By The Courier,Houma, LA. Chef Nino Columnist
Many times and on numerous occasions I have been asked “What are the people like inItaly; how are they different?” These observations are from an American who lived inItalyfor 13 years, mostly inSicilyin southernItaly. These are just a few interesting peculiarities — some good, some not so great. This is by no means exhaustive but just a few notes. It would take volumes to pen all the wonderful characteristics of some of the most generous, industrious, innovative, sincere people in all the world, the Sicilians.
All outsiders are suspect. It has been estimated that if an Italian paid all of their taxes they would pay just more than 110 percent of their income. If you have a radio in your car you have to pay taxes — tax for a TV, tax for your driver’s license.Italyhas one of the highest income taxes inEurope. Tax evasion is prevalent and therefore when a foreigner, or a “stranger” comes to them, they are very stand-offish.
Suspicion is a very real part of Sicilian culture. Foreigners mean exploitation, religion means disillusionment and even friends and relations are not to be relied upon. Sicilians are secretive. They do not readily impart information for fear that in doing so they’ll somehow incriminate themselves or others who would in turn seek revenge for having been incriminated.
“In this part of the world we have our own way of doing things,” Don Calogero Vizzini said. It took me more than two years of living inSicilybefore I really gained one friend.
Everyone was very kind but very superficial.
“A group of seven men speaking at the top of their lungs with hands raised in the air, touching each other occasionally, trying to convince each other of their argument, each one of them red in the face, neither of them convinced nor listening at all to the others side of the story, but at the same time enjoying this form of normal communication,” I wrote in one of my journals. “An uninformed onlooker at this charade would have been convinced that they were mad at each other and ready to fight. Montanelli says that Sicilians do not converse. Each one of them engages in a monologue and does not listen to the other.
“The Sicilian, like most other people, is the product of his environment and, if one can say the victim of his circumstances. His character has evolved in the history of conquest and domination through which his island home has for the most part been that of a certain defeat. His mentality is the product of oppression and exploitation and only in the past few decades has made an effort to come to terms with the modernEurope.”
Another description of the people inSicilyis the predominant “Bella Figura,” which is the insidious constant obsession of every waking moment and even permeated in most of every unconscious thought and night time dream about being concerned what others think about you.
They try to project an image to others so that they think more highly of them that what they really are. This attitude is evidenced by a man whose income is $800 per month and dresses in public and behaves as though his income was $8,000 per month.
Image is more important than reality. Most Sicilians have two kitchens, one for show which is costly and has never been cooked in and the other for daily use which is very humble and is located outside. The other is “La Superbia!” Most of them are an expert on any topic known to man, not admitting faults or weaknesses, quickness to offer advice and recommendation even when not solicited.
With all of this said, once that seemingly impenetrable barrier is overcome, a lifelong friendship is forged that cannot be erased by time nor distance. Lest we Americans get the big head for being for balanced let us not forget their view of the Americans,
“Gli Americani possono camminare sulla luna ma non si possone camminare sulla terra,” which means “The Americans can walk on the moon but they do not know how to walk on the earth.”
Ouch! Fortunate is he or she who can take to best mentalities of both worlds and make one super-culture.