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How Italians Use FacebookDiscover the lengths young people go to make the bella figura online, too
A young girl with a ribbon wrapped around her forehead, a snug tank top, and short shorts sits in meditation in her backyard. Another young woman holds a fan on the girl, so her hair flows in the wind. One young woman is photographing the meditator while others nearby are putting on make-up and waiting their turn to model. Only this is not a photo shoot or even Italy's "Next Top Model."
These are my Italian nieces and their friends in the family's backyard. They are going all out for their Facebook profile and cover photos. While I am in Ischia for the summer, I witness such a scene at least once a week. Every time, I remind myself that Italians are all about the bella figura, making a good impression by being perfectly coiffed and well dressed in the piazza. Well, Facebook is the modern piazza and the whole world – not just your Zio Luigi and best pal since childhood Maria – could potentially see you.
Even though Italians came to the social media party a little later than most Americans, they are now all in. Facebook and Instagram tend to be the platforms of choice. Most of the Italians I know are aware of Twitter, but leave that arena to professionals in media, those trying to publicize stuff (especially to Americans), and celebrities. At least, for now, that has been the consensus among my friends and family in Italy.
While they are creating profiles and posting basically in the same way Americans and those from other countries do, there are a few things that make Italian participation unique. For starters, most of us Americans don't host such elaborate photo shoots like the ones my nieces do, unless we are blogging or advertising something. In that case, there are usually actual professional photographers and make-up artists as opposed to your pal Anna.
My nieces are not the only ones who do this. Others put thought into their clothes and lighting (or lack of it). They lay in just the right way on the beach to make sure there's no sign of cellulite or any jelly rolls. They ask their friends, who are honest to a fault (it's an Italian thing), before they post those selfies. Their profile pics change regularly. I usually just post profile pictures as they happen. I don't put nearly as much thought – or work – into it.
Many Americans have talked about how we all put our best face on for Facebook. In other words, we make it look like we have a perfect life because we leave out all the tough stuff. That's true, but we've got nothing on the Italians. They all look supermodels – no joke – on Facebook. And you might come away from a session of reading your friend's walls feeling badly for yourself. Been there!
All these selfies come with well thought out quotes. My nieces might share lyrics from a song or favorite poem. Sometimes, they come up with something clever all on their own. Of course, some of what they say gives me a mini stroke. I still tend to think of them as little. Part of the reason, I – along with others in the family – stay friends with them on Facebook is to keep tabs on them (and their friends and whether they are up to anything they shouldn't be).
It's the relationship status on Facebook that often trips me up with loved ones. More than once that mini stroke has moved to major, especially when it comes to my young Italian relatives. Okay, the photos of them kissing their boyfriends are commonplace, and I've learned to live with them. Ahh, young love, right?
But Italians write "fidanzato" to describe they are in a relationship. Fidanzato is the same word for "engaged" in Italian. There's no distinction between being in a committed relationship and being engaged, so when my teenage nieces have changed their relationship status to "fidanzato" to indicate they are seeing someone exclusively, it appeared to me in English as engaged, replete with a diamond ring graphic. Oy! Despite knowing what Facebook meant, I couldn't help but freak out just a little bit.
Anyway, all in all, I'm just glad to see Italian family in Italy – not to mention those relatives who moved from Italy to France, Australia, Argentina, etc. – to be using Facebook. I will take whatever they give me because it's a way to stay connected.
I still remember the early days of my youth when calling our relatives in Italy was set aside for Sunday mornings when the lines might be clear and they should be home having lunch all together, so we could talk to everyone in one shot. We never could have imagined being able to see their face or even what they are eating through photos and videos on Facebook or even in real time on Skype. It's a whole new world.
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