papà (alternately, la Festa del Babbo), on which most Italians celebrate their fathers, as we do on Fathers Day.
There are some interesting ways to celebrate, but of course, most involve food. For instance, artichokes come to market in March in Italy, so eating artichokes stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture is one way... the breadcrumbs represent sawdust, honoring St. Joseph's life as a carpenter. On St. Joseph's day, tradition calls for sprinkling breadcrumbs on pasta dishes rather than cheese. Then there is Pane di San Giuseppe in which bread dough is fashioned into crosses and other various shapes.
Another cerebration dish to make to celebrate St. Joseph or your Dad is to make Pasta cod Sarde (Pasta with Sardines), a traditional meal made with bucatini (hollow, spaghetti-like pasta), raisins, pignoli nuts, fennel, onions and sardines.
Then there are the sweet treats... mainly sfinci (alt, sfinge). Some are made like profiteroles or cream puffs and stuffed or topped with either a custard or a sweet ricotta filling and topped with a sour cherry, while others are more like bready, sugared zeppole, some stuffed, some not. There are also others called Zeppole di San Giuseppe that are not bready like what we Italian-Americans buy at Italian festivals called zeppole but are like cream puffs. Bottom line, there are lots of sweets that are made to celebrate St. Joseph's Day, and in Italy, the word "zeppole" is used fairly broadly to refer to many types of fried or baked donuts.
In Sicily, during the Middle Ages, people prayed to St. Joseph to bring rain and save them from starvation and drought. The rains came and so did the fava bean crop, which saved the people. Still today, fava beans are part of celebrating St. Joseph--by eating Maccù di Fave (a fava bean soup) and carrying a fava bean that has been blessed by a priest in their pocket for good fortune.
In the United States, Italian-Americans started the tradition of wearing red clothing on St. Joseph's Day. This was started to offset the proximity of St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) and the "wearing of the green". Apparently, there is no religious or other significance of wearing red on St. Joseph's Day.
To honor my Dad, I usually make a special Sicilian pizza--a traditional Sfincione--which is covered with breadcrumbs on top. My Dad was a decent carpenter, and always loved working with wood and his hands. When I was a boy, he held the wood as I would try using the saw. He was a truly great father, never judging, always there for me. Dad, you would have loved a couple of slices of Sfincione... We miss your smile, Sally Boy...
Turning Tuscan: A Step-by-Step Guide to Going Native is one of those books that will either quell your desire to live in Italy, or fire up your spirits to take the plunge, regardless of the hassles. Becoming an expat is an exercise in determination--especially when uprooting your kids and making a new life in another culture.
Author Sam Hilt wanted to start a new life and business--a tour company--and shares his family's experiences, both the good and bad in making the move. How do you become part of the local community? What about the language? How do I hire lawyers, contractors and the like? And what's with the Internet in Italy? What if we get sick? Why is it such a hassle just to get a phone? Will we ever become "Italian"?
Well, find out all this and more. It's not all frustrating... there are successes all along the way, both small and large.
It's a great read... on Amazon.
What Italians Really Think about Americans: Adapting to Italian Life
"While we Italians have a reputation for being welcoming, we really expect you to adapt to our lifestyle when you are visiting. If you start complaining about our Italian lifestyle and claim things were better back home, don't expect sympathy. Only Italians are allowed to point out what's wrong with our own country! Don't like our public toilets? Go back to your hotel room and stay there! You want more ice in your drink? Go to Iceland!"
" In America, you eat first with your wallet first, your eyes second, and third with your mouth. In Italy we eat with our heart first, second and last.”
Anytime during the year, you might have to find the perfect gift for the Italophile in your life. It might be for Christmas, an anniversary, wedding, birthday or to mark a special event. I thought it would be a great idea to suggest some of the coolest, classiest and tastiest gift ideas right here--and you don't have to travel to Italy to get them. It's as easy as logging on to your Amazon account.
In Italy, the type of glasses used a tavola for wine in homes and the neighborhood trattoria are simple, stemless tumblers. This set of 4 are simple and casual, just like the Italian lifestyle... just like the kind my Dad used to his uncle's home made wine from.
This beautiful Consigli carving set with olive wood handles is what every Tuscan would love to carve his porchetta or wild boar roast. on AMAZON.
Ok, I'll admit that when I was in Italy, I did enjoy the occasional street musicians playing tourist style accordion music as we had dinner in a ristorante, but there is more to authentic regional Italian music other than mandolins and Oh Solo Mio. This album gives you the feel of the small villages and remote cultures in Italia. If you're into folk or world music, you'll love it. Digital download or CD --On Amazon.
If you're fascinated by ancient Roman history, then this series is for you. It's one of the most historically accurate series about the lifestyle, politics, sexuality and culture of the Roman Empire. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a very blunt look at the vulgarity (as we now see it) and violent lives experienced by Roman elites, plebeians and slaves. My wife and I have binged watched this series... it's as addictive as the I Claudius series from years ago. Available streaming or as a boxed DVD set. Not for the kiddies. --on AMAZON.
When it's time to take your next Grand Voyage to Italy, keep a record of your travels in this 6x8" Florentine leather journal. Keep photos, notes, sketches and tickets from museums and monuments you've visited. Think of it as an 18th century, analog way to blog.
If you CARE, please SHARE. Grazie.
"You Americans are always concerned about your weight. Even if you are thin, you think you are overweight. If you have a big stomach, you're embarrassed and want to lose weight. You even have operations to stop you from eating too much. In Italy if I get too thin a Nonna will stop me on the street and say 'You need to eat more. You’re too thin. Also, you’re dog is too thin. EAT MORE and feed this poor dog!'"
We all know that a filthy rich city like Dubai can afford to impress their even filthier rich pedestrians and drivers with their fleet of Supercars... including a Ferrari FF, Lamborghini Aventador, Bugatti Veyron, McLaren, BMW i8, McLaren MP4-12C and Aston Martin One-77. But one wouldn't think a financially stressed country like Italy could afford super-police cars. For the most part, I've seen the polizia stradale driving around in Fiat Grande Puntos or Alfa Romeo Panteras. I've even seen Fiat 500s with "Policia" emblazened across their blue and white bodies.
Well apparently, for some years now, there have also been a few Supercars gifted to the state police by Lamborghini...
The latest addition to the polizia stradale fleet of squad cars is the specially designed Lamborghini Huracán LP610-4, donated in 2014. This amazing car replaced not one, but two Lamborghini Gallardo squad cars driven by officers in Rome and Bologna, after succumbing to crashes. For consumers, a Huracán runs about $300,000, less the weaponry of course.
There were also two earlier Gallardos put into service in 2004 and 2005. But alas, Supercar police vehicles might not last that long, with all that Autostrada criminal car chases, bouncing on their underbellies and scraping through ultra-thin streets in most towns... Oh, but wait a second... now that I think of it, they are typically only used to impress dignitaries at special public events and parades, or to deliver organs to hospitals for transplant patients.
Maybe they will last a bit longer this time.