Sicilian Women Are Scrubbers

Honestly. They spend more time scrubbing, washing and generally sanitising things than they do in any other activity, save possibly ironing.

This year, I am joining in the spirit of things by spring cleaning early. I didn’t want to, but my Mother-in-law made me. I admit the place has become a little grimy but, frankly, I thought the fact we no longer have running water was a more than adequate excuse. In fact I don’t even know how one cleans a house without using water. But my Mother-in-law does!

Of course she does. She’s Sicilian.

The Godmother brought a small selection of her own scrubbing brushes, in case my own hoard was inaequate
The Godmother brought a small selection of her own scrubbing brushes, in case my own hoard was inaequate

Well, I am far too busy dry-cleaning my home to write a blog post this week. I think the best way to keep you in the picture is by re-posting my report on My first ever spring-cleaning activities directed by my Mother-in-law.

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My mother-in-law is a fairly typical Sicilian woman of the older generation. She has a big nose, big hands and a big bottom. When her mansize hands are not busy flaying and massacring vegetables or scrubbing household objects to the brink of oblivion, they fiddle with rosary beads. She goes to church twice on Sundays and is godmother to seven children. The Godmother. She likes to feed children portions of food which weigh more than they do, indoctrinate them in the ways of the Lord and scrub their faces by a method plastic surgeons call ‘dermabrasion.

She is a magnificent and warm-hearted woman and like all Sicilan old ladies she looks cute but, trust me, you do NOT want to be naughty in her presence. Her hands could probably spank even a decent-sized adult man into low-earth orbit.

dolce-gabbana-2015-spring-summer-accessories-bag-gorgeous-interpretation-3

When I worked in a bank in London, I thought that being able to sew would stand me in good stead when I became a housewife. I thought it meant I had potential. Then I met The Godmother, who is the very walking definition of uxoriousness in flesh and blood, and I realised how much more difficult it was all going to be than I had ever imagined.

For example, I had always thought – foolishly, as it now turns out – that there were certain objects in this world which it is simply never necessary to clean. Ever.

The pavement, for example, was something I had never once looked at in my life and thought, ‘Well now, I think I’ll give that a good scrub.’ Yet, apparently, to be a decent housewife, a decent Sicilian one at any rate, it is essential to wash the pavement outside one’s house quite regularly, on one’s hands and knees, using a scrubbing brush that could flay an elephant and the kind of cleaning products that you probably need a special license to purchase in England.

Similarly, I had never once been tempted to lather up a set of iron railings and then rinse them down, dry them and buff them up with a soft cloth. I just figured that the rain took care of removing clumps of dirt… slattern that I was!

Another item I imagined could be left unwashed throughout its whole existence was my wardrobe. I had spent years in England squirting it with Mr. Sheen and giving it a quick buff-up with a cloth to get the visible deposits of dust off it. Once I moved to Sicily, however, I was made to realise I had been leaving it to accumulate filth and that the only way a respectable housewife would treat such an item of furniture would be to wash it thoroughly with ammonia and water and then dry it with a series of special cloths, first a cotton one and then a woollen one and then one in microfibre.

One day, The Godmother came round to my house when I had just swept and mopped all the floors. She was wearing her black skirt and black blouse, which is what Sicilian housewives put on when they really mean business. She gave me a pitying, or perhaps critical, look and said,

“Oh, you poor thing! You must be so worn out with all this unpacking and organising that you haven’t had time to clean the floor.”

“Erm, yes,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” she said, her nose already in the cleaning products cupboard she had given me as a house warming present. “I’ll take care of it.”

She extracted a thing which looked like a broom with no bristles and then wrapped it in a cloth which she dipped in something that smelled pungent enough to make my nose run, and proceeded to rub it all over the floor with so much verve I thought she might actually erode the glaze off the tiles. “That’s just given it a quick removal of the main dirt,” she said, as she got on her knees and proceeded to pull the plinth away from the fitted cupboards under and around the kitchen sink.

She put the steel strips on the balcony and then proceeded to remove the entire underside of the island unit as well. Not satisfied with this, she then prised all the knobs off the hob, did something that looked downright painful to remove the oven door and then turned the extractor fan over the cooker into no less than eighteen separate, yet almost identical-looking, pieces of plastic grille.

Whilst I was profoundly shocked to see her calmly pull my kitchen to pieces, I was also flabbergasted that she was actually able to. For my whole life, up to that point, I had believed you needed men with exposed bum cleavages to do that type of thing.

While I was still searching for appropriate words, she filled the sink with several potent products, which foamed and gave off a greenish hallucinogenic vapour, and put all the small components of my ex-kitchen in it. While I sat down to regain some breath, she filled a bucket with whatever the Mafia use to dissolve dead bodies away to nothing except a few gold fillings, and started rubbing it into the pieces of stainless steel plinth she had yanked off the cupboards. I had chosen a matt finish but she kept working away at each piece of metal until she had made it look like a mirror.

The Godmother's shopping list
The Godmother’s shopping list

I felt exhausted simply from watching all this manual labour, but I also began to realise I was suffering some kind of acute respiratory crisis. I was wheezing loudly and my vision was clouding over as if there were some type of jelly stuck to the front of my eyeballs. Apparently my eyes were turning maroon and I sounded like a Fiat that had accidentally been filled with diesel. I was having a severe allergic reaction to The Godmother’s cleaning products.

I dashed into the bathroom and begged her to identify the pack of antihistamine I knew I had
stashed away somewhere. She rummaged about and asked how many tablets I wanted. I told her to give me all of them. As I was shovelling them into my mouth, I realised she was buffing up the mirror with a dry cloth between popping the pills out of the foil blisters. She is the kind of woman who, if one of her children got his head stuck in a saucepan, would give it a jolly good polish before taking him to the hospital. If someone broke into her house by throwing a brick through the window she would wash the brick before calling the police. If she ever drank tea she would iron the teabags before using them.

I made my way out of the house, out of the chemical inferno which had once been my kitchen, sneaked into the lemon orchard behind the house, and sat on a patch of scratchy grass under a tree. It was still swelteringly hot but at least there was some shade which protected my watering eyes from the full power of the sunlight. I would like to say, especially if any minors are reading this, that overdosing on oral antihistamines and snorting kitchen de-scaler is a stupid and dangerous thing to do.

Always read the label
Always read the label

I felt as if I were drifting out of my body and wafting around among the leaves of the lemon trees in the form of a curly green waft of vaporised ammonia, carbolic acid and hydrogen peroxide. I think I hallucinated the bit where the lemons were talking to me about how they liked me wiping them clean with my eyeballs. I think the bit where I slumped against the trunk of a tree and slowly keeled over through lack of oxygen may have been real. The bit where The Godmother shouted ‘Veronica, Veronica, wake up!’ was definitely right here on planet earth, and it worked.

Eventually I recoved from this experience and came to an important realisation: I may be a Sicilian housewife now, but I shall continue housewifing in a very English way. I’ll never manage to do it the way Sicilian women do. I salute them, and I give up.

So please excuse me while I step over a thick smear of ketchup on my way to the kettle, because I need a cup of tea.

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I am excited by the international nature of my blog followers. I would like to take advantage of this cosmopolitan company I am now keeping, by conducting a cultural survey.

Answers in the comments box below, and please remember to state your nationality when responding!

1. Do people wash the pavement outside their house in your country?

2. Do the builders have exposed bum cracks where you come from?

3. Have you ever had a hazardous/frightening/life-threatening experience with a domestic disinfection product?

A prime example of Plumber's Bum,. taken froma blog dedicated entirely to documenting the phenomenon of ill-fitting trousers on manually skilled professionals. If you want a good laugh, the blog is well worth a visit!
A prime example of Plumber’s Bum, taken from a blog dedicated entirely to documenting the phenomenon of ill-fitting trousers on manually skilled professionals. If you want a good laugh, the blog is well worth a visit!

http://bumsandcracks.blogspot.it/

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Enjoy this post? Try this book, which is part 1 of The Godmother Trilogy. Follow the link to find out more about The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife on my author blog, or tap on the photo.

An English woman takes on parenthood, the Mafia and a Sicilian mother-in-law, all at once
An English woman takes on parenthood, the Mafia and a Sicilian mother-in-law, all at once
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45 thoughts on “Sicilian Women Are Scrubbers

  1. Thank you! You are hysterical!
    I too believe cleanliness is next to godliness, but not like the sicilians do it. Here on Long Island, NY in the States, we don’t wash our sidewalks, but we do have plumber’s cracks everywhere!

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  2. Oh my god 😮 The Godmother should move in with Mrs Sterile- they could have competitions and plot a chemical revenge on the non-paying neighbours. I’m glad I didn’t marry a Sicilian, I would have been forced to drink pure ammoniac and strung up as an example by now.
    In answer to your survey: I only saw French people cleaning up the pavement in front of their homes in the Alsace, but certainly not washing it – the rest of France pays taxes for someone else (not) to do it. Bum cleavage, on the other hand, is rife here, along with beer bellies. As for number three: nope, you can’t go wrong with black soap and savon de Marseille!

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    1. Ah yes, London pavements. Hmmmm. Though slightly less poopy than the ones in Paris, which I believe are Europe’s poopiest.
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/8086332/French-officials-to-use-sat-nav-to-track-dog-mess.html

      Allergies are such a brilliant excuse, aren’t they? Except the real bummer (bum crack?) for me is that, nowadays, I really am allergic to everything. I can’t find anything that I actually can use for cleaning, other than water. And of course nowadays, I cannot even find that.
      😦

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  3. Well, now I know which side of the family I get my cleaning fetish from! Being half Scilian and half Calebrese, I think both sides of the family pretty much had me doomed! Been scrubbing the floors here since 4 am this morning! Although truth be told, I am having surgery this week, am working more than full time and want a clean house since I won’t be able to do it for a bit after surgery. I am in Calif, USA by the way.

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    1. About to have surgery and you’re scrubbing the floors at 4am? Are you my Mother-in-Law’s twin sister separated at birth?
      At any rate, you are clearly so Sicilian that I am amazed you even know how to write in English!!!! I’d have thought you’d be writing in Sicilian!
      Being serious, I hope the surgery goes very well. Remember to rest a bit, please?

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  4. Ha ha – fab. Actually, I used to be a bit OTT with cleaning products and did once manage to create some kind of chlorine or ammonia gas by imprudently mixing 2 cleaning products and I really couldn’t breathe. Oh, and also, when I lived in a back to back terraced house ooop north in Yorkshire, I used to use the water I’d washed the kitchen floor with to slosh down the pavement outside – after brushing it vigorously with a massive broom – but that was because you stepped right off the pavement straight into the sitting room, so I thought it made sense at the time, and I suspect it was mainly a ploy not to have to study or revise for exams. I’m sure you know that I have now given up more or less all housework that cannot be done by a robot -dishwasher, washing machine, tumble drier, robot vacuum cleaner…got em all. I just apathetically trail a dishcloth over the table now and again. And squirt some spray cleaner on the radiator to make it *smell* as though I’ve cleaned.
    The cleanest city I’ve seen was Munich, and yet you never see anybody cleaning…. unlike Sicily where they are frequently dressed for the purpose and dangling floorcloths over balconies. How do the Germans do it?
    IZ, UK

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    1. Good point. I’d never actually considered the fact that Germany is clean as a whistle but you never see them at it, whereas Sicilians hardly seem to have time to do anything BUT cleaning, yet the place is perpetually drowning in rubbish and looks like a bit of a tip.

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  5. Okay. I am Canadian.
    1. Never, but I did see, when I was in Tokyo, people using a hose to spray snow of their front step. In -5 weather. ‘Nuff said.
    2. Probably although plumbers that I have had to my house all used their belts effectively, however, several years ago there was a computer tech where I work who would crawl around under desks to fix wiring and gave us a show that nobody wanted to see!
    3. I haven’t but a colleague of mine did. This is when I was working my way through university as a lifeguard. One of the supervisors at the pool accidentally mixed hydrochloric acid with chlorine and made mustard gas. (thus the background to a previous comment about Mrs. Sterile). They had to evacuate the neighbourhood and brought in people in hazmat suits to take care of it. Not kidding – not exaggerating. My colleague was told his services were no longer required.

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  6. No, no and no, although as a child I didn’t think the kitchen table should be wiped after playing with my chemistry set and so remember accidentally poisoning my pet hamster with potassium permanganate. I know that does’t count but I share it anyway 🙂

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  7. What a brilliant post!!! I LOVED it! So, as requested…..
    – Nairobi, Kenya
    – They do scrub the concrete at some schools, though not the pavements!
    – Haven’t seen any “builder’s bum” – thank goodness.
    – No poisoning as yet!! But, she admits while blushing, I’m enjoying living here and having two house girls who do all the cleaning for me. I have NEVER lived in such a clean house 🙂

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    1. It’s heartwarming to know there is indeed a country where the men keep their rears fully under control at all times.
      BTW this comment, and some others you’ve sent, ended up being classed as spam by WordPress. I don’t know how you’d look into it, but thought I’d mention it in case you do know…

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  8. I’ve just realized that I live in squalor – I obviously need way more than ONE lousy brush.

    1. Wash the sidewalks? They don’t even SHOVEL them 😦
    2. Yes to the butts & cracks :-p
    3. I once put dishwashing liquid (for the sink) in the dishwasher. The dishwasher looked like it had rabies – all that foam frothing out the sides. On the bright side, my floor were sparking clean!!

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  9. I live outside Washington, DC in the USA. It’s a pretty decorous area and I have never seen a workman’s butt-crack. But no one exactly washes pavement around here. They instead hire people to power-wash their wooden decks, vinyl siding, brick patios, etc with highly pressurized blasts of water once a year or so. Does that count?
    I once felt quite disoriented and sick after spending several hours using a popular cleaning product spray to remove kids’ finger prints and many other marks from the all-white walls of all the rooms in an empty house we were going to sell. I never made those mistakes again. (I mean both that spray product AND the industrious cleaning.)

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    1. For the decking to qualify, I think you’s have to do the washing yourself, on your knees, wearing a flowery apron with frills all over it. 🙂
      But the freaky spell after fingerprint removal certainly qualifies!! That was amazingly industrious of you. I’m glad to hear you’re not planning to do anything so reckless again. 🙂

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      1. Actually, your post spurred me to consider doing a big cleaning around here. It really needs it if I am actually noticing. (I am wondering how I turned out so very relaxed about housekeeping despite being equal parts German and Sicilian. My sister’s house is always spotless.)

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  10. The only time I’ve ever felt an urge to power wash was when a neighbour’s party was still in full swing at 5am. (Yes, I’m an old grump). I was lying in bed fantasising about hosing down a particular section of fence, vigorously and with poor aim.

    Is your MIL available here in the UK? Mine appears poorly trained, as she has never yet dismantled my kitchen in order to clean it.

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    1. That fence washing thing is exactly the kind of thing my mother regularly used to actually do, not just fantasise about!

      I don’t think there’s any hope of getting such service from an English MIL. Perhaps in England you really DO have to hire men with bum cleavages…?

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      1. I’ve done it, once, on an archaeological dig in the 1980s, when my hose hand just happened to slip. (Well, when you get asked for the nth time whether you’ve found your watch yet, things can get a little fraught.) I’m still not sure if it was my best or worst moment. 😉

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  11. Enjoyed this, we prefer the term ‘Dagenham Cleavage’ to Bum.Not sure why. Northern women of a certain age used to scrub steps with a stone many years ago, now it seems the only thing that is cleaned beyond comprehension in the outdoors are cars.

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  12. Love this! Having grown up with a Chinese mother whose floors were so clean you could eat off them, I suspect I have a mild idea of what your MIL is like, but minus the chemicals! I’ve noticed that elderly Chinese people love to fwd internet “healthcare horror” articles to their children, such as “do not use the microwave — it is poisonous”, “do not use plastic — it is poisonous”, “do not use a cellphone – it has radiation”…Do Sicilians do this too, or are they relatively impervious??

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    1. Oh that’s funny! I have a Chinese friend in London who sends me those emails… and she’s not so old! I recall one that said you will get “armpit cancer” if you use deodorant. I stopped reading them after she sent one about the danger of “tight fitting” bras, which said you have to wear loose bras otherwise you’ll get breast tumours. Loose bras? With boobs my size? What was she thinking?
      Sicilians don’t pass these emails around, as everything here seems to violate all health and safety regulations, so everyone is de-sensitised. If Sicilians worried about health scares like that I think they’d never leave the house!
      I do think the Chinese old ladies are right though. It’s not necessary to use a heap of dangerous chemicals to clean our homes, clothes, bodies etc.

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  13. As ordered:
    New Mexico is regarded by many (but not all) as part of the United States. I live in it.
    Our streets are washed by large, steamroller-like machines with rotary scrubbing brushes underneath, at unpredictable intervals. These are pretty efficient at relocating the dirt and detritus from the gutters to the center of the streets.
    Getting high on the aromas of cleansing products or even allowing them enough aroma to be detected in the environment is opposed by our caregivers in government, to the point that said products’ actual cleaning power must be taken on faith. I doubt anything ‘cleaned’ here would pass inspection by La Siciliana.. The packaging however, is impressive and challenging to open, especially for adults. .

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  14. This made me laugh so much, it’s so true of Tuscan housewives too…thanks to my mother-in-law I own more cleaning products than I ever knew existed, but like you i have decided to do things British-style and not even try to compete with the cleaning mania.
    Here, second only to actual cleaning is discussing cleaning products, particularly which ones are on offer at various shops. My mil and the zie think nothing of spending a fortune on petrol to drive all over Tuscany visiting different supermarkets to save a few cents on some spray product or the other…

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    1. Oh I know people like that too, who cannot add up the cost of petrol and net it against 2 cents worth of savings on a bottle of ammonia!!! I suppose the reality is that this is their hobby, once they have cleansed everything their only way to pass the time is buying more stuff so they can start all over again! Now if they were driving all over the place to gt some good teabags or a yummy cake, it would of course be a different story! 🙂

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  15. That was FABULOUS!!! : )
    My husband and I live in British Columbia Canada with four sons! Perhaps I should send them to Sicily to find the perfect wives!
    Fantastic blog!!!!

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  16. Somehow I don’t think that’s possible!
    BTW – is there such a thing as a nice traditional place to visit in Italy nowadays without all the tourism where an outsider is made to feel accepted? Views, food, etc. Your recommendation of course!
    : )

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    1. In Sicily you get no tourists in winter, and the food is amazing, but it may not be the easiest place to handle without locals guiding you!

      Another place I would recommend is Matera in Basilicata. There is a troglodyte town entirely carved out of the mountainside, including a church carved out like a cave. They are very friendly there, the food is great and the sightseeing is unique. I sent another online friend there last year and he was absolutely stunned by how wonderful it was. He spent 2 days in Venice and said he wished he had spent them there instead!

      Here are some of his photos:
      http://zarabu.wordpress.com/tag/italy/
      have a good look around his photography blog, BTW, it is spectacular.

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