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  • Italian Family Feuds
    Get to the root of what causes the majority of fights among Italian families
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    As I write this I'm watching the latest season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. While I realize many Italians and Italian Americans are offended by our portrayal in these various reality shows – the Italians in Italy are still reeling from the sojourn of the cast of Jersey Shore in Firenze – but this season's RHNJ series is focusing on the family feud between the Gorga and Giudice families, two immigrant families from Italy. This kind of family feud – replete with a brawl at a baptism, foul name calling, and the blame game – is typical of the Italians I know both in Italy and the United States. We can all pretend we're above that, and most of the time we are. But every once in a while – let's face it – we are one of those people. Don't even bother pretending you don't know these families (or aren't part of one). You know. You know.

    Discovering the root of what causes these fights is one way to either seek solutions or at least understand the heart of the fire that is flaming your feud. Here are the major reasons most Italian families feud-

    Italian Property Problems
    Whether your family stayed in Italy, moved to another country, or a combo of the two, you probably have some piece of property in Italy that your grandparents or great grandparents owned – and now you own 1/150th of it with your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and first cousins. Even if after you all divide it up, your piece of property is so miniscule you need a microscope to see it, you all want whatever it is that's coming to you. After all, your nonna grew up there and must have put her foot down on your piece at some point in her childhood. Plus, you might get 50 euro out of the deal should the family agree to sell it. Like that's ever going to happen!

    Most likely, the property will sit in Italy, while relatives near and far to it bicker among themselves, followed by giving each other the cold shoulder, followed by more hollering, followed by death. In the meantime, someone in Italy will set up camp in the property – usually one of the loons of the neighborhood – and try to charge you to get him off it. You and your family can't reach an agreement, so he'll get to stay there, and you'll get nothing out of the deal. The other option is that the property will be completely abandoned while you're all arguing about who gets what. And then the stray dogs will just move in.

    In-Laws, In-Laws, In-Laws
    Italian families are known for being tight-knit. So, when new people come in by way of marriage, they aren't always welcomed with open arms. In this column, we've talked about the unreasonable mamma's boys and how their mothers treat their girlfriends and wives. Then, there are the sisters- and brothers-in-law who make enemies of one another by fighting for the affection of their parents (that might be part of the problem on RHNJ). If all the parties are Italian, the heat usually rises. We're a passionate people and we really do love our families, from mamma and papa' to nonni and second cousins. That love can be overwhelming and perverted to the point that you don't want to let in any new people. That's when mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, aunts and cousins (who are often like second parents and siblings in Italian families) feel threatened and start getting defensive. The angry digs start flying. "I hate your sprinkle cookies," or "Your mamma's meatballs will never be as good as mine." You've been there.

    Sometimes, the people coming into the family are not quite as gracious as they should be either. They get their digs in, too. "Suocera (mother-in-law), don't you think your rear end looks a little like a sausage stuffed into the dress you chose for my wedding?" or "Mia famiglia is always number one, and yours will always be number two."

    That Family Business
    Again, money rears its ugly head in this scenario to pit one family member against another. But because Italian families are so close, many of them have family businesses that employ everyone from your cousin Vincenzo to your niece Elisabetta. One of my cousins once said to me, "We all need to spend more time together." And I responded, "The only other activity we could possibly do together is go to the bathroom, and I don't think that's gonna be pleasant." When you live together or you're close to living together (which many Italian families are even if they have different houses) and then you work together to boot, you eventually want to kill each other. Sometimes, you're driven to metaphorically doing just that. Money and family rarely blend well. Running a business requires some people to manage others. When your brothers or sisters or parents are trying to run your life and your work, it's going to grate on your nerves. Trust me. And the level of intimacy between Italian relatives makes it more possible for harsh words – and maybe even a punch or two – to happen. None of that looks very professional, and it makes work a real headache.

    The moral of this story is that Italian families fight as passionately and hard as they love. So, run into the hugs and run away from the gunfire, and learn the difference between the two. I know. It's harder than it sounds.

    Di Meglio is the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com, and you can follow her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.


    Article Published 6/13/2011

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