Italian Language Blog

Challenging the Stereotype! Posted by on Aug 14, 2009 in Culture

Every country seems to have its own simplistic interpretation of stranieri (foreigners), reducing them to a limited set of stereotypes. For example, most Italians that I have met since I returned to Italy a couple of years ago seem to see London as synonymous with England, although when pressed they will concede that there is a ‘Great Forest’ somewhere near Nottingham which is inhabited by Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and then there’s that place with an unpronounceable name where Shakespeare used to live, ‘come si chiama?’ (what’s it called?)  Anyway, they’re pretty certain that everyone has a cup of tea served in their best china at 5 o’clock, and dresses in a similar manner to the Royal Family, an element of the ‘Great British Institution’ for which the Italians have an unhealthy voyeuristic fascination. In fact you could probably learn more about the British Royal Family by reading Italian gossip magazines than you would from their British equivalents!

Obviously the reverse is true, and during fourteen years of living in Great Britain I was measured up against all the usual stereotypical images that the British have of us Italians. Obviously we all have huge homogenous families which have obscure connections with the Mafia, and we spend most of our time sitting around eating spaghetti, and drinking wine at large rustic tables beneath pergolas of grapes in front of wonderful old Tuscan farmhouses. In the distance we hear the timeless clanging of the ancient campanile calling the faithful to mass, mingled with the tinkling of bells emanating from a large flock of sheep which old Giuseppe the wizened shepherd drives along a dusty white road lined with cypresses and surrounded by fields of sunflowers. Occasionally the whole family will set off to the beach on an old Vespa, Papà driving, Mamma sitting behind, and the seventeen bambini clinging on for dear life wherever they can. We all wear designer clothes of course, and  gesticulate frantically with our hands when we talk, constantly exclaiming ‘mamma mia!’ and ‘Madonna!’ especially whilst driving our quaint little Fiats. Ah ‘La dolce vita!’

Probably the most erroneous stereotype that I had to endure in Great Britain was that of the repressive Catholic culture which the British so often seem to believe prevails here in Italy. Come si sbagliano! (how wrong they are!).

Have they never heard of Cicciolina, the famous Hungarian born porn star who in 1987 gained 20,000 votes to become a member of the Italian parliament? Check this out: International Museum of Women 

And what about Wladimiro Guadagno, better known as Luxuria, the transvestite who in 2006 was elected as a member of parliament to the Camera dei Deputati. This caused an amusing altercation with a fellow MP, Elizabetta Gardini, over the use of the toilets, as Luxuria refused to use the men’s ‘restroom’ and the female MPs refused to let him/her use theirs. Gardini later proposed the creation of a purpose built ‘trans’ toilet! See this link: Luxuria

All this leads me to the article published a couple of days ago in La Corriere della Sera which prompted me to write this missive: “Sviene a Show Erotico della D’Abbraccio” (Fainted at Erotic Show of D’Abbraccio)

Now, in case you didn’t know, Milly D’Abbraccio is a famous (yes famous, as in ‘popular personality known by all and sundry’) porn star. The incident took place at the Fiera Adriatica di Silvi Marina in the province of Teramo which was hosting the unambiguously named “Erotic Tour” starring D’Abbraccio ‘Italy’s best loved porn star’. During the show a 26 year old man from Lecce was dragged up onto the stage by D’Abbraccio to participate in an erotic dance with his scantily clad idol. Alas it all proved too much for the poor young man and he promptly fainted in front of the 2000 strong audience. Milly tried her best to revive her ‘victim’ as did the show’s presenter, a volunteer member of the Pronto Soccorso (First Aid Medic), but to no avail.  A 118 call was made to the emergency services, and in due time a full recovery was made.

Emerging from his swoon the young Leccese exclaimed “Ho visto la Madonna!, dov’è Milly?” (I’ve seen the Madonna!, where’s Milly?)

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  1. Alicia:

    Dolce Serena! I am still giggling over the porn stars in public life, as to me, that is so typical Italiano 😀 Forgive me!!

  2. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    I really enjoyed this post.

    Everything you described as stereotypic of Italians, I actually witnessed when I lived in Italy. I kept saying to myself as I read your post, “Yep, I seen that, Yep, I’ve seen that too. Right on, Serena, you’ve nailed it.”

    You have to admit there is a lot of truth in every stereotype. How else could it have become a stereotype?


  3. cinzia:

    They still think all Americans are rich, especially in the South of Italy. Of course when young people are are making 800 euros a month on average, then they are partially correct – we do earn more money. On a different subject entirely I was wondering if you could do a blog on our “word of the day” today which was “comodo”. A lot of Italian learners want to use it in the wrong sense (ie, I am comfortable with him, I feel comfortable, etc).

  4. Nathan:

    Molto interessante.

    The whole conservative Catholic image certainly isn’t the stereotype of Italian-Americans here in the States. We are represented as uneducated criminals who are likely cheating on our wives. Basically, the stereotype is that we are all characters on The Sopranos.

    I have a question on the election of people with alternative lifestyles to the House of Deputies. Does that illustrate a liberal acceptance of those lifestyles in Italy or a disdain for the House itself? If that makes sense.

    Thanks for the great blog!!

  5. Serena:

    Ciao Nathan, You wrote: ‘I have a question on the election of people with alternative lifestyles to the House of Deputies. Does that illustrate a liberal acceptance of those lifestyles in Italy or a disdain for the House itself? If that makes sense.’ I would have to say that it’s probably more the latter as the levels of cynicism and distrust regarding politics are pretty extreme here.

    A presto, Serena

  6. Serena:

    Salve Cinzia! Yes, it’s true: America is still considered the rich country where everybody is well off. As for ‘comodo’ I recognize the mistake very well, and I promise that I will do a blog on the topic, but I can’t say when!

    A presto!

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