Italian Tidbits

Today I just have 3 quick and random things that I wanted to share with you. These lil’ tidbits aren’t really substantial enough to merit blog posts unto themselves, so I’ve decided to stick ‘em all together here for a lovely *guazzabuglio of Italian things.

1) McDonald’s, Italian Style

Beer at McDonald's

Beer at McDonald’s

There are two things about McDonald’s in Italy that would never function in the USA. Firstly, you have to pay for condiments here. Not on the sandwiches themselves, but like, if you want extra dipping sauces for your nuggets or even ketchup and mayonnaise for your fries. Americans love their condiments and sauces way too much for such a thing to work. While an Italian can pay ten cents and make do with one ketchup packet, Americans need to drown things and would probably spend more money on the sauces than on the actual food itself. The other thing is that Italian McDonald’s serves beer! Good stuff, too! Peroni! Italians are more responsible than Americans when it comes to drinking. They can have one beer with their value meal, and move on. In America, beer at McDonald’s would turn into a sh!tshow and there would be people puking in the ball pit.

2) Gucci Fashion Map

Gucci Map

Gucci Map – Front

Gucci Map - Back

Gucci Map – Back

Everybody knows that Milan is a European fashion capital. But did you know that Gucci has actually made a sort of fashion map to help you find their various stores around the city. Crazy, right? And this map only includes the actual Gucci stores and official retail spots, not  stores where Gucci happens to be sold together with other brands. I just think this is so cool! In fact, I had one hanging up in our bathroom for a while! Talk about taking a fashion shower!

3) Shutter Holders Thingys

Italian Shutter Holders

Italian Shutter Holders

I’m not sure exactly how to call these things in Italian or English, but they’re the things that you use to hold window shutters open and flush against the house. I’ve really Googled the crap out of these things to try and find out more information on them, but have been largely unsuccessful. Besides learning that they are popular in France too, I haven’t been able to figure out much so I’m just going to have to go on what I’ve heard from other people regarding these things. Looking at the photo, you’ll note that when the shutter holder thingy is in the up position you can see the face of a man, and when it’s down you can see the face of a woman. Cute, aren’t they? Well, rumor has it that these faces are supposed to represent Giuseppe Garibaldi and Anita Garibaldi. I haven’t been able to “officially” verify this, but at this point my blog is all the authority you need, right? ;-P

* If you don’t remember what guazzabuglio means, click here for the Italian Phrasebook.

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Italian Superstitions: Touch Yourself

This is the second installment of my Italian Superstitions series (for the first one, click here).

I had planned on eventually getting around to blogging about the superstition that I’m going to talk to you guys about today, but the other day I was talking to my Mom on the phone and I had mentioned this superstition to her. She thought it was so funny that she immediately yelled to my Aunt (who was visiting) “Get over here and listen to this!”. Being that it got such a good response from my Mom and Aunt, I was prompted to up this one to priority status on my list of things to write about and that’s why you guys are getting this lil’ gem right now.

The two ladies that got such a kick out of an Italian superstition: my Mom and Auntie Bev

So, in America we knock on wood to ward off evil, right? Well, in Italy they touch iron. Now, while that is a fun little fact to know about Italian culture, it isn’t really interesting enough to merit its own blog post and it’s certainly not what my Mom found to be so funny.

Grabbin’ myself, Michael Jackson style!

The thing that made my Mom laugh so hard is the other thing that Italians do which is equivalent to knocking on wood (or touching iron): touching themselves. Yes, you read that right. Italians touch themselves to ward off evil, and I’m not talking about touching their heads or noses or hearts. They touch their … *ahem* … intimate bits.

If someone says something like “I sure hope your house didn’t catch fire while you were out” to an Italian guy, he will grab his balls to avoid tempting fate. If someone says something like “Maybe your scratch will get infected and the doctors will have to amputate your entire arm” to an Italian girl, she will grab her left breast in order to assure that it doesn’t happen.

So guys, if you’re in Italy, it is perfectly acceptable to touch your testes if you want to keep evil things at bay. And ladies, make sure that it’s your left breast that you grab. I’m not sure what happens if you touch your right one, but I think when it comes to things like superstitions, it’s better not to take any risks.

Italian Superstitions: Corno

Italians all say “we’re not superstitious“. Don’t believe them. That’s a lie. Italians are most definitely superstitious. Even some of the most sensible and logical Italians I know are still inexplicably superstitious.

I thought it’d be fun to kick off 2012 with the first in a series of posts based on Italians’ ideas on fortuna and sfortuna (good luck and bad luck). I always like to start on a positive note, so today let’s talk about good luck.

Red Coral Corno

The most popular Italian good luck charm is by far the corno (the horn).

The origin of the corno is said to stem from the Old European moon goddess, before the rise of Christianity, and it’s supposed to protect you from the dreaded evil eye.

The corno is traditionally made from reddish/pinkish coral that predominately grows in the Mediterranean sea surrounding Italy, and is worn around the neck as a charm. Although today you can see it in lots of forms including silver, gold, and even plastic key chain versions which you can easily find in any tacky souvenir shop in Italy.

Plastic Key Chain Corno

These good luck charms are so popular that you can see them in America too. If you’re Italo-American then you probably already know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, then go ask one of your friends with an Italian last name if they know about the corno. I’ll bet they do!

Now I’m not superstitious, but I do have a corno that I often wear. I’ve been living here a while now, and certain things have rubbed off on me!

Paired with my hairy chest, I’d say that it’s pretty darn Italian of me! :-)

My Corno

Do you guys have any preferred good luck charms? Leave me a comment and share yours!

Here’s to a 2012 filled with good luck for all my readers!

The Christmas Witch

Buon Natale a tutti!

My non-Italian readers may find the above picture to be strangely out-of-place during the Holiday season. It seems more like a Halloween thing rather than a Christmas one, doesn’t it?

Well, this witch with a heart of gold is very Christmasy in Italy. Her name is La Befana (or “Beffy” as I like to call her). She flies around on her broomstick and fills the stockings of  little boys and girls on the night of January 5th for the Christian holiday called Epiphany on the 6th. She gives candy and small toys to good children and coal to bad ones, just like Santa Claus does in America.

In the USA we have Santa that does both presents under the tree and the stockings while Italians have Babbo Natale (Santa Clause in Italian) for Christmas presents under the tree and La Befana for the stockings at the beginning of January.

Apparently, Italian Santa Claus was too busy enjoying “la bella vita” to get around to taking care of stockings, so he enlisted the help of the good witch.

Personally, I think it’s kind of cool to have the gifts split up between two different holidays that are close together. Getting presents on multiple days is sort of like a mini Hanukkah!

Well, I hope you’ve all been good this year or Beffy will be leaving you a lump of coal. If you’re lucky, maybe she’ll give you some candy coal instead of the real thing!

Italian fashion(able) police

Italians have many more branches of the police than we Americans do.

We have, what, just the local police and state police? Am I missing any here? Luckily, I haven’t had much experience with the police in America, so I’m not too sure.

Well Italians have lots of different types of police strolling around town – 8 to be exact. The only ones that I can think of right now are the polizia (civil police), carabinieri (military police) guardia di finanza (financial guard), and polizia di stato (state police), though that’s only half of ‘em.

Honest to God, I’ve been living in Italy for almost 6 years now and I still have no idea exactly what each different faction does or who the hell I would call in case of need. Luckily, I haven’t had much experience with the police in Italy either.

If you want more details on all the different types of Italian police, check out the Wikipedia page because  I am definitely not the right guy to be teaching you about these things. I’m not here to give you all the specifics on what roles the Italian police fulfill, but rather I wanted to tell you about how gosh-darned snazzy they are! Not only does their fleet include the super-cool Lamborghini police car (no, that picture at the beginning is not a fake!), but they are always dressed to the nines!

Rumor has it that either Valentino or Armani have designed some of the different types of police uniforms being used today in Italy. Neither the Italians that I’ve spoken to, nor my research on the internet has been able to officially prove or disprove this, so I guess I should just chalk it up to a possibly true urban legend. (If any of you readers have any knowledge on this, please let me know). However, it certainly could be true, I mean look at these tailor-fit fashionable Italian police uniforms:

Excuse me, how friggin’ Italian are these last two policemen? Smoking cigarettes, dark chopper sunglasses, tight pants, and a hand gesture that seems to say “why’s this guy gotta bust my chops!”. It’s stereotypically delicious!

A dangerous wind is a-blowin’

Italy does have doctors, and medicine, and science, and people who think logically and have common sense. However, this country also has this “old world” cuckoo-crazy belief in something called colpo d’aria.

 This colpo d’aria thing is like an Italian person who dislikes Vasco Rossi music or a sidewalk in Italy without more cars illegally parked on it than in the street itself: it doesn’t exist.

Now, I’m sure that my Italian readers are rolling their eyes and saying that I’m just  “a crazy American guy”, but I stand by my belief that this colpo d’aria thing isn’t real. It doesn’t exist.

By this point I guess I should go ahead and tell you what this mysterious (and non-existent) colpo d’aria is. Well, it’s an Italian belief that cold blowing air or “draft” can negatively effect your health in a myriad of ways and is basically responsible for any medical condition or ache and pain that can’t be otherwise explained.

Got a stiff neck? Colpo d’aria!

Throbbing pain in your knee? Colpo d’aria!

Feel dizzy and weak? Colpo d’aria!

A chainsaw cut off your entire friggin’ hand? Colpo d’aria!

So, what do you think? Colpo d’aria: myth or fact?