Come to Italy and meet Mickey Rat and Donald Goose

One day, when I went to collect my son from school, a rat eight inches long was spotted sprinting across the playground. Being Sicilian, the mothers knew how to do “hysterical” with great virtuosity. Yet they were calling the rat a “mouse.”

Let’s weigh this up. Mice are fairly harmless compared with rats. People even have them as pets. Mickey Mouse is a mouse, after all.

Rats, on the other hand, spread the plague. Is it really possible Italians think they are the same?

Know in Italy as Mickey Rat
Know in Italy as Mickey Rat

Recently a friend of mine informed me her husband had just bought two ducks. When I arrived at her house and descended from her car, there were the two biggest, most monstrously overgrown two-foot-high geese I’ve ever seen, hell bent on eating my calves. She calls them ducks or geese interchangeably, you see.

Italians are similary confused about mules, horses and donkeys.

I remember when I was a litle kid, thinking there was some kind of inherent connection between rats and mice, and between cats and dogs. Before I found out the real nature of the difference between males and females, I vaguely imagined perhaps dogs were masculine and cats were feminine. In the distant haze of my memory of toddlerhood, I also believed  rats were masculine and mice were feminine. I certainly thought they had some special connection.

Italians still do, even when they’re adults.

Known in Sicily as Donald Goose
Known in Sicily as Donald Goose

Italians in general, and Sicilians in particular, are equally pathetic when it comes to identifying foreigners.

They call all North Africans “Moroccan” even if they already know the individual they are talking about is from Tunisia or Egypt. They use the words “Japanese” and “Chinese” interchangeably, as if they were synonyms, and they apply them willy nilly to anyone from the far East.

I mentioned the Jews of Palermo in a recent post. Nowadays there is almost no trace of them. The street where the Synagogue used to stand was, by a later generation, called Meschita, which means Mosque. I suppose the confusion may have arisen from the fact that the synagogue formed one corner of a smallish rectangle whose other corners were: the Bah’lara Souk (the market opened by the moors of north Africa); the Martorana Church; and the Greek residential area. With a city as cosmopolitan as this is might be easy to get muddled up. On the other hand, it’s just like a Sicilian to think Jews and Muslims are basically the same thing.

The Star of Mohammed, or someone like that
The Star of Mohammed, or someone like that

Next time you meet a Sicilian, I dare you to call him Spanish. Let me know if he notices!

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15 thoughts on “Come to Italy and meet Mickey Rat and Donald Goose

  1. Oh my, the world is full of examples like that… where to start! For me, a bumble bee and a bee are as different as a mouse is from a rat, because in German there are two different words. Calling a bumble bee a bee is like calling a wasp a bee.

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    1. That’s interesting. I was brought up to make fine distinctions in bees and bumbe bees, but maybe that’s because my mother’s family kept bees, so she grew up as rather a bee-keeping expert! She developed immunity to bee stings by the time she was about three, and used to keep picking them up and stroking them! 🙂

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      1. Aw, I can see you’re totally biased, then 🙂
        I do love stroking bumble bees, they are so lovely and soft and furry. Never been stung (so far), very docile creatures they are. I’d refrain from doing that to a ‘standard’ bee.
        I hope you got some good honey from your grandparents when you were a kid 🙂

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      2. A non-stop supply of fabulous honey. nearly all the flowers in their lovely big garden were selected to make the honey taste good.
        They used to ferment some of the honey into mead too, and my most vivid memory is of being in the car when they dropped off a couple of bottles as a gift for a friend. He was out, so they left them inside his glass porch. Sadly they had been jiggled too much in the car, and as we drove away the bottles exploded and half the glass in the porch was smashed! It sounded like a bomb going off, a neighbour called the police, and…. well, you can imagine how dramatic and exciting it all was for a little girl about 7 years old!

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  2. The Spanish for rat is “rata” while mouse is “ratón”. This confuses me no end!! (Mind you, I know so little Spanish that the entire language confuses me…)

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    1. Oh, I always thought “raton” meant rat! But I am sure my knowledge of Spanish is less than yours!
      Do you find the Spanish are similarly confused about various pairs of animals? I seem to remember they were pretty vague about different nationalities….

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  3. “just like a Sicilian to think Jews and Muslims are basically the same thing” –> and if they indeed were same, the whole middle east would have been such a peaceful place … maybe ?

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    1. I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps their disinterest in distinguishing between different types of foreigners is what makes most Sicilians so un-racist. They just don’t seem to care where people are from. Their general attitude is
      “Well never mind where you’re from, the important thing is, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO EAT?”

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      1. I’d say from the end of October to somewhere in April is a real gamble. It could be lovely, or it could bucket with rain and howl with wind. I thought I was used to rain coming from England, but here, it buckets down almost like a monsoon and the streets often flood.
        The other thing that’s not so good about these winter months is that lots of the lovely pavement cafes and outdoor restaurants simply disappear over winter. So there is less of a fun atmosphere for tourists.
        Sicily really is designed for summer living!

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