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Living Slow in Italy - Wanted: Italian Blood Donors

Valerie Schneider

The more time we spend in Italia the more I have become convinced that we have drawn the short end of the gene-pool stick.

Sure, I have some Italian heritage in my background, but not enough. My family went to America too long ago, and too much other blood has infiltrated my genetics for me to reap the full benefits that being Italian bestows.

This fact became quite obvious to us recently. During a conversation with our landlords we discussed the immensity of the bureaucratic process that we had to go through to get here. We told them about receiving our permesso di soggiorno after a seven month wait, only to resign ourselves to another round of wrangling when we dutifully went to the powers that be to update our address in Ascoli. That was in January. Supposedly our updated permessi will be ready at the end of May. The Christmas surprise, if you didn't read the update, was that the permessi are valid until the end of 2008. We related the entirety of the story to our landlords, who nodded knowingly at the infamy of their governmental processes. They were thrilled that we'd be able to stay until the end of next year, though. Well, not exactly. We have official permission to stay that long, but not enough funds to support ourselves for that lengthy period, we said. We would need to find some source of income to stay beyond the end of 2007.

That's when we realized that we have been dealt the wrong genetic hand. "Mah!" exclaimed Dorina. "Tell your parents you want to stay longer. They'll send you the money." Bryan and I exchanged high-browed sidewise glances. Not mine; how about yours? No way. We spent the next half-hour explaining American parental cruelty, how we're thrown out of the house at college-age and left to find our own way in the world and make something of ourselves. The landlords were horrified. But … our parents pay for college, Bryan added weakly. This did not impart an iota of consolation to our listeners, who now think American parents seriously lacking in their parental duties. Mah! We're only in our forties! How could our parents be so horrid as to cast us off like this?

Arriving home, we laughed about their reaction and relayed the story to our parents, who were not sufficiently moved by our landlords' horror to offer up any means of financial support as Dorina had so adamantly insisted they should. Which came as absolutely no surprise to either of us.

A week later while visiting with Roman friends, we mentioned the incident laughingly, figuring they knew enough of our culture to see the comic contrast. Their initial response was wholly unexpected. "Well, they wouldn't need to help you now since you sold the house they purchased for you in order to come here. They've already done their part." Whoa! Back up the truck! Our house was built solely on our own hard-won incomes and hard labor, with a bit of paint-brush assistance from Bryan's dad. The friends were incredulous. What do you mean your parents didn't buy you a house? That is their duty! That is a basic necessity they should provide! In our dreams, we said. We have not one American friend who had received such assistance, we explained. They tried to not appear too dumfounded, without success.

But then, their 35-year old son still lives at home and has been unemployed for two years. They cannot understand his lack of luck in finding a good job. Why would he even bother trying, we surmise, when he has a house, a car, food, and expenses all paid and provided by dear ol' dad.

It's a common refrain we've been hearing lately. Sure, we'd known about the mammoni, the free-loading kids (mostly male, we're told) who take advantage of their parents, milking them for all it's worth. But there is something more going on here; a deeper sensibility of what parental duty should be that we find fascinating for its absolute difference to our own upbringings. Not that we were lacking, mind you. Our parents were not negligent. At least, we hadn't thought so until now.

Our next door neighbor has lamented to me about her daughter's divorce, how difficult it is for their five-year old granddaughter and how it is utterly necessary for the daughter and child to move into the vacant apartment across the hall. They have taken out a lease on the place and will be paying her rent, never mind that they puchased for the house in which the daughter currently resides. Why the ex-husband remains in the house is a mystery; when I inquired, the signora gave me a glance that showed I'm dim-witted to not comprehend the need for the daughter to be here in the bosom of la mamma. But, she said, you're mamma would, of course, do the same for you in such a circumstance. Yes, of course. I didn't bother trying to explain the truth to her. When my mom pays a visit soon, I don't want the signora thinking her guilty of child abuse.

Bryan took all this accumulated information on parenting to his friend, the neighborhood barista, who needed no incentive to go off on a tangent. He railed for about thirty minutes about the mammoni, how indulgent parents are, how kids have too much handed to them here, how it should be more like it is in America. My goodness, they should learn to work harder! How do they think they're going to learn how to manage a household and their own families? They don't know how to perform basic cleaning tasks, he said. But, he added a bit sheepishly, he may be jealous. His mother died when he was young and so he wasn't given the opportunity of being a mammone, to decide if he'd have enjoyed that path of life. "It's a pity. You are an American Italian. You should have been born in Italy," he told me.

Yes. Which got me to thinking. Since I don't have quite enough Italian blood in my own veins, maybe a blood transfusion could work. If we can gather together some of these generous Italian parents to donate blood, and if we infuse it into our parents, then maybe they'll start to become more "Italian", more duty-bound toward their parental obligations. Maybe they'll see the need to purchase a house for their poor, young children. Maybe a bank account would be set up with monthly deposits.

I doubt it, too. But it's worth a try. We're all about adapting to the cultural experience, you know. We'd give the mammone thing a whirl.


Valerie Schneider is a freelance writer, who lived in New Mexico for twenty years before trading the high desert for the medieval hill towns of Italy in May, 2006. She is a regular contributor to Slow Travel, pens travel agency newsletters, and has written for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. She and her husband, Bryan, currently reside in Ascoli Piceno where they conduct small-group tours called Panorama Italy. Read more on her blog, 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree. See Valerie's Slow Travel Member page.

© Valerie Schneider, 2007

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