Stereotypes are hard to die and they are more complex than we may think. Because if it’s very easy to dismiss them as superficial nonsense, sometimes they do hold a grain of truth, under all that silly fluff.
I don’t think there is anything in my country as stereotyped as the apparently conflictual relationship between North and South, and between Northerners and Southerners: the North is better organized, the South more approximate; the North has no good food and the South has all the good stuff. Northerners are boring and obsessed with work, Southerners love fun but they are lazier. The North is modern and European, but the South has all the cool cultural stuff.
See, in one simple paragraph, I condensed some of the most common misconceptions and stereotypical views even we Italians have about ourselves. Yes, ourselves, because let’s make one thing clear before I even start with the fun stuff: we are one people and there isn’t any doubt about it. Look at it this way: it’s like with family. There are always differences, but blood isn’t water.
In any case, let’s take a closer look at some of our “differences” and find out if they are real or not… We could begin, in fact, with something we all celebrate this month, Christmas. Now, legends say that in the North, Christmas is the 25th and then it’s all back to normal, while in the South people make a much bigger deal of it, indulging in gargantuan meals and family conviviality from the 24th to the 26th and, while they are at it, throwing in also a snack or even a dinner to finish off leftovers on the 27th. Well, that’s not entirely true. Yes: in the South, the evening of the 24th is already a family food bonanza, and that’s not quite the same in the North where, however, it is pretty common to go out to eat with friends, especially if midnight mass is on the books. Pizza first, worship later. But when it comes to Christmas day, St Stephen’s day and even the days after that, I can guarantee there is very little difference. First of all, one must honor every side of the family: so it’s Christmas lunch at grandma’s and Christmas dinner at your brother’s. Then, on the 26th, it may be your turn to host.
Then, there is the whole “Southerners are louder” thing. As a Northern Italian who lived abroad for a good chunk of her life, I came to a conclusion, mostly based on direct evidence: being loud isn’t about where you were born, it’s genetic. Both Northerners and Southerners know well when to keep it down and how to talk as gently and elegantly as a member of the British royal family. But if we gather and we are more than three, then we lose volume control, especially when we speak about food. Turin, Naples, Ferrara, Bari, Firenze, Palermo: it doesn’t matter where we come from, if you put us together, we get loud. To be fair, it may be a Mediterranean thing, because Spaniards are often accused of the same behavior: in fact, volume tends to reach glass-breaking levels if you put Italians and Spaniards together on a night out. I know it well because I had loads of Spanish friends when I lived abroad.
One of the most offensive stereotypes about our South, one that is often perpetrated in small talks and even by some of our politicians, is that people south of Rome don’t like working, or, to say it with an Italian expression, they are furbetti, or cunning when it comes to doing as little as possible. This is just, quite simply, not true and first-generation Italian migrants to the US – your very own grandparents and great-grandparents – bear witness to it: how hard did they work to achieve what they did in their new home? Exactly. And the same can be said of those who remained in Italy: some of the North’s most important industries, including the textile in Lombardia and Veneto and, notably, the automotive in Piemonte and Lombardia, became what they are today during the second post-war period largely thanks to the southern workforce. And today is the same. There are just people with good work ethics and people with no work ethics: full stop. But that doesn’t depend on where they were born.
The truth is that the South does have a major unemployment problem, which is not the result of people not wanting to work, but rather, of decades and decades of bad investments and governmental policies. But that’s a story for another time.
And what about the idea that Southerners are better fun than Northerners? Well…perhaps there is a tiny bit of truth in that. I am a Northerner in her early forties and I must admit that, if I want to have a proper night out, it’s my Sicilian friends I call. People from the South have a lightheartedness many of us Northerners lose once we settle down. And it’s a pity because it’s not written anywhere that when you “grow up” you can’t, every once in a while, let go a little and pretend you have no worries in the world.
So, are we really that different, we Italians from the North and the South? I don’t think so. Some of us are like siblings, others like distant cousins but, in the end, we all come from the same large, noisy, big-hearted family.