Stereotypes can be understood as overgeneralizing a certain trait or characteristic to an entire group based on race, age, gender, religion, and even geographic differences. Study abroad has definitely caused me to reconsider several stereotypes of not only the Italian culture, but many others as well. While traveling, it is often easy to mindlessly move through the motions, unaware of the movement around you. The difference of study abroad is that students have the amazing opportunity to live in a community for several months, therefore becoming part of the movement in which surrounds us.
Italians are definitely known for a long list of stereotypes including, but not limited to: always running late, talking with their hands, having tempers, eating pizza and pasta for a majority of meals, being huge soccer fans, mafia involvement, having enormous national pride, and having large families in which are the main focus of their everyday life. Being that I come from a first-generation Italian family with parents who were raised in Naples, Italy, I always found these stereotypes to be quite funny, as they are often true! Personally, I know my family definitely fulfills many of these on the checklist. However, we are only one Italian family living in America. Because of this, I cannot hold these stereotypes to be true amongst all Italians. Throughout my time living in Rome, Italy, I came to realize that these stereotypes are definitely present in many locals in which I have observed and or became friends with. One stereotype that is definitely true is the fact that all Italians talk with their hands! I don’t believe that I’ve had one conversation with a local without keeping track of their flailing hand gestures! Another is that although people may not always be running late, the public transportation in this city is never on time. My wallet has gotten a lot thinner after several mornings of late busses, forcing me to hail a cab to get to class on time—but I guess, when in Rome!
Although Americans certainly hold stereotypes towards Italians, it is similar when tables are turned. I have often become frustrated and infuriated during my time abroad, as I hate being put into a box categorized as “Americans”. Come to think of it, this has been my only reaction to the stereotypes in which I have encountered! Some examples of these stereotypes of Americans include that we are lazy, we do not know how to properly eat, we are always in a rush, we assume that everyone speaks English, we are arrogant and believe that we are the best, we are out of hand when going out drinking, and that we are disrespectful. It is difficult to say why exactly these stereotypes have developed, however, when relating it back to previous readings, I sadly admit that they are most likely for valid reasons. Most people living in Rome only know of Americans based off of what they see, mainly due to tourism and study abroad students. Because of this, it is crucial to represent ourselves in the best way possible when traveling, in order to counteract these negative stereotypes. Unfortunately, many study abroad students travel overseas for the wrong reasons, while going out and drinking heavily most of the time. Slimbach quotes Adam Weinberg (2007) as he explains this situation, “these students (at best) simply get the American college experience in a different time zone” (2010, p.36). Additionally, there is no true motive for young Americans to learn a foreign language, as English is one of the main universal languages in which almost everyone knows some of. This lack of cultural understanding and sensitivity is what ultimately creates for these overgeneralized views of Americans. It is such a shame, because I know of many students, including myself, who do not fall under these categories but are immediately judged due to our nationality.
Much to my surprise, there are two specific Italian stereotypes—in which I was sure were valid—in which have been dispelled during my time here in Rome. First, I have learned that the idea of strong national pride amongst all Italians is not as simple as what a foreigner may believe. Through my ‘History of Modern Italy’ course, run by a local Italian, I have come to understand that Italy has actually faced an identity crises for much of their existence. Due to the large economic, social, and political divide between the North and South, large numbers of both emigration and migration, and regional dialects, Italians have a history of a lack of national identity. Many feel as though they are not united, and therefore not patriotically linked to their homeland. This can also explain several historical issues, such as Fascism, where the Italian people looked towards a leader to establish national unity and security. I was very taken back by this historical and current day analysis of Italian national pride, as this is not what is represented in American media or stereotypical views. Additionally, I was also surprised to learn that the standard idea of “large-Italian families” with countless siblings and cousins, is far from the truth in Italy. In fact, Italy is currently facing a “fertility crises”, due to the fact that young couples are not as commonly getting married and reproducing. Furthermore, if they do get married and have children, it is often one or two children at the most. Consequently, many older Italian generations worry that Italy is a “dying country”. Slimbach states, “Half a century ago, most young adults were anxious to get out of high school, marry, have children, and start a long-term career. Times have changed” (2010, p.28). From this, we can see that this phenomenon is common amongst several cultures, linking the young generations of the Global Community in an unexpected way. This information left me speechless, as the most common stereotype of Italians is the idea of the large, loud, and nosey “la famiglia”. Although the family still remains the core of the Italian lifestyle, it is certainly not what I had imagined!
The picture in which I have chosen to post to represent an American stereotype of my host-culture is of the famous American movie, “The Godfather”. Growing up, I faced this stereotype head-on, as friends of mine would constantly question if my father was a part of the Mafia. It is almost assumed that every Italian is involved in organized crime, glamorizing this lifestyle as exciting, dangerous, and being financially/politically/ and socially superior. However, this overgeneralization is far from the truth, as the Mafia lifestyle is not one in which is glamorized in Italy. This is mainly an issue in the South of Italy, where economic struggles and a lack of political representation led people to take matters into their own hands. Italians grew fearful of the Mafia, searching for a way to tear down their system and save the lives of innocent friends and family. The most important misrepresentation of the Italian mafia to understand is that: not everyone is a part of the mafia, it is not an inviting lifestyle, and they do not have the respect and support of fellow Italians. Although “The Godfather” is a classic and entertaining movie, I am sorry to say that it is not the reality! Alla prossima!
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).