October 18, 2011
Last week, Italy’s version of Wikipedia cloaked itself in advance of wiretapping laws they say may force them to delete the site entirely.
If you’re like me, you immediately wondered whether Italians keep their “good” computers covered in clear plastic slipcovers and use the crappy old ones down in the basement instead.
Whenever I make fun of Italians on my blog, the reaction is uncharacteristically voluminous, if split 50/50. Half say, “OMG, did you grow up in my neighborhood?” and half say, “Your hatred of Italians is the one thing I don’t get about you.”
The answer is in the question. I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, the Brooklyn of Canada. And familiarity breeds contempt like a puppy mill.
Hamilton wasn’t a melting pot so much as a giant vat of ribollita. It didn’t help that the city has been a Mafia hub since Prohibition. We mangiacakes whispered the names “Rocco Perri” and “Johnny Papalia” with terror and admiration.
But nobody thought every Italian was mobbed up. We figured if they were, they’d have enough money that they wouldn’t have to grow their own grapes and tomatoes or eat pigeons they strangled on the back stoop.
A recent issue of Maclean’s explains the plastic slipcovers and other Italian immigrant quirks. (I’m surprised they waded into this “racist” topic. This same publication racked up a reported $2 million in legal fees after they pointed out that Muslim women have lots of babies, then had to apologize for noticing that, hey, Canadian universities sure have lots of Asians these days.)
It turns out many “Italian” traditions are most confusing of all to “real” Italians, who visit Canada to attend freakishly tasteless weddings and meet relatives who might as well be cargo cultists or Yaohnanen tribesmen.
The poor immigrants’ almost religious respect for material property, coupled with their burning desire to impress one another, led to the creation of a set of domestic traditions that have little to do with what happens in the motherland. In a race to keep up with the Joneses, Italian-Canadian families would order expensive furniture from Italy—often baroque pieces of thick fruitwood or mahogany emulating those found in Italy’s antique, aristocratic residences—but would refrain from using them.
For those of us who can’t escape once the wedding’s over, all that “Italian heritage” stuff takes its toll: the obscene Romulus and Remus statuaries; the “douchebag yellow” Camaros; the chocolate sandwiches; the brainless Liberal Party loyalty; the spooky black-clad widows with the posture of jumbo shrimp; and the earsplitting horn-honking and traitorous foreign-flag-waving during World Cups. Like the swallows of Capistrano with hair, Hamilton’s young males heralded spring’s arrival by taking to the streets shirtless on the first nice day of the year, dragging their Rottweilers and pit bulls along on ropes and chains and boasting to each other, “My dog’s half wolf, you know.”
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