Saturday, April 28, 2007

Get a load of this...

Here's something my mother-in-law ordered for me a few months ago, and it just came yesterday. Why did it take so long to arrive? No, it's not the fault of the Italian postal system (this time). The company that makes this contraption said there was such a huge demand for this thing-a-ma-jig, that it was on back order until now.
Now for the big question...what the heck is it?

That's where you come in. Inspired by the recent
Disco Mermaids contest for an advance reader's copy of Jay Asher's upcoming debut young adult novel, (which I won...yay!) I'll give a prize to anyone who can guess what the thing in this photo is used for. All you have to do is post your answer(s) (you can guess more than once) here by Friday, May 5. If there's more than one correct answer, I'll draw those names from a hat to pick the winner.
So what's the prize? The winner gets a souvenir from Trieste--something you can only find here in this city. And no, I haven't picked it out yet. But I will. And I'll try not to choose something too cheesy. I promise.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Italian quiz shows...trivia and (what else?) breasts

Italians love their quiz shows just as much as Americans do. There's an Italian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and several other trivia quiz shows that boast high viewer ratings.

But there's one big difference between Italian and American quiz shows: breasts.

I've blogged about this
topic before (breasts and their place in Italian culture), but quiz shows are the perfect example to illustrate this.

Take a look at this photo:

The guy on the right is the host of a popular quiz show called L'Eredità (Inheritance). And the ladies on the left? Think Vanna White after a few stiff drinks. The show is on prime time--right smack dab in the middle of family hour tv. Here's how it goes:

First, the guests all introduce themselves. Fairly standard.

Now the show begins...trivia questions, close-ups of contestants' family members biting their fingernails, brilliant contestants wowing the audience with their trivia prowess, nervous contestants flubbing obvious questions (which are never obvious to me, mind you, since I'm not Italian), etc. Again, nothing new here.

Then, just when the Italian public can't take the seriousness any longer, cue the raunchy music and out comes the group of scantily-clad women shown in the picture above, who writhe and wiggle to the music for about 30 seconds. As the last note of the song hangs in the air, they strike a suggestive pose and the audience breaks into enthusiastic applause.

Then the dancing ladies slink off-stage, the host comes back, and the game recommences.

All game shows have this half-time show, dancing-girl element, not just this one. And in the photo above, I think it's significant that the women are pictured first, and the host (who is on camera for all but 30 seconds of the show) is pictured last.

Answer (for 200 Euro): The two things that make the Italian quiz-show world go 'round.

Question: Um, Alex, what are breasts?

Ding! Ding! Ding! Thaaaaaaaat's correct!


Thursday, April 19, 2007

(Almost) forced to be fashionable

A few weeks ago I decided to finally replace my sunglasses. My kids had stretched the frames to make them fit their grandparents' black lab, and this was not good. So I went into the sunglasses store to have a look.

What did I see? Wall-to-wall sunglasses, all with gigantic lenses. I'm not a gigantic-lenses kind of person, so I asked the man behind the counter if they had anything smaller.

He raised an eyebrow. "But, Signora." Waving a hand toward the display on the counter, à la The Price is Right, he said, "Large sunglasses are the fashion this spring."

"I understand," I said. "But I'd prefer regular-sized frames."

He shrugged, offering a look of pity since I was so blatantly missing the fashion boat. "I'm sorry, Signora. We only have the larger frames. But why don't you try on a pair? I'm sure they would suit you."

Right. Okay, then. When in Rome, right? So I tried on a pair.

I felt like a bug.

Don't get me wrong...if I dressed like a fashion plate and looked something like this in huge glasses:

...then fine. But jeans and a shirt with remnants of dried toddler cookie smeared on the sleeve just doesn't ooze sophistication. I felt more like this woman:By this time, my toddler had flung his cookie at a dog that another customer had brought into the store, and was preparing to climb out of his stroller, so I started to leave.

And that's when I spotted them. In the corner of the store was a small display of last year's glasses.

Aha! I was smug as I brought a pair back to the counter to pay the (discounted) price. The man sniffed. "Oh. I'd forgotten we even had those."

They aren't the perfect pair of sunglasses--they slope up a little, and I would have preferred non-sloping frames. But at least the lenses aren't the size of grapefruits.

Here's a picture of me in my new shades taken by my 5-year-old budding photographer:

An Italian sunglass fashion "don't", I know...

Italians really do follow fashion trends, no matter what they are. All you have to do is sit in the main square, Piazza Unità, and you can tell what's in (and what's out--if I happen to be sitting in the square drinking coffee and you're looking right at me).

Last fall, orange was in, for example. Sure enough, every second person had on an orange sweater, jacket, or shirt. And those who didn't had probably just done a load of laundry, and the orange apparel was still drying out on the balcony.

I've accepted the fact that I'll be the only person in the square with reasonable-sized sunglasses. And for anyone with gigantic sunglasses who thinks I'm fashion-challenged, I have two words for you:



Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

I was all set to post something light-hearted when I heard about the shooting at Virginia Tech earlier this week. Being from Virginia, I know many people who attended Tech, and I'm as shocked as anyone. I read on CNN that the shooter was from the same county (Fairfax) where I'm from. But it really hit home when I learned this young man graduated from the same high school where my husband was a teacher. Although my husband never had this person in his classes, it makes me uneasy to think they walked the same halls at the same time.

People often ask me which I prefer: life in the U.S. or life in Italy. And I can never answer that question. There are things I love and don't love about both places. But for all the fun I poke at life in Italy, an event like the one at Virginia Tech reminds me of one of the best things about living in Italy: a sense of security.

My father-in-law was bewildered when we shipped our American mini-van here and he noticed the doors all lock automatically after you start up the engine.

"Why do they do that?" he asked.

"We're safer that way," I answered.

He looked puzzled, then replied: "Safer from what?"

I didn't bother going into the concept of carjacking. Or explain that Americans simply know to lock their doors when driving through certain neighborhoods. Or that "going postal" has become part of the American lexicon.

Italy has dangers of its own, of course. Drunk driving doesn't carry the same taboo that it does in the states, and no one's familiar with the concept of designated driver. At least half the people I see driving around don't even buckle up their children.

But I can walk anywhere in Trieste at night and feel safe, something I would never attempt in Washington, D.C. And with Italy's anti-gun laws, I can send my children to school without worrying about gunmen.

So which country is the safest place to raise children? I suppose it's more likely for someone to be hit by a drunk driver than become a victim of random violence. But still. If only I could combine the best of both places...that's where I'd want to raise my kids.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Buon Compleanno!

In honor of my youngest daughter's 5th birthday today, I thought I'd tell you how birthdays are celebrated here in Italy.
The photo on the right was taken almost three years ago, when my now-5-year-old daughter was 2, and my almost-8-year-old was 5. My husband's great aunt has the same birthday as my oldest daughter, so here they were blowing out the great aunt's numeral "80" candles plus 5 pink candles for my daughter. (Just an aside...notice the great aunt is wearing an undershirt, house dress and a wool sweater draped over her shoulders, while my daughters both have on short-sleeved shirts--it was 80 degrees outside).
Okay, then...on to Italian birthday parties for bambini. Here's how it usually breaks down:
3:30-- starting time for the party, as written on the invitation
4:00-- The first guests start showing up, with the last guests trickling in around 5:30. As soon as you arrive with the gift (no card), the birthday child grabs it, tears open the wrapping and flings the paper and ribbons to the ground for the mother to pick up (I think this is pretty much universal). The other children all pounce on the new toy and play with it until it either breaks, or ends up somewhere under the cake table. As you might imagine, there's no way of really keeping track of who gave which present--often the parents don't even see all the gifts until after the party ends. As such, it's impossible to send thank you notes, so no one ever does.
4:00-7:30-- The children run wild, while parents sit around sipping wine. Usually there is no theme or organized games, although lately I have seen some parties where the parents hire a teenager to run some games. Most people's apartments are too small to host parties, since kids usually invite their whole class. And children's parties are often a family affair, meaning each guest comes with parents and siblings, so indoor parties are typically held either in a church hall or a gym. The acoustics in these types of venues make the children's whoops and yells seem 75,000 times louder than usual. This, in my opinion, is why the parents sip wine (or at least it's why I sip wine).
The food varies a bit, but there are always pizzette (little pizzas), cheese, bread and deli meats, and often little sandwiches made of Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread that's quite possibly the best food ever invented). The kids usually drink soft drinks, especially aranciata (orange soda).
7:30-- Just when you think you can't take the chaos another second longer, they roll out the cake. The kids all gather round trying to blow out the candles before the birthday child gets to, usually resulting in tears ("It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to...). You'd think the parents of the candle-blower-outers would intervene, but nay...they're usually chatting (and still sipping) somewhere on the other side of the room.
The kids sing "Happy Birthday," which in Italian isn't really "Happy Birthday"--it translates to "Many good wishes to you...". Interestingly enough, they often then launch into the English rendition, which is cute with their accents...the Italian language doesn't have the "th" sound, so it comes out more like: "Happy Bert-day to you..."
After the cake, the kids are usually given little bags of candy as party favors. Then the parents start to gather their sugared-up kids and head for home, although some hang around for another hour or so.
So what do we have planned for our daughter's party? Tonight will be the family celebration at a pizzeria, then Sunday we'll have the party with her friends. We'll still have a theme and a few games, and I'm actually making the cake--you can find American cake mixes in the "gourmet foods" section of the supermarket for about 5 bucks per box. Ouch. But since Italians almost never make their own cakes, they always assume I made mine from scratch (shhhh). So that part is American.
As for the Italian side...I don't stress when the first guest shows up a half-hour late. I don't try to plan activities down to the last minute. I've stopped insisting that we bring out the cake by 5:00. I don't send thank-you notes (solely as an attempt to honor the culture of my host country, of course). And don't forget the wine. When in Rome, and all that...
Happy Birthday, Sofia!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Italy vs. Europe

Here's a link to a short video clip my friend Dana sent to me (grazie, Dana!):

The maker of this video, Bruno Bozzetto, kindly granted his permission to use this clip on my blog, but I can't figure out how to imbed it here (argh!), so I'm giving you the link instead.

It's worth a husband and I actually laughed out loud several times while watching. (Make sure the volume is turned up...)


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Move Over, Easter Bunny

Since I'm American and my husband is Italian, we've always tried to give our children the best of both worlds--two languages, two home countries, two cultures...and two kinds of Easter eggs.

In Italy, there is no Easter Bunny, not like there is in America. That's right, the Easter Bunny DOES exist. Yup. For sure. Definitely. (Can you tell my 7-year-old daughter is reading over my shoulder?) And the Easter Bunny does visit our house...he hops right over the Atlantic, carrying baskets for my children. Nice of him to make the effort, don't you think?

Italian kids don't dye eggs, they don't do the baskets with fake grass, and there are no Easter egg hunts. What they do have are these gigantic chocolate eggs wrapped in foil. This photo was taken at my in-law's house 3 years ago when my daughters were 4 and almost 2. As you can see, the package is almost as tall as my then 2-year-old. Each egg has a surprise inside--a stuffed animal, a game, etc.

They even have eggs for adults. Last Easter, my 23-year-old niece got an egg from her grandparents with a necklace inside. Some have scarves, some even have lingerie.

Three years ago, my girls were too young to be influenced by brand names. Ah, the innocence. Now that they're older, they don't just want any old egg--nay. It has to have their favorite cartoon characters or just the right prize inside. Ah, it warms the heart to think the real Easter message is coming through loud and clear, doesn't it? (??)

If you look closely, you'll notice more foil on the table behind my girls. Since there isn't an Easter Bunny to dole out the goodies, kids receive eggs from all the adults in their families--parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. And in Italy, most families aren't usually scattered across the country, as they often are in the U.S.

Let me tell you, this makes for a lot of eggs. Which makes for a lot of chocolate. Which makes for a lot of weight put on by loving parents like myself who are simply trying to save their children from becoming victims of chocolate overdose.

Oh, the sacrifices we parents make for our kids. (As I reach for another piece of chocolate... )

Monday, April 02, 2007

Naps...they aren't just for kids

Since my friend Tina asked about naps and the Italian workday, I thought I'd dive into that topic today.

My parents-in-law have neighbors with a yippy little dog who barks at anything that moves, including his own tail. As you might imagine, this dog is not exactly beloved by its neighbors.

One day the dog was yipping for a good 5 minutes straight, and my mother-in-law said, "How can they just let that dog keep barking? Especially at this time of day."

This time of day? I looked at the clock. It said 2:30. Not 2:30 in the morning, no. But 2:30 in the afternoon. That's when I realized Italians are serious about napping.

Most Italians start work at about 8:30 each morning, and go until 12:30 or 1:00. My daughter gets out of elementary school at 1:00 each day (and 12:30 on Saturdays). Then everyone schleps home for lunch, which usually lasts from about 1:30-2:30. This isn't the case in our house, where the mom (me) doesn't see lunch as the main meal of the day--unless you count peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as hefty mid-day fare. This means lunch at our house lasts from approximately 1:30-1:35.

Then it's time for a nap (except for parents with kids who no longer nap, of course).

Adults don't really admit they're taking a nap (una nanna) per se...they like to say they're reposing. Trust me--it's the same thing. It's kind of like the English equivalent of: "I'm not sleeping; I'm just resting my eyes." Right.

Between 3:30 and 4:30, it's back to work until about 7:30, and then home again for dinner at around 8:30.

I don't know about you, but I would completely lose steam if I went home for a nap everyday. The idea of getting out of a warm bed twice a day to go to work? I don't think so.

But on the weekends...I'm not one to shun local all customs, mind you.

Buon riposo!