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  • Cultural Exchange Among Americans and Italians
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Living on the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples in Italy for the summer, has its benefits. Besides getting to spend lots of time on the beach, which is pretty much just outside our door, I get to share my American culture with my Italian friends and family. I've been doing that for years on the pages of this column, but it's a lot more fun to do it live and in person. Here's how I have brought a bit of Americana to Ischia - and the reaction the Italians have had to my culture:

    I answer questions about the United States.
    Earlier in the decade, when I would visit Italy, everyone would ask me where I was on 9/11. When they found out that I was in New York, they would bite their nails, grip their seat, and ask a million more questions about the day. They would intently listen to every detail. Now, in 2009, most of them ask about why Americans ever elected George Bush and if there's any hope that Barack Obama will be able to fix Bush's mistakes. They have the sense that the United States is the Titanic, the unsinkable powerhouse that has already sunk. That attitude kind of makes me mad, especially since my American friends and family are hard workers, and I am certain they will not let the United States just wither and die. I know I for one wouldn't accept such an outcome. To avoid international incidents, I just tell them, "C'e' speranza," which means, "There is hope."

    I celebrate American traditions in Italy.
    On the fourth of July, I gave my three nieces and one of their cousins, who range in age from six to eleven, American flags to wave. They took their flags and made a parade in the garden. I also explained the significance of the holiday, how it was my country's birthday. I proudly wore a T-shirt bearing the American flag and told anyone who would listen that it was a special holiday. Most people wished me "auguri."

    But I don't just point out American holidays like the fourth of July. I also tell the people about other traditions we have. TV and movies often help launch the conversations. For example, my nieces watch the Disney channel often, and they saw American high school - replete with its cafeterias, clicks, and lockers. They think it is the coolest idea ever because their high schools run until lunch, when you go home to eat with your family, lack cheerleaders and football teams, and don't have the same pizzazz.

    Recently, they asked me about the American tradition of pajama parties, so I hosted one for them in the wing of the house where I live with my husband. They invited a friend, too. And we played Trivial Pursuit Disney, gorged on popcorn, did our hair, and I gave them manicures and pedicures, that included washing their hands and nails in warm, soapy water, a moisturizing treatment for the skin, and nail polish, of course. They loved it so much that they performed the moisturizing treatments on their own again the next morning - but not before I made them pancakes for breakfast. They love pancakes, but the Italians have added a twist. They often eat them with their favorite Nutella instead of maple syrup.

    I cook American foods.
    Besides pancakes, I have made muffins, cheesecake (a non-bake recipe and more traditional New York style), turkey, hamburgers, and apple pie, which is probably the all-time favorite even though every Italian I know swears that he hates cinnamon. They particularly love apple pie a la mode. I think they might have erected a statue in my honor for introducing them to apple pie a la mode if it were socially acceptable. Next, they would like to have me make honey barbecue wings. Lovers of food, most Italians enjoy exchanging recipes and putting their own twist on them eventually.

    I speak English.
    When I first started visiting Italy regularly about six years ago, speaking Italian was a novelty for me. I loved practicing the language every chance I got, the sound of my voice as I did it, my American accent, the poetic words. Now, I get tired of speaking a second language. It is a lot of work, and I work American hours here, so I'm often seeing people in the wee hours of the morning when I'm dead tired. Translating everything from one language to the other is exhausting. The novelty has worn off.

    That's why whenever someone wants to practice their English with me, needs help with English homework, or already speaks my first language fluently and is willing to talk to me, I take them up on the offer. Italians still believe that English is an important language to know for business and life, which is why many of them are happy to oblige. I also tend to love my husband most of all when he turns on the cable TV, where there happens to be American programming, which can be viewed entirely in English. God, I'm happy to be an Italian American!

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.


    Article Published 7/27/09

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