It’s shaped like a boot

Italy celebrates it’s 150th birthday today. Buon compleanno Italia!

I know that might sound weird, especially because Italy is considered to be an “old” country with ancient Roman ruins that have been around for a lot longer than a “younger” country like the USA has. Well, all this is true, but this celebration of 150 years doesn’t represent the existence of Italy, but rather it’s unification. I’m not really that “into” history (nor do I know enough to really write a blog post about it) so I’ll be quick on the historic details so we can get to the heart of this blog post: different parts of Italy were conquered and ruled by different countries, different regimes, and different governments untill 150 years ago when the Resurgence took place to unify all of these territories into one state.

Given the shape of Italy on the map, perhaps its best to think in terms of a boot. Italy was a boot that had pieces manufactured by many different companies. The laces were from the Austrian Empire, the heel was from Napoleon, the sole was from the Kingdom of Sicily, the leather was from the Catholic Church, and the inner lining was from Garibaldi. Then, 150 years ago, the boot was re-manufactured according to new production laws and now it has a tag on the inside reading “100% Made in Italy“. Any of my blog readers who know their Italian history are probably shuddering in horror at this metaphor right now, but I think it’s a cute way to sum it all up! 🙂

All these different ruling entities, each with their own language and culture, helps to explain how Italy is so vastly different from region to region.

Take the USA, for example. It’s true that in Boston we don’t pronounce the “r” and that the southern states have an accent all their own. It’s true that the northeast has Wendy’s and the east coast has Jack-in-the-Box. But in the end, even though we’re a really spacious country, we Americans are all speaking the same language and all eating the same type of cheeseburger.

On the other hand, in Italy, which just go give you and idea is smaller than the state of California (and we got 49 more freakin’ states!), the language, culture, and food changes dramatically from one region to another.

As far as language goes, Italy has two of ’em: standard Italian and dialects. Standard Italian was created so that all Italians coming from the various unified regions could communicate with each other. Before the creation of Italian, everybody just spoke dialect (a local regional language influenced by whatever party was ruling over that particular chunk of Italy). These dialects are not merely “accents” but languages all unto their own. Somebody from Bergamo and somebody from Naples, somebody from Sardegna and somebody from Florence, wouldn’t be able to really understand each other if they were all speaking in their own regional dialects. Dialects have their own vocabulary, own grammar, own spelling, and own pronunciation. Just take a look at the different words for the Carneval snacks in different dialects from my previous blog post. If somebody is speaking dialect in a movie or on the news, they even put subtitles in Italian so that people from other parts of Italy can understand! Isn’t that crazy??? I mean, Americans may have some regional words (sub vs. hero vs. hoagie vs. grinder) but if I spoke with somebody from Chicago or Atlanta I’d still know what they were saying!

Another part of Italian culture that has been strongly influenced by all the former non-unified regions is the food. Certian types of food, like pizza and lasagna, can be found all over Italy, but there are lots of types that are region-specefic that are hard or even impossible to find outside of the region, like Bologna’s gramigna pasta (a squiggly egg pasta), Venice’s sarde in saor (fried sardines and onions), Milan’s ossobuco (braised veal shank), or Sicily’s capunata (eggplant and celery salad).

gramigna
sarde in saor
ossobuco
capunata

I mean, this isn’t like going to the grocery store in California and not finding the same brand of hot sauce or ice tea mix that I can get back in Boston… it’s like not finding these things at all! Plus, being that a lot of these local foods have names that come from dialect, people in other parts of Italy won’t even know what the hell food you’re talkin’ about!

It just really blows my mind that I can take a seven hour flight from Boston to San Diego, step off of the plane and be able to speak with people and know what food there is to be had, but if I take a 2 hour train ride in Italy, I risk entering a world where I don’t know what people of saying nor what that delicious looking cheese in the deli window is!

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21 thoughts on “It’s shaped like a boot

  1. Don’t forget you are 50% Irish today my friend…It’s tattied on that arm! Dorchestah? Hello?
    Can’t wait to see you in May!
    p.s. – Sarde in saor looks NASTY. Will NOT be-eating that…

  2. Well, there are some misunderstandings 🙂
    The dialects are somehow getting lost in italy, most young people can’t talk it or know it just a bit. Some dialect words diffused in all italy, especially dirty or curse words (of course). But you don’t need to learn a new dialect if you move from one region to another 🙂
    The pronounciation nuances of dialects, instead, affect heavily the pronunciation of our italian, if you come there you can hear it.
    And, two thingsr about food:
    – of course, you’re talkin’ ’bout recipes, not food. The food is all available in all italy, apart from, let’s say, some specific types of pasta, or some types of cheese, or things like that.
    – often recipes are exclusive of one place or the other, but really often small variations of the same recipe are diffused in different parts of italy with different names. So, for example, you can find lots of different recipes for ossobuco, all “traditional” and “local” ones, scattered around italy.

    • It’s true that dialect is slowly being forgotten by the younger generations as “standard Italian” takes more of a hold. However, if you step off of the train in Naples and ask directions to a group of older people, you’ll be pretty screwed if you don’t speak the local dialect!

      For food, yes the “combinations” of ingredients that make different recipes can be hard to find in different regions. But certian foods too! I moved to Milan from Bologna 3 years ago and I STILL can’t find gramigna anywhere! :-O

  3. Io cmq son friulana. E il friulano, il sardo e il ladino sono riconosciute in italia come delle lingue effettive al pari della lingua italiana.

    Cioè tu pensa in che genere di sbattimenti lo Stato si va ad impantanare anzichè pensare alle cose serie.

    Cheppoi io il friulano non lo so manco scrivere e quando lo parlo ci infilo un po’ di milanese e un po’ di italiano. Cose che se non mi conoscessi non mi capirei nemmeno.

  4. Happy birthday Italia and the food’s not bad either. We do lots of international Italian in Turkey. Turkish food gets a bit dull after a while (but don’t tell our hosts).

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