We Sicilians Want Some Privacy, Capeesh?

Yesterday, someone in Belarus hacked into my Facebook account. What did the Slavonic sod want? What did he find out about me?

I have images of him in my head, in his standard-issue East European shell suit trousers, toasting his friends with a bottle of Stolichnaya in one hand and a samovar full of beetroot soup in the other, dolefully singing “Kalinka my Love” together to celebrate the fact that they finally have the password to a valid Amazon account, and can order their suicidally depressing 8,000-page Russian novels online from someone else’s bank account.

What Russians drink instead of tea

Or is he a pedophile who downloaded photos of all my friends’ kids? and now knows where they live?

Of course we don’t need to be hacked to have our privacy invaded. Facebook does it for us. You keep saying “No Thanks” to Timeline and, next thing you know, you have it anyway.

Suddenly all your comments about your Mother-in-law’s fetish for sausages, and photos documenting the time you accidentally emptied an entire ice-cream cornet down your cleavage, are viewable by “public” instead of “friends only.” One of  your contacts comments on a photo you’ve posted, so now all their friends can see it too.

You decide to politely click “like” on a random article you read online, about how to write a novel so bestselling it will leave Stephenie Meyer in the gutter, and mysteriously there’s an announcement to all your Facebook contacts that “The Sicilian Housewife likes The Twilight Saga” accompanied by a photo of a topless, oiled Taylor Lautner smouldering at the camera (or possibly having contact lens trouble, it’s hard to tell.) Not only this, but the author of the article is now one of your “friends” and can read everything you have ever put on Facebook.

The Sicilian Housewife is old enough to be this boy’s mother. She hopes her own boy will grow up to be as rich as him, though not necessarily so shiny.

Sicilians have a totally different way of doing privacy. An excellent way. Read on for instructions.

At first sight they don’t understand privacy. The Italian language has no word for it. In an Italian-English dictionary, you are offered words which mean intimacy, isolation, or solitude as a translation for privacy. The Italian solution to this linguistic shortfall is simply to use the English word, pronounced very badly with an Italian accent: praaaivasee.

It is a trendy buzz word in Sicily these days. This is probably because of La Legge Sulla Privacy, or ‘The Law About Privacy,’ which is what the Italians call their version of the Data Protection Act. Sicilians love this law because it gives them a universal, infallible excuse for laziness and incompetence. “No I can’t give you your blood test results because of the Legge sulla privacy.” “No I can’t give you any money out of your bank account because of the Legge sulla privacy.” “No I can’t move my car out of the way of your garage door because of the Legge sulla privacy.”

One of my neighbours, Mrs. Greenfingers, planted a row of luscious leafy plants along her railings last summer, which created a bit of dappled shade and reduced the x-ray view passers-by had into her living room by about ten percent. Everyone in the street praised her on this wonderful idea for obtaining a bit of privacy. Sorry, I mean praaaivasee.

neighbours garden
A simulation of what the neighbours’ Praivaseeee may look like in a few decades if she waters it with 300 litres a day and The Godmother stops snapping leaves off it

My Mother-in-law (rendered internationally famous by this very blog, under her alias The Godmother) liked it more than anyone. Every time she came to visit us, she would stop, bend over and peer through it, looking for a suitable hole through which to check whether the neighbour was at home. The Godmother wanted a good look at her privacy. Mrs. Greenfingers was usually in her garden, peering back out.

If not, The Godmother would push some leaves aside and shout out at the top of her voice until she emerged, and responded to The Godmother’s friendly greetings and enquiries into her private life. Indeed, the Godmother asked her for gardening advice on cultivating such a succulent screen, as she had decided she thought her newly installed privacy was so enviable they would like to have some praaaaivaseee of her own. Don’t run away with the idea my mother-in-law is a particularly prying person. Oh no, everybody peered through that plant screen, all the time.

Last time I was at The Godmother’s house, she carefully explained privacy to one of her neighbours. Since privacy is so trendy, she was certainly not going to pass up her chance to show off a bit.

“My daughter-in-law is English, and they think privacy is very important,” she boasted from her balcony, her tea-towel fluttering in the breeze. “They have a terrace outside for doing barbecues, but there’s a solid wall between them and the neighbours, so they can eat in privacy. That’s the new way of doing it,” she explained, switching into Sicilian conspiratorially. “Capisci?”

She pronounces capisci as capeesh, and it means “do you understand?” Sicilians only use this word at the end of a detailed explanation of something precious, a titbit of information for the select few. Getting “capeeshed” is a priviledge that, I am proud to say, The Godmother has bestowed on me several times.

The next day, The Godmother turned up unexpectedly at my house with a special kind of Sicilian sausage that is about three yards long and all coiled up into a spiral. If you’ve ever been on one of those up-the-jungle holidays in Thailand and tried to avoid malarial encephalitis by taking a rucksack full of moist mosquito coils with you, you’ll be able to visualise it quite well. You usually slap it onto a barbecue, but The Godmother did the other great Sicilian thing, frying it in orange juice.

Ready to be submerged in freshly squeezed orange juice and cooked over a slow heat till it’s so delicious your husband will want to risk his life to deliver a free sample to the next-door-but-one neighbour

Since the sausage tasted simply divine, the processed pork product of the gods, my husband decided to make the neighbours try some. Sicilians do this whenever they cook something that turns out particularly delicious. We happened to be up on the roof terrace: you know, that one with solid walls that gives us our wonderfully trendy privacy.

Hubby hammered on The Wall of Privacy till he established, with disappointment, that the immediate neighbours were out. Then he climbed up onto the wall, so he could peer past the immediate neighbours’ roof terrace, and into the terrace of the neighbours beyond them, Mr. and Mrs. Greenfingers, to find out if they were at home.

I should explain here that The Wall of Privacy has a slippery marble top, which slopes downwards towards the outer wall of the house. After springing up onto it, with his bum hovvering over a sheer drop of at least 30 feet, Hubby spotted Mr. Greenfingers and started telling him in Sicilian about sausages. Actually, he had to attract his attention by shouting rather loudly, at an estimated 700 decibels – another Sicilian cultural tradition. I’m pretty sure, by this time, they even knew about that sausage as far away as Catania and maybe even Naples.

divine pig
I love this piccy of a fat pig and this cute, fat little girl, painted by Marion Peck. Click on the picture to reach the artist’s page, where the picture comes from.

Mr. Greenfingers was so excited about tasting the porcine ambrosia that Hubby grabbed some and climbed over The Wall of Privacy, the one that looks like a chute made for whooshing you off the terrace and down 30 feet to a splattery death, all the while holding the plate of sausage in the air like a silver service waiter. His legs flailed over the precipice, his buttocks dared to defy gravity, and finally he plopped to safety on the other side. He walked across the immediate neighbour’s roof terrace, commenting that their new barbecue looked nice, and handed some sausage to Mr. Greenfingers. Whilst he ate it on the spot and broke into poetic eulogies about The Godmother’s culinary talents, I was having a hyperventilation attack. I had almost been widowed.

An artist’s impression of my husband, perched upon The Wall of Privacy

While Hubby climbed back (my head was in my hands by now, I couldn’t look), The Godmother and Mr. Greenfingers engaged in a chat about the wonders of praaaaivaseee.

I think all this makes it abundantly clear that Sicilians just don’t comprehend privacy in the English sense of the word.

They know how to keep secrets, though. One of the harshest criticisms a Sicilian can make of anyone is “Da troppo confidenza!” This means, “He confides too much”, or “He is too open”. You’re supposed to keep your personal stuff personal, no blabbing. Capeesh?

I hardly know a single Sicilian who uses their real name on Facebook or their email address. They all invent an alias, so you can only identify them if they have revealed it to you. Their profile photo is a wacky image of a cat or some boobs or a big piece of cheese. They use Facebook to play games like Farmerama or pass on silly jokes and cartoons. They never write about their families or anything else personal.

The neighbours can peer through the plants or look at their new barbecue all they want. Online, they’re anonymous and untraceable.

Who cares if the neighbours have climbed into their garden and seen their barbecue? At least they know that no future employer will ever find out what they do when they’re drunk, no hacker will ever use their bank account to order the complete works of Tolstoy bound in de luxe leather, and no pedophile will ever see a photo of their kids in their swimming trunks.

In the modern world, isn’t that real privacy?

29 Comments Add yours

  1. Our Adventure in Croatia says:

    what do you expect, with a blog called Sicilian Godmother! no wonder the Russian mafia is after you and your Sicilian secret connections and FB disclosures….. 😉
    and there is a very good word for privacy in Sicily, it’s called omerta’. I didn’t see anything!
    (sausages look delicious by the way!)


    1. Ha haaa! I hadn’t even considered there might be some international Mafia spying going on! 🙂 Maybe I should delete those derogatory comments about vodka and beetroots?? And of course I didn’t mean the tracksuit trousers look scruffy, they can be quite smart. Really.

      Well, I don’t agree Omertà counts as privacy. I’d say that most definitely falls under the umbrella of secrecy, at which Sicilians may be the world champions!


      1. Our Adventure in Croatia says:

        your secret is safe with us (ie your followers…) really!
        I pledge my omerta’ ! 😉


  2. lly1205 says:

    This is so weird and so cool! Nice post 🙂


  3. Pecora Nera says:

    Sicilian sausages are the best, Capeesh!


    1. Diane C says:

      We tried making them by frying them a bit first and then baking them with a little limoncello poured over them. It was delicious!


      1. Pecora Nera says:

        Never thought of that… I might try it .
        Have you made your own limoncello?


    2. Diane C says:

      We (my husband andI) haven’t tried making limoncello yet, but perhaps next summer???


      1. Wow, limencello sausages! Sounds yummy!
        I think I know Pecora Nera well enough now to realise that 30% proof sausages are going to become a dietary staple of his…. 😉
        Can you imagine getting arrested on the way home from a barbecue lunch for driving under the influence of sausage?


      2. Diane C says:

        HAHAHAHA! DUIS! I can see the headlines now! LOL. OMG, you make me laugh pretty much every time I read you!


  4. Madame Rashid says:

    Thanks for another great entry. Your hubby sounds like a crazy guy. I’m happy to hear he survived. Keep us laughing…Capeesh?!


  5. This is priceless, thanks. Italians are so entertaining, in the best possible way of course.


  6. Fun post, I had a whale of a time reading. Very vivid, colourful writing- thank you! Now off to check I don’t have anything wierd going on Facebook….


  7. beba says:

    Gosh, I had not heard “Capeesh?” since my Chicago childhood, when I heard it all the time, and always understood what it meant, too. My Sicilian grandmother, who would be about 126 years old if still alive, would likely find that little has changed back in her beloved Sicily. Italians in general, and maybe Sicilians in particular, don’t see any good reason to change. Their lives are already full. Capeesh?


    1. The way I see it, no sensible Sicilian would consider doing anything that their Mamma, or HER Mamma, didn’t do, because obviously Mamma knows best. Capeesh?
      Gee, we must stop finishing everything we say with capeesh. I seem to have started an epidemic!!! 🙂


  8. Leonor says:

    In some other regions anglophile intellectuals (or wannabes…) will argue for hours about the right accent…is it praaaaaivaseeee or preeeeeeeevasy?:-) Regarding data protection, I always wondered what a telephone book is for in Italy, since practically everybody chooses praaaaivaseeee and chooses not to be on it…not to talk about the hideous habit of calling mobiles hiding one’s number….just in case that person then invades my praaaaaivaseeee.
    Loved the post.


    1. Ha haaa!!!
      One of funniest times I’ve ever had in a café was in Milan, listening to some intellectuals arguing over the correct pronounciation of Caaaaike, which they were eating, and discussing at length how on earth my sister and I managed to eat so much (we scoffed about 5 caaaaikes each) and yet be so thin. They assumed we didn’t speak Italian.
      When I was time to go, we told them in Italian that they were all pronouncing caaaaike wrongly, and they almost fell off their chairs with embarrassment. 🙂


  9. dianehioanou says:

    Having recently returned to Greece (which is in many ways similar) this post made me laugh a lot. Artfully written and very very true. I’m still trying to re-adjust to the lack of privacy here!


  10. Diane C says:

    OMG, this had me laughing out loud! Last summer, when we were in the midst of buying our Sicilian house, we went to the local fast food place to order a chicken dinner that would be ready the next day. (Please don’t imagine that I haven’t got the irony of “fast food” here). The next day, we dropped by about 5pm to find out when the chicken would be ready. The shop wasn’t yet open, but no matter, the neighbour who lived above the shop next door came out on her balcony and asked us (in Sicilian of course) “Are you here to get your chicken dinner?” Nick, my hubby answered we just wanted to know when it would be ready. This began a cross balcony conversation between the neighbour, her husband and three other husband and wives shouted above our heads about what time we should come back and get our chicken dinner. The consensus seemed to be 8pm and so we came back and picked up our chicken and had a lovely dinner. The next day we were stopped by several people who wanted to know how our chicken dinner was. I think I’m beginning to understand the Sicilian concept of praaaaaaaivaseeeeeee. BTW, without any intension of offense to anyone, did you notice the pig has an image on its side that is not dissimilar to the Shroud of Turin? Oh, and can I reblog this on my my-sicilian-home.blogspot.com blog?


    1. I’m really glad you enjoyed the post and please do feel free to reblog it. I really enjoyed your chicken story, hilarious! 🙂 It sounds such a classic Sicilian experience, and deserves to become a post on your blog I think – If you do write a post on it, I’d like too reblog it here!!!
      That Turin shroud thing it weird, isn’t it? I hadn’t noticed it at all. I wonder if it’s deliberate or just a coincidence….


      1. Diane C says:

        I have finally done the reblog of this post plus the retelling of the story of the chicken dinner. Feel free to reblog it as well! http://my-sicilian-home.blogspot.ca/2013/02/privacy-sicilian-style.html


      2. Fab story – thanks for the link! I’ll link to that in a future post…. 🙂


  11. A brilliant & witty account of the differences in culture!
    I was born & grew up in Scotland and now live in SW France but my roots are very firmly in Southern Italy – this post transported me back to many hilarious family conversations from years ago when capeesh & horror stories of people airing their dirty linen in public were plentiful!! Definitely made me smile!!


  12. thebellyrumble says:

    This is absolutely hilarious! I’m glad I found your blog (via http://inanortherntown.wordpress.com) and look forward to reading more instalments in the diary 🙂


  13. yangszechoo says:

    I laughed so much that I snorted all over my keyboard! Oh dear, oh dear. I think you should have your own TV show…


  14. Hello Veronica,
    I have no idea of how I stumbled on your blog, but I’m very happy I did. It is incredibly humorous. Hilarious. Enjoyed it very much.
    By the way I’m a Sicilian living in northern Italy, my husband is from the Belluno area and I live in the Dolomites. I come from the Catania area and lived for some time in NYC, so I have some quite personal insight on culture shock.
    As far as Sicilian privacy is concerned walking over a neighbour’s property is no big deal to us if the purpose is sharing food or other stuff, we might say it is considered friendly neighbours’ policy 😉 about the chicken dinner story (that too very funny) the neighbours were only being helpful, saving the customers another trip since the shop was still closed.
    Omertà on the other hand is something awful, one of the reasons why the Island is still infested with organized crime, it thrives on fear and exploits the weakest portions of society.
    Ah! Yes I also read the post: “Are Sicilians Africans or Europeans”, as a Sicilian I like to think that we belong more to the African continent than the European one, for many good reasons 🙂 and I just wanted to add that the South eastern side of the Island was very much influenced by the Ancient Greeks and in fact there are many differences between the two sides of the Island. I’m sure you have heard of the long lasting rivalry between Palermo and Catania.
    Great blog, I will most definately follow it, I enjoy the outlook of how others perceive us.


    1. Hello Lucia and welcome to my blog! glad you are enjoying it!
      The rivalry between Palermo and Catania is alive and flourishing, including in my own home! I have a brother in law from Catania whom my mother-in-law far more often calls “U Catanese” than actually using his name!
      Since writing this blog and getting heated denials of some of my statements about Sicily, from people living the other side of the island, I have realised that the differences would make up a very long list. It was only recently pointed out to me that the west was very much Arabic and the east much more Greek/Byzantine. And of course I have lived in Sicily long enough now that I am not the tiniest bit surprised that these differences can be explained by what was going on here about 1,000 years ago!
      I am off to have a look at your blog now…


  15. maristravels says:

    How did I miss this one before? I thought I’d read all your blogs – and your book – but obviously missed this one. I just followed the link from the blog on Face Book privacy, or lack of it, and now my vegetables will be burned and dinner ruined. I do so enjoy your blog and hope you sell your house – soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VH says:

      I am so sorry I’ve burned your dinner!
      Though if it’s any consolation to you, I do that to myslf constantly!!!


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