I am a proud woman from Modena. Modenese, we say.
This is, of course, a huge headache for many of my friends and many acquaintances I somehow got all around the world, mainly in small Salzburg. The city of the Sound of Music hosts me for the Ph.D. and was not exactly prepared to be confronted with such a proud, humorous, loud, attached to (her own) tradition Modenese “Karriere-Hausfrau“. Stereotypes about Italians and commercialisation of a standardized kind of culture and products from Italy prepared an environment as cosy as Carso trenches for me… I am lucky that the Salzburger were and are quite open to the idea of drinking Lambrusco wine and eating a lot of pork (they cook a lot of pork dishes too).
One of my favourite series, The Nanny, featured an episode delivering some lines I somehow found familiar as soon as I heard them(The Passed-Over Story). Recently I was finally able to see the episode in English and I got to appreciate these lines and to match them with my experience; in the Italian broadcasting I used to watch around year 2000 the Fine family was changed into an Italo-American family and therefore the whole situation changed. Here the lines:
Niles: Sylvia has invited us over for the Jewish holiday.
Maxwell Sheffield: Now, is this the holiday Miss Fine said you can’t eat all day, then stuff yourself? Or the one where you light candles, then stuff yourself? Or the one where you build a straw hut, then stuff yourself?
Niles: I believe it’s the one where you hide crackers from small children, then stuff yourself.
Maxwell Sheffield: Ah, Passover.
Yes, definitely. Modenese do stuff themselves for holidays as well ( and birthdays, and weddings, and First Communions, and Confirmations, and Graduations…). We 1) dress ourselves up 2) eat a lot 3) drink a lot of Lambrusco wine (to digest all the pork and fat…) 4) most of us, especially young people, have to be loud, dance and so on.
I still remember the first group of Salzburger visiting me in Modena (September 2009) telling me that on their “free” evening they had to order a cheeseburger with fries at the Irish Pub I left them in, because they “could not manage to eat Modenese once more, it’s too fat (I had a family dinner, my father’s birthday. If I recall exactly: tortellini, roasted pork and potatoes, wine, a lot of desserts. Ended up in a whole family widening belts in the living room. The only difference with the Fine family? We are Catholics). That is why I immediately connected Niles and Maxwell with my own Austrian friends and I imagined them having the same discussion as the two Englishmen in New York. “What are they commemorating today? Oh, and what do they do? Go to mass then stuff themselves? Or sing something then stuff themselves? Or exchange presents after stuffing them selves?”.
What does the world know about people from Modena? A journalist and friend of mine, Gabriele Testi, once told me: “tDo you know? The most famous Italian in the world are Luciano Pavarotti – from Modena – , Enzo Ferrari – guess what? from Modena! – , Benito Mussolini – not from Modena but from Predappio” which – I explain – is, I believe, an hour and a half drive from us. As an historian I can also tell you that he used to be quite active in Modena before he became the Duce. Nevertheless – Gabriele quickly remarked and concluded – only a few really know where Modena is and what we are.
I travelled and travel a lot. Furthermore, I know people from all around the world. I am also currently teaching Italian as a private teacher. This gives me the opportunity to tell my “pupils” that Italy has many sides (as Austria does, actually! And Germany…as well! and…and…). For many of them it is easy to listen and get interested in all those different dialects, cuisines, aspects. Others are quite surprised. Some are quite shocked and cannot believe they just got some commercial stereotype made up to sell them a pre-packed image: it takes a while until they agree that there is no way whole Italy can be the same from the Austrian border to Africa. A few even reacted bad, almost pissed-off. I somehow destroyed their dreams (!), or they felt insulted. (I should have been insulted for being sold as liar, or as stupid and ignorant, and for not being able to insult people better than that. I can be much more hasty and nasty!!!).
note: I am constantly integrating the text, so it will change often. I will be pleased if you notice typing errors (I always do them…) or if you are a native speaker and have suggestions to make my sentences better!