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Are Italians Really Like That ?

by Kim Krenz

I have just received an email from a delightful Italian woman who has, for years, been a close friend of our family. Our friendship began when Kate and I got to know her family during our years in Italy. Her name is Dianella, and she is married to Zeno di Mori, from a well-known family in Verona. I understand that the original Zeno was, in the middle ages, the first black bishop of Verona. The Zeno of today is not black, but he is dark, and handsome.

When Kate and I returned to Canada from Italy, Zeno and Dianella wrote to tell us that they were moving to West Virginia, where Zeno had landed a job with ALCOA, the aluminum company of America. By then they had a child, a boy. They have lived in the United States for many years ever since, but have made frequent visits back to Italy where their families have been flourishing.

It has been of great interest to me to see how taking out U.S. citizenship has affected our friend Dianella, whom we knew very well when we lived in Italy. To begin with, she now, of course, speaks fluent American-style English with only a delightful trace of Italian accent. She and Zeno have raised their son, Gabriele, to be an intelligent and successful American professional. Dianella and I still correspond in Italian, as we always have. She wrote me recently on the subject of her impressions of Italians in answer to something I had written. I translate her letter as follows:

“I refer to the Italians that I have met in general and whom I have not known before. They will never stand in line, they speak at the top of their voices, they gossip a lot, become offended for no reason, and then make a lot of noise. We visited recently two museums in an historic villa. Two of the group arrived late, casually eating ice cream and keeping the rest of us waiting, others dispersed at will, infuriating the guide, and gossiping loudly. Undisciplined!”

Well, I don’t know that such remarks should be directed only at Italians, but I can understand Dianella’s feelings in the matter. She has still, after all, Italian roots. Her mother and sister are Italians, living in the Italy of today, and she would like to be able to speak better of Italians. But she has become American in many ways, and is therefore sensitive to things that might not have bothered her as an Italian. She speaks honestly of her impressions of today’s Italians.

Would I agree with her ? I can dig back in my own experiences of Italy and find the occasional memory that would confirm what she maintains, but there are many, many other memories that do not fall in line with her remarks. Italians that I got to know on my tour of duty in Italy, most of them in some branch of science, were serious, hardworking people. Some among them were outstanding, reminding one that Italy has produced some wonderful people; in philosophy, art, and literature. Italians are a handsome people and there are many fine faces of men and women in my memories of Italy. Dianella’s father was one of them.

We lived in the country-side, so befriended many of the more simple type of Italian. They make faithful friends, generous and outgoing. I am still in touch at Christmas time with some of them. Emotional? Yes, they give into emotions rather than keeping a stiff upper lip. Perhaps that can be a good thing. And I am sure the less attractive Italians exist. After all, they have a reputation for crime. But, in my experience, they are a warm and generous people. I have written these lines to send to Dianella. We’ll see what she says.

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