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