Last month’s article on Italian stereotypes explored the truth behind some popular opinions of the Italian population, including wild Italian driving, mass consumption of pasta, and the importance of religion in Italy.
Interestingly, the majority of those surveyed in my qualitative study agreed that some of these stereotypes were indeed the case in Italy. One being that Italians gesticulate while they speak. From personal experience living in Italy, I have learned that their gesticulations are not always random and emphatic. Many hand gestures in fact have a meaning of their own. Perhaps the most famous of these is the pinched fingers gesture, accompanied by a “ma cosa stai dicendo?” (“What are you saying?”).
Another stereotype confirmed to be true by the majority of those surveyed is that Italians are mammoni (mamma’s boys). This term refers to young (and not so young!) Italians who still live with their parents. However, whilst the term suggests some abnormally close familial bond that cannot be broken, the reality is that for many young Italians the current economic situation does not give them the opportunity or freedom to venture out on their own. Therefore living with their parents for an extended period of time has become a necessity.
A final stereotype with an overwhelming confirmed majority is that Italians are very open people. From my own experience, this is vastly true. In fact, Italians can be open in the most everyday environments. Whether it’s talking about a health problem over the dinner table or being transparent about their economic situation, Italians are, in general, very open and also very friendly people.
Whilst many of those surveyed agreed to a number of the stereotypes, there were others to which they expressed disagreement. The stereotype which most Italians disagreed with is that they are often late, closely followed by them being considered wild drivers. So, do Italians mind people believing in these stereotypes?
Italian Stereotypes — Good or Bad?
According to the survey, just over half of Italians expressed dislike of foreigners believing in these popular opinions. Their reasoning: these stereotypes do not represent all Italians, there is prejudice and judgement, and it is not kind to paint everyone with the same brush. Others took the stereotypes in a more light-hearted way, stating that they are funny and not to be taken seriously, that not all stereotypes are negative, and that, when taken with a pinch of salt, they do no harm.
An interesting point to note from the survey, is that over two thirds of Italians declared that the degree of truth surrounding the stereotypes varies based on whether someone is from the north or south of Italy. My own experience supports this as I can state, for example, that Italians from the south tend to be more open and gesticulate more than those from the north.
When asked if they had any extra opinions or sentiments to share, one Italian expressed that, whilst stereotypes have an amount of truth to them, they prefer to evaluate people individually, based on what they do and how they act. Others conveyed that stereotypes are the fruit of ignorance and are always wrong. A final comment mentioned that, whilst many of these stereotypes are negative, Italians are not treated with any prejudice when they travel abroad.
It seems, therefore, that all stereotypes have some root of truth, but to make assumptions and trust wholly in them is to risk ignorance and not really getting to know a beautiful population. Just as not all Brits drink tea at 5pm every day and not all French eat croissants for breakfast, the Italian population cannot and should not be generalised. So, next time you meet an Italian, try to keep an open mind!