Since our language school was compelled to move to 100% online teaching by local anti-Covid restrictions, my wife has, amongst many other duties reliably and efficiently carried out, been setting up and monitoring the English conversation lessons we organise for the locals.
Wow, she commented over dinner the other evening, after having listened to one of our British tutors banging on about Christmas recipes for about the third evening running. “I thought it was just you that was so obsessed with festive food!”
Yup, we’ve been together for coming up for twenty-four years and she’s still firmly convinced that all my little quirks are due to flaws in my personal character, rather than being characteristics of the herd from which she, without due diligence, plucked me.
I recall one particular holiday when we were sitting in a British pub cracking jokes. I contributed something, and everyone laughed over their beers. Unlike at home in Italy, when they’d have given each other quizzical looks, and Stefi would have been wincing and/or cringing in embarassment. Later, in bed, she admitted that she hadn’t known that my jokes could actually be considered amusing.
Italians have a saying ‘Moglie e buoi dei paesi tuoi‘ (Get your wives and your cattle from your own village i.e. from a trusted source), but I’ve always been inclined to think that a little variety in the gene pool keeps things interesting. At least being married to a foreigner is never boring!
That said, I haven’t been immune to prejeudice regarding the strange behaviours of the tribe amongst which I’ve found myself obliged to make my life. In fact, and in too many ways to list here, I’ve often found what goes on around me, how shall I put this? Well, rather aberrant.
Driving norms, for instance, or to give a more seasonal example, the degenerate approach that Italians have to Christmas cakes, their ‘pandoros’ and ‘panettones’.
N.b. From what I can work out, these two delicious desserts are exclusive to each other. Much as in the way that fans of Scottish football teams (soccer, I mean) are either for Celtic or for Rangers, Italians tend to be clearly in the pandoro camp or the panettone camp. Eating both would be decidedly odd.
Needless to say, my wife is a pandoro eater, whereas I prefer panettone, because it contains dried fruit and so resembles a ‘proper’ British Christmas cake. Which is the reason she won’t touch it. Yuk!
Where was I? Ah yes, is Italian behaviour frequently aberrant, ‘degenerate’ even (“having lost the physical, mental, or moral qualities considered normal and desirable; showing evidence of decline” – thank you Google)?
I confess, when it came to Christmas cakes, I had been firmly convinced that this was indeed (and not to my great surprise) the case.
For as soon as the supermarket aisles begin to fill with seasonal treats, sometime in mid-November usually, then, guess what? Italians start buying them. Not, though, to stow away in their cupboards, in preparation for December 25th, as reasonable people might be expected to do, but (horrors), to actually eat them!
Yes! You read it here first! Italians eat Christmas cakes BEFORE Christmas. And I thought the national debt was embarrassing…
I’d always thought that the fact that my wife thought it accceptable to eat Christmas cakes for breakfast at the end of November was because she had a sweet tooth, or had had a less than rigorous upbringing than she deserved.
But no. We’ve finally had the conversation, and she insists that everyone here does it, something that this week I have made the effort to verify, by asking all my students. Everyone DOES do it. Christmas foods are for the Christmas PERIOD here, not just for the actual day. Well, who knew? Everyone except me, it seems.
And I’m like, so THAT’S why all your relatives just nibble politely at their food during Christmas lunch. I thought it was because they were dieting!
And she’s like, ah so that’s why you absolutely stuff yourself for 48-72 hours from the 24th to the 26th, when you normally eat moderately.
When we were kids, I explained, we were half-starved in December, for our own benefit mind, in order that we’d properly appreciate the special stuff when it finally arrived. THAT’S why I can tuck in with a hearty appetite on Christmas day, when all around me are picking at their pandoros with no particular passion.
I’m pretty sure she didn’t believe me. The very thought of deliberately starving your kids is too aberrant. It must be just me, being degenerate.
I confess, I haven’t yet found time to listen to Thursday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news (it’s been a busy week).
But I plan to. It’s top of my list! And I’m not even learning Italian. While you, presumably, are…