Interview With a Comasco
30 October, 2017
Welcome to my interview series featuring cultural perspectives from nationals of different countries around the world. This month, I’m happy to introduce you to a native Comasco, who was born and raised in Como, Italy.
A little background: Como is both the name of a province and the name of the capital city of that province, both of which are located in the region of Lombardy.
Today, our guest Comasco will talk to us about what it’s like to live in the City of Como and will share some cross-cultural comparisons between Comasco culture, Italian culture, and broadly speaking, North American culture.
Hello, dear Comasco, and welcome to the interview.
1. Could you tell us a little bit more about the City of Como and, more specifically, what it’s like to live there––in terms of the vibe, the mood, and the lifestyle?
Comasco: Como is a very nice city to live in. In Italian terms, it’s a medium-sized city, but in global terms, it’s a small city. It has its own traditions, and traditional bars and activities…it is changing a bit, but…if you enter the city from porta torre, you will have the impression of entering into a fief that has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages (or even earlier). When you spend time in Como for some period of time, you start to see the same people…it is a small town. If you meet someone new, it is highly probable that you will see them again. Most locals know each other…although they are not necessarily friends. The lifestyle is nice, refined, a cozy atmosphere…not too exciting––young people often complain that there are not many activities)…but just outside of town, there are some additional attractions for young folks.
2. What sort of foods are typical of the province of Como? What are some of the staples and delicacies?
Comasco: We do not have a staple that is from Como. I would say that, like many other Italians, we frequently eat pasta. However, our “typical” food is unique. We have polenta with different stews (rabbit, cow, and even––but rarely, don’t worry––horse and donkey). And the most typical food is risotto with minsoltini (the typical fish from the lake that is salted and preserved). For delicacies, we have an eastern sweet bread called resta (which has, inside, a branch from an olive tree).
3. What are the main economic activities in the province of Como, and how do these affect people’s lifestyle?
Comasco: Silk, silk, silk. Como has been the leading city in the world for silk production for centuries. This has been both the fortune and the disgrace of the city. The silk production historically passed through ups and downs, the ups bringing wealth and the downs bringing poverty to the city. In the last 30 years, much of the production has been off-shored (but not all!). Still, Como remains the number one city in the world for refined ties and scarves. Clearly, there is much more going on. As in any other city, Como has a variety of vibrant economic activities, mostly based on a dense network of small and medium enterprises that make Como one of the richest cities in Italy and in Europe.
4. What are some cultural attributes that are unique to Como, in comparison to the rest of Italy?
Comasco: You understand that you are a Comasco when you go to live with Italians from other regions and you address them, and they look at you with a lost expression…as usual, due to the influence of expressions from the local dialect––even when we think to speak 100% Italian, some words are not understandable by others. For example, I was living with two doctors from Veneto, and they left me a post-it: “Please prepare the tegoline” for dinner…I was lost…I would expect something like “prepara i cornetti”…that in official Italian is instead fagiolini. When it comes to fruits and vegetables and toponyms (eg, la vasca, which can mean a specific place downtown for one Italian and bathtub for another Italian), it is a mess to understand each other. For the rest, we are more Swiss than others…a bit stricter on time, deadlines, etc…(but careful––do not tell a Como guy that he is like a Swiss!)
5. Are there any sort of rivalries (whether in sport, food, or another aspect) between the province of Como and other provinces in Italy?
Comasco: We have a historic rivalry with Lecco. Until not long ago, it was part of Como province…but they felt independent, different, and distant from Como (Lecco is just 20 mins by car from Como city, and 99% the same culture…but it is always the 1% that make a fief, a parish, a feeling of being different!). Other than that, I would not say that we have rivalries but just some stereotypes: about Milan (ie, the big polluted city where there is always fog..though, when we are in Rome, we defend Milan); about the Swiss…that they are coming to Como to congest our supermarkets and that they empty the ashtrays from their cars into our parking lots (although, Swiss products unanimously have a better reputation than Italian products).
6. Italy is a very parochial country, with each region and province having its own dialects, traditions, and in many cases, historical trajectories. What are some things that a person from another part of Italy would be confused about if they visited Como?
Comasco: Depending on which region you are from, you can be confused, highly confused, or just a bit confused…let’s say that it is a matter of distance from Como (this is a good proxy)…the confusion can be, generally speaking, about some verbal expressions, about habits, or about ways of doing things.
7. Have you noticed any striking differences between Comasco culture and North American culture?
Comasco: Yes, almost everything is different. The language, the way people take the bus (line vs no line)…the food is completely different––and even what is passed off as Italian food is just a fake version…they way people drink coffee is different (they take an hour, instead of a second)…there are too many differences to name.
8. Are there any similarities you’ve noticed between Comasco culture and North American culture?
Comasco: They are completely different worlds…but there are some similarities. To start with, in Montreal the most spoken language is French. The dialect of Como had a strong French influence. Hence, It was simple as a Comasco to learn French. Mutatis mutandis, in Italy we are considered among the coldest cities in Italy [temperature-wise], and here, Montreal is considered among the coldest cities in North America. For the rest…I guess we enter into differences….
9. What are your observations of the state of tourist-local relations in the City of Como, in terms of the behaviour of tourists and their interactions with Como residents?
Comasco: People in Como are pretty used to tourists since long ago. For generations, we have been used to listening to German, French, English, and other languages being spoken in the streets. I would say that the typical Comasco would be nice and polite to tourists and provide information if asked (even if most of the time they cannot say a word in any other language besides Italian), but they will not be super warm.
10. What advice would you give people who are planning to visit the City of Como, to help them adapt better to the local culture?
Comasco: As usual, collect information about the city and its culture in advance, remain for at least 6 months, avoid tourists, find an activity to do with locals…and be careful to not undermine the social network and structure that has been in place in the fief for centuries.
Thank you so much for spending time with us today and sharing your insights on the Comasco lifestyle and culture. I hope your insights will inspire my readers not only to visit Como someday but, more importantly, to have a better understanding of the cultural context of that city, so that they can practice more culturally sensitive and responsible travel. Enjoy the rest of your week, and thanks again for your time!
If there are other aspects of the lifestyle and culture in the City of Como that you would like to learn about, please leave your question in the comments section.