Ten Insights into Italian Culture: #1 – Italian Communication
There are many stereotypes about the way in which Italians communicate. Most of these stereotypes manifest as shouting, excessive gesturing, pinching together the fingers of one hand interrogatively, and using exaggerated singsong cadences when mimicking an Italian accent. Well, I’m here to tell you to STOP it. Let go of your stereotypes and stop behaving like that; it is extremely insensitive and rude, and reflects an ignorance of the reality and cultural diversity of Italy.
In any country, shouting depends on trade. While miners, fishermen, and market sellers may do it to make their voices heard over the din, white-collar workers and other office workers may not. Depending on the major trade of a city, there may or may not be a historic tradition of shouting that has lived on even after a quieter social environment has been forged. And depending on which professional or socio-economic group of Italian immigrants may have moved into your neighborhood in your home outside of Italy, they may or may not have inherited the tradition of shouting, so do not assume that their ways of communicating apply to the entire nation from which they hail.
Also as in any country, accents––and how sing-songy they may sound––depend on the region of Italy you are in, and particularly on how the dialect spoken in that region influences the Italian accent of locals. Remember that Italian is a new language and Italians, particularly the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, are more likely to speak their local dialect at home than their national language. So, a particular accent you may hear will certainly depend on which part of Italy the person who spoke it is from. And since Italy, like many other Western European countries is very regional, very territorial, very…feudalistic still, if you will, in the sense of being proud of local culture and protective against the infiltration of warring cultural notions––it is extra offensive to impose your prejudices about one group of people from a particular region on other regions that have and fiercely protect their own traditions, culture, and identity. It tends to be the case that stereotypes about Italy in North America are fuelled by narrow observations of the major Italian immigrant groups to North America in the nineteenth century, which originated overwhelmingly from regions of southern Italy––such as Campania, Sicily, Puglia, Abruzzo, and Molise, in particular. Making generalizations, however true or false, and projecting them to an entire nation would be akin to thinking that everyone in the United Kingdom wears kilts and speaks Gaelic.
Gesticulation, particularly the well-known pinched-fingers gesture, is exceptionally a widespread practice throughout Italy, independent of region. It has its roots in the very practical need to facilitate communication between people from other towns who spoke completely different dialects, prior to the invention of the Italian language during the 1861 unification of Italy. Gesticulating was a way for people to cross language barriers and express thoughts, ideas, and emotions, and to trade and to run businesses, in a universal language.