Italian Culture Essay, Research Paper
Images of national character cannot be explained by information alone. The values and actions of the citizens help define their national image. Social experiences, social knowledge, and social stereotypes help determine each country’s national character. Even though Italy has close ties to other European countries, it still possesses an identity all its own. Culture and tradition, rather than physical characteristics, give Italians their sense of individuality.
In a 1987 fieldwork study, Italians were perceived as spontaneous, expressive, open, lively, uninhibited, and sociable (Wilterdink, 44). They live a life full of extraordinary animation and passion. The commotion begins at dawn and continues into the small hours of the night. Noisy, elated, happy, energetic, busy people swarm streets, piazzas, and marketplaces. Uniformed carabinieri with their stern, serious faces perch on their motorcycles watching and guarding the day to day daily activities. The priests stroll slowly, housewives bear heavy shopping bags, wild youth with long hair and blue jeans swagger about, crowds of young men flirt with pretty girls, and children play through crowded streets. People believe that a bit of flirting and mutual attraction in the office will help ease working tensions and provide a more fun workplace (Powell, 14). Carts, shop windows, and stalls flaunt vegetables, flowers, fruits, toys, clothes, shoes, and fishes in the colorful confusion and disarray pouring from their abundance of goods, everything displayed everywhere in dramatic and artistic disorder. Owners strategically place caf tables so leisurely drinkers can observe the busy people. The noises are usually deafening. People chat, sing, swear, whistle, shout, cry, howl some in the midst of intense discussions; others immersed in delicate negotiations. One can always hear someone playing a musical instrument or singing a popular song. Vespas, cars, trucks and motorcycles roar past. In fact, the air fills with so much noise that one must talk in a very loud voice just to be heard, thereby increasing the total uproar. The old stone walls, the lack of greenery, and the narrow streets magnifies this gay and happy chaos of noise. Benches, little walls in the sun, balconies along the facades of all houses invite one to watch the calvacade with thousands of characters and hundreds of subplots. This show is so engrossing the many spend a majority of their visit just listening and looking.
The transparency of Italian faces makes such scenes extremely fascinating. One easily follows conversations by merely watching the people’s changing expressions. Reading facial expressions is an important art in Italy, a talent developed early in childhood. Italians believe that if people show no feelings, the people have no feelings worth showing; therefore, the Italians adept communication with gestures and body language that are just as famous as their gift of facial expressions. Using these more abundantly, efficiently, and imaginatively than other people, Italians employ them to emphasize or clarify whatever is said, to suggest words and meanings, and sometimes simply to convey a message at great distance where the voice could not carry. Motorists no longer slow down and waste precious time to shout insults to each other or at pedestrians. They just extend one hand in the direction of the person to whom they are addressing the message, a hand with all fingers folded except the index and pinky finger. This gesture suggests that the other man does, should or will shortly wear horns, or in other words, be cuckolded by his wife, girlfriend, or mistress. Sicilians are known to convey grave and, often, deadly messages without stirring a muscle in their faces or moving their hands. For them, a slowly raised chin means, “I don’t know,” or more often, “Perhaps I know, but I will not tell you” (Barzini, 62). This is the answer many Sicilians will give police when questioned about the Mafia. A gesture, the extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin, made in 1860 by the grandfather of Signor O of Messiner as an answer to Garibaldi conveys, “I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out” (Barzini, 63). Italians frequently use several other gestures. The lifting of one single eyebrow means, “I’m not ready to take what decisions are necessary” (Barzini, 63). The slow closing of both eyes in an expressionless face signifies resignation in front of the inevitable acceptance of a difficult and unpleasant duty. Italians express rage or anger by biting their lips, hands or fingers, tearing their own hair, gnashing their teeth with wide-open lips, or violently stamping the ground. They may signify denial or negation by lifting their lower lip over the upper or raising their eyebrows as far as they will go in one quick motion, and turning their face away from the object being refused. Often enough, a simple gesture accompanied by suitable facial expressions takes the place of not just a few words, but an entire speech.
Behaviors, social experiences, emotions, and values shape the national image of Italy. Italians work hard, play hard, enjoy sex instead of feeling elusive about it, and display their bodies with pleasure. Italian life is entertaining, moving, picturesque, animated, and engaging just like any performance. Its effects are skillfully contrived to convey certain messages and to arouse particular emotions. The primary purpose of the show is to make life acceptable. One must grasp this reliance on imitation and presentation in order to understand Italy, its history, manners, civilization, and habits.
Works Cited :
Barzini, Luigi. The Italians. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1964.
d’ Aquino, Niccolo. “Italians Confound Stereotypes.” Europe. Jul/Aug 1993: 40-41.
Delzell, Charles F. “Italy.” The Encyclopedia Americana. 1999.
Powell, Carla. “Brits should be more like Italians.” New Statesman. 128.4439 (1999): 14.
Warrick, Mary-Margaret W. Personal experience. 17-27 May 1999.
Wilterdink, Nico. “Images of National Character.” Source. 32.1 (1994): 43-52.