Cultural and Personal Bonding
Another thing for sure about Italians is that they are still a nation as divided as it was before the Roman Emperors forced the warring principalities to unite. Napolitanas and Sicilianos mix together almost as well as the oil and vinegar they so love to put on their antipastos.
Sicilians think of Napolitans as akin to trailer park trash. So instead of saying “Go to Hell” a Sicilian will tell you “Vai a Napoli.” Napolitanas on the other hand do not think that Sicily should be a part of Italy, preferring to think of the boot shaped Italian Peninsula as a geographic representation of a soccer player kicking the Island further out toward the coast of Northern Africa.
Later in life, if another Italian asked me about my geographic heritage, I would get him to proudly tell his own first, and then lie about it if I had to, depending on his response. Whatever he said he was, I said I was the same.
What difference could it possibly make anyway if my ancestors or his ancestors came from Naples or from Sicily or from the Vatican, for that matter? I thought we were all only plain generically boring Americans.
Then if I met someone of Irish heritage who would precipitate a bigoted query about my last name, I would tell him that although my father was Italian, my mother was Irish. The inquiring “Mick” would then usually mutter something pitiable about my mongrel genetic other half, but would then predictably buy me a drink or two. This would be followed by slapping me on the back as a fellow compatriot when the oil of the alcohol started lubricating the wheels of his pious bigotry. If he had known instead I was half Protestant Orangeman, Crypto-Jew, but not Purple Irish Catholic, he probably would have shouted one of those idiotic Sein Fein slogans they all seem to memorize like the alphabet; while putting me at risk to regurgitate the beer after the proverbial, predictable, pugilistic Irish gut punch. Brother against brother and only because they worship the same God in a different way, the Irish have been fighting that war for over a thousand years. So what else is new?
Because I also happen to have a first name that can be typically Jewish, I could lie about that as well if a Jewish person, usually a patient, furtively said:
- So, Alan…is that a Jewish name, Alan? Are you Jewish then, Alan?
- Well you should be, Alan. With a first name like that, you should be Jewish you know.
- OK. In my next life, I’ll try to fix that.
Or, if I happen to be in a mischievous mood I reply with the cryptic truth:
- Yes, my mother was Jewish.
This creates instant bonding, and seems to put the person at immediate ease. The only problem being that after the proverbial sigh of relief, they invariably start in with the Yiddish. My Jewish roommate in Medical School had taught me a few phrases, but when it comes right down to the nuances of the Schlemiel or the Schlimazel, I soon become hopelessly lost and risk blowing my cover.
I discovered that I could always weasel my way out of the predictable cultural gibberish by saying that my mother was a convert, who never allowed us to speak Yiddish in the household, and that my father actually forced her to raise us as Catholics. This invariably tends to raise either sympathetic or horrified discontented, sadly resigned eyebrows, with myself wishing I had never lied in the first place so I would not have to tell another one to cover it up.
On the very personal level, the same patient when coming to my office for a first visit, then asking me if I was all or part Jewish, started the interview before I could even open my mouth, by stating:
- Now Alan, I am always in the habit of calling all my doctors by their first name, Alan. So you don’t mind if I call you Alan, do you Alan?”
I thought to myself: Yes, I do mind, Mr. Schmuck; because I perceive my role here to be more in the way of being your doctor, as opposed to being your instant and super-fine, part Jewish, or might be Jewish, or should be all Jewish new best friend.
But I never did ask how much credit I would still get by disclosing the fact that I am 2% Jewish. Maybe a deep retail discount?
It is truly amazing how much credibility people of all races, all cultures and all heritages put into such nonsense, yet how at ease they become, or how typically good they automatically feel when they think you are a quasi-clone of themselves.
This is not ever withstanding the fact, of course, that you might happen to be the worst human being that God ever put on this little ball of orbiting dust. That, of course does not count for anything.
So it’s up the long ladder
And down the short rope.
To hell with King Billy
And God bless the Pope.
And if that doesn’t do
We’ll tear ‘em in two.
Then we’ll send ‘em to hell
With his Red, White and Blue.
(Irish Sein Fein terrorist slogan.)
“There is no mafia”
Grandpa DeCarlo and his Cronies
Birds of a feather…flock together