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Una Mamma Italiana
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How to Impress Your Italian Mother-in-Law
Discover how to win her heart whether she likes it or not
The Italian mamma has quite the reputation the world over. One mention of her name and you imagine a woman whose uniform is an apron, wielding a wooden spoon, and force feeding you pasta. Her children are her whole world and pity the fool who tries to come between her and them. Now, you find yourself in the position of being just that fool. You have fallen in love with an Italian, things are getting serious (or maybe you've already married), and you need to win mamma's heart next.
Are you up for the challenge? Those who can't handle an occasional cold shoulder or meatball to the face need not apply. Just move on. Men who are trying to win over an Italian mother-in-law can do a little innocent flirting, display good manners, compliment the food she makes, and treat their daughters nicely and their mission is accomplished. Ladies, on the other hand, you are about to enter a competition that you will never ever win. Still, you have to keep trying because you are in love with this woman's son.
Accept that she will always be the other woman, and you're half way there. Then, bring something – a bottle of wine or Italian pastries (all the better if you make them from scratch yourself) – whenever you visit mamma and famiglia. And here's the rest of the work that lies ahead:
1. Eat, eat, and eat some more.
Do you know how many pastiere (Italian wheat pies) I've had to eat without throwing up during Easter in Italy? My stomach has had to train for it because I hate those things, but you just can't refuse when they offer it to you. So, eat what mamma puts in front of you and thank her for it. If you like it, say so. If you don't, forever hold your peace – and learn how to swallow fast and make a beeline for the bathroom if the heaving starts.
Trust me, there's no such thing as constructive criticism when it comes to an Italian woman's cooking. Once the relationship gets more comfortable, ask her to teach you a recipe and feign being unable to recreate the dish as well as she can. That's better than a gift of gold to an Italian mamma.
2. Compliment the casa. Coming in second to food is how an Italian woman keeps her home. The place has to be pristine. These women take cleaning to a whole new level. Martha Stewart has nothing on them. Even with full-time jobs, they still vacuum, dust, and mop floors daily. That's right. Every. Single. Day. They painstakingly make sure that every inch of the house is clean, as if the pope were about to visit. These are the kinds of women who still beat their laundry against a rock. Seriously.
They also have their showpieces that they expect you to notice. Your best bet is to wander over to the cristalliera or china cabinet with glass doors. There, you'll find fine china and bomboniere, favors they received for various life events, namely weddings, baptisms, and first communions. Pick out something exceptional as a conversation starter. Then, tell the woman how her home proves she has impeccable taste. She might see through your compliment, but she still expects you to give it. Don't let her down. You'll be paying for this error for years – and years – to come.
3. Offer to lend a hand.
Anticipate one of two outcomes. She will say yes, grill you while the two of you are alone at the sink, and criticize your dish washing. Or she will say no, adding that you are a guest, and continue to do it herself. If she says yes, don't take her words personally. After all, who really cares if you wash a dish as well as a machine? If she says no, ask if she'd like some company at least. She will probably say yes to this, and the conversation can go anywhere. To control things, you might want to bring up something else in that cristalliere. Or you can ask the story of when your boyfriend/husband was born. Italian moms never tire of that one.
4. Be your own Italian mamma.
Mammas today are scared that the people dating their children are in it just for the money, whatever it is the family has, even if it's a shack in the middle of nowhere. Show mamma that you are in it for love and nothing else. Have your own job or career. Take care of yourself and ask for your boyfriend's hand, not his wallet. It will take a long time for mamma to trust you, but if you show that you can take care of yourself, it will happen. And she might even crack a smile at the sight of you. Maybe. Just maybe.
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