Of Writers || Do and don’t of writing Italy

DADOWI - Writer

Happy writing post day to all the readers and writers out there! Today I’m here with a special post. It won a poll, like ages ago, and all my good ideas about writing it down were swept away by me… slacking off and rolling in my bed. You know, instead of doing things.

This post won’t be too much polemic, and I’ll try to handle the issues at my best, but some points may turn out to be difficult to discuss about. Especially since this one was supposed to be a laid-back mini-article. But if you know me, you also know how laid back and me aren’t two words that often goes together.

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Italy, a nation often mystified to a land of eternal vacation, sun, fun and food. Which is true. But also, not. See, I think the best way to resume Italy would be: yes, it’s like you fantasize about, but at the same time it’s exactly the contrary and those two things co-exist in mess-harmony. At least the Italian conception of passible harmony.

Like every other nation in the world, Italy is not easy to describe. Adding Italian words, people that party, drink and eat all the time, a touch of Tuscany there and a sprinkle of Cinque Terre… yeah, that’s not a real formula.
When this realization hit… my bad, actually it doesn’t hit at all most of the time. With this affirmation I’m specifically talking about young adult books, because I’m sure that out there some adult books have gotten it right.

So, here’s a tiny help for you all that want to try to write about Italy, include a character from said country or take inspiration from it.

hey arnold nicksplat GIF

YOU AREN’T EUGENE, BUT I’M HERE FOR YOU.

 

TALKING ABOUT THE FOOD…

Let’s start with something simple. Or actually not simple at all. In other words, the food! Food is indeed very important in Italy, on convivial and historical point of view. Me and my dear friend Sam @Fictionally Sam often had “food wars” about my country and since that moment she kept taunting me with Olive Garden.

She’s also the same person who answered my Instagram stories (related to this post), still taunting me with the infamous chain of restaurants, still giving me some points that must be added to this list. Out of security.

WITH ITALIAN FOOD YOU DON’T:

  • actually think that Olive Garden is Italian. Or take any Italian diaspora food as the authentic one. I always knew that the perception of my country’s food was distorted but that was impressive, I must say. Impressive as much as the horror tales my best friend narrated me after her travels around Europe. So, no, Olive Garden is not a good source.
  • pretend that all Italian diaspora has the same conception of food. This discourse, which I’ll explore more in the next topics, is important to keep in consideration. Many Italians leave the country and establish in other ones, often marrying, having children and so on. Their conception of cooking may slightly alter and shifts, but I can assure you that vast majority will be very close to original Italian cooking. Other people, whose Italian families established themselves in a country various generation ago, may have preserved some recipes and their heritage, but the internet offered me a vast source of video and tales to say that what some of them cook and call it Italian… it isn’t.

WITH ITALIAN FOOD YOU DO:

  • consider pasta as the national dish. Or pizza. But the alfredo pasta you all talk about sure isn’t. It was originally created in Rome, but the city’s folks won’t even call it the capitol “pasta symbol”. Another example: spaghetti with meatballs. In reality, it’s a type of pasta born out of an American representation of Italy, because it’s not the first plate of pasta you will find in a restaurant. Funny fact is that: my family cook it. Not with giant meatballs, but my grandma does it with very little meatballs!
  • need to remember that every Italian region has a unique set of plates. People can get very fight-ish about it. You need to imagine that sometimes, a traditional regional plate can shifts slightly from a village to another (just like all of our dialects), bringing very funny confrontations at the table for which version is the more traditional.
    Tradition is very important, because our food is tied to the country history. Many Italians plates, in front of which many people seem marvelled like they are some kind of miracle, are nothing more than old recipes of poor people. For example, in the place I was born (northern Tuscany) chestnuts covered an important role. The inhabitants had not much and out of them they even made pasta and a lot of those recipes arrived in our modern days (despite being less known)

 

IT’S ALL SUN AND RAINBOWS. OR NOT.

Italians can be a “difficult” discussion if we observe it from an American-only lens. Occasionally, the twitter hosts the annual discussion “are Italians white?”.

You see, when the topic comes up, it’s usually followed by some kind of chaos in which people throw around important statement with their base of truth, but they never truly stop a moment and consider that there are people outside America and how the whole debate is perceived.

Because, let’s make a basic example, there’s a difference between Italian born and raised in Italy and the culture of people with Italian heritage. The fact that some Italian American goes around calming not to be white, it’s sound absurd and embarrassing to the ears of an Italian.
In this context we must know that Italy is far from being a free country: society is deeply patriarchal and racist. So, this is a way to say that Italians aren’t people of colour, neither consider themselves to be such. Some would find it insulting (racism here).
At the same time, this discourse completely ignores the reality of young and older Italian POC, often victims of extreme violent acts of racist aggressions.

So.. how do you exactly represent Italian people if you have no knowledge of the current climate in Italy?

YOU DON’T:

    • pretend everything is fine. There are plenty of tensions in Italy. Let’s make a good bunch of examples:

    1) the north vs the south
    2) white Italians really into oppressing POC
    3) hating on queer folks
    4) big problems in the feminist movements, especially with the raise of terf
    5) immigrations problems and human trafficking of the migrants. Many are victim of caporalato (it’s basically slavery), sexual exploitation, drug trafficking and the list go on. To don’t talk about what they have to do to reach Italy, with a deadly cross of the sea who claims too many people
    5) reported and increasing cases of caretakers and teachers abusing old people and kids
    6) almost zero regards for disable people with a good dose of condescending and “benevolent” ableism
    7) high consume of heavy drugs and alcohol mixed with irresponsible driving that keeps filling the street with blood
    8) the creation of the word femminicidio, designing the always more common murder of women committed by men

    • don’t write mafia. You just don’t. You can’t grasp it, you can’t imagine and you probably think it’s the good background where your story about antihero, morally grey folks or villains can be written. But no, you drop the whole idea in the trash and set it on fire, thank you very much. Diaspora or not.

the office no GIF

LET ME REPEAT: NO!

YOU DO:

  • recognize that Italy is a walking stereotype but never one so exaggerated and people think. Example… the hand gestures! There are thousand jokes about them but very few know the actual meaning and correct use of said gesture. So yes, hand gestures are definitely a thing but need to studied. Also, some stereotype, like the Italian passion… is straight up sexism and misogyny.
  • take into analysis historical and territorial Italy condition. I’ve seen many Italian readers being taken off by the description of the country. And I must say, I’m not surprised: Italy is always described either as a sunny place for vacations or some kind of society still in the developing phase where nothing works. Those are both lies and truths at the same time. Italy is a country with a very old history mixed with damage and corruption. Tons of structure are incredibly old; some towns are entirely composed by houses with few centuries. We got earthquakes, floods, vulcan eruption and so on. A complete renovation of the country would imply completely destroy it, putting tons of people in the street (bold of you to think everyone will have their houses back) hoping the reconstruction won’t fall into corrupted hands… do I’ve to go on? Despite this, Italy can still work and yes, our wi-fi do works

 

TINY THINGS THAT YOU MAY NOT NOTICE

Which, to be freaking honest, aren’t tiny at all for Italians. We’re probably know for being one of the most angry and loud Twitter community. We’re pretty ferocious once you touch our country: we can talk shit about it, but sure as hell you can’t. And let’s not talk about food.

Italian twitter also rolls their eyes infinite time, especially on how every single argument is view and spoken as the maximum truth just because it’s passed through an American lens.
Let’s start the example of giving tips to servers. It’s not mandatory in Italy and stuff like “if you can’t tip don’t go out” are not acceptable to us. It’s recommended to tip when food is delivered to our homes, and we may leave few moneys at bars, but it’s a more a cultural fact than an obligation. Also, it’s worth considering that people are paid differently from country to country.

Another argument that I personally dread, is when the topic “are you adult enough to live on your own” comes up. In Italy isn’t uncommon to have over 20 living with their parents. I’m one. Duo to my studies I only had occasion to take quick summer jobs that never gave me enough money to live on my own. And it’s… just impossible to get a decent house even for a single person in my city!
The best solution would have been of living with multiple people or having a partner to support you, but… it’s easier talk about than actually put it in action.

I could keep adding random things that don’t fit the in the categories above, but the list could become too much long to be normally handled, so let me finish with: pay attention to Italian grammar. This, somehow, still touches the argument of food, since many of you create some absurd mixes of English and Italian and you’re actually repeating the same ingredients two times. It’s also worth to note that some words do not entirely translate.

Just think of sauce and how much I’ve seen used with pasta, and while we can use the exact translation (salsa) it would be more corrected to use the word “sugo”, because in Italy the word sauce tends to designate something else.

italian dominic decoco GIF

DO WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE HAND GESTURES?

But, most importantly, you need to remember this: use plurals! You have no idea how much it’s irritating to read the plural version of an Italian word being obtained by adding a “s”.
Or the using of a singular while in the whole phrases it should represent a plural. Now, time for funny tales! When Kingdom of the Wicked was revealed in its complete blurb and cover, I remember me being slightly pissed off because:

  • the protagonists were called strega, while the correct plural was streghe
  • one protagonist was named Victoria, which made no sense since the correct version of the name is Vittoria

If you reach the presentation of the blurb on Paste Magazine, the errors are still there, but funnily enough the correct version is present on Goodreads blurb! Honestly… I slightly suspect that this could have been noticed and correction were made. It would be very nice and funny… or a bit un-nice because if my “contribution” was actually noted and put in action, the minimum would have been to admit it somewhere

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THOUGHTS

DID YOU EVER NOTICED ANY OF THAT IN THE BOOKS YOU READ? WHAT POINT INTERESTED YOU MORE? WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW?

 

5 thoughts on “Of Writers || Do and don’t of writing Italy

    • It’s a difficult question, since I think the better represention can be found in adult books, and I tend to read more young adults. I can’t really suggest any book in that category, because our are pretty bad and often aren’t translated.

      But, I did enjoy the thriller The Girl in the Fog, but I noticed how many of my fellow italians enjoyed a lot Elena Ferrante books. Those definitely show a part of modern Italian history

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the recommendations 😀 I enjoy a good thriller every now and then so I’ll check out The Girl in the Fog, and Elena Ferrante looks like a good author to read as well!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I definitely tend to steer away from books written about Italy if the author isn’t from there/living there. I also do that though with a few other things, such as books about Mexican culture when people think they know everything just cause they saw Coco. Anyway! Great post!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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