A wonderful guest post called Sicily vs. England, written for my blog by Pecora Nera, turned out to be so popular that it inspired another great Sicilian blogger, Rochelle Del Borello of Unwilling Expat, to write this article – Sicily vs. Australia – for my blog.
The beauty of experiencing different cultures is seeing how they differ, and embracing the parts which are refreshingly good for your soul while simultaneously feeling frustrated about the other things that simply don’t work.
There are many aspects about life in Sicily that make me want to bash my head against the wall, but Sicilians certainly know how to enjoy the moment, their family and communities. Despite being way too close knitted for my tastes I can see how they can be comforting, nurturing and safe for young families.
I’m taking a moment to highlight some subtle and less subtle differences between my native Australia (I think perhaps some points may also be poignant for America and the United Kingdom too!) and my current adopted home in small town Sicily.
Spontaneity: The last time I was back home in Australia I hated having to make an appointment to see my friends in advance. I understand you may have something on but to have every moment of my time programmed isn’t part of my routine. I think when you have young children around the whole ‘programming’ of time thing has to go out of the window, at least in the rigid sense.
I longed to have more spontaneous interactions with my Australian friends. In Sicily everyone simply comes over with a bottle of wine or some nice ice cream and put some pasta on, it really is that simple, no need for bookings at restaurants, just come over and hang out a little!
Pace of life: Since moving to Italy more than a decade ago, Australia’s population and economy has boomed, and once laid-back Ozzies now are always in a hurry – to where I’m not sure? Sicilians are way on the other side of the spectrum. Things here are too slow for me (perhaps if I was an elderly pensioner I’d like it better!)
I came across a helpful article on a web page called When In Florence student services, http://www.wheninflorence.com which explains the different concepts of time between Italy and America which I think is useful to understand why the two cultures are soooooo very different.
America is a monochronic culture. We believe that time is a precious commodity; it is meant to be made, used, wasted, spent, given, allotted, and saved. Our lives are a series of rigid schedules and each day is chopped up into time blocks. 9 – 10:45 AM : eat breakfast. 11 AM – 7 PM : work. 7 – 8 PM : dinner. Repeat.
Italy, on the other hand, is a polychronic culture. People with this time orientation see time as a flowing river; it is smooth and one minute flows into the next. If something isn’t done this minute, it can be done the next. These people do not see time as tangible or controllable. There are things to be done, but they’ll get done.
Work Ethic: In most Anglo Saxon (and Asian) cultures life is all about work. In comparison Sicilians come across as down and out lazy, a little work only when necessary is their motto because they know that unemployment is just around the corner so why should they worry (evermore so in the current economic situation). Australians are workaholics , very competitive but when they decide to relax they can be great fun too! Surely there must be some middle ground somewhere?
Food: Up until ten years ago Australians were really a little clueless when it came to good food (mostly beer, steak and chips) and have only recently discovered fine wine and European cuisine (and they are loving it!). Food in Sicily is more like a religion, it is a must to eat and prepare fresh seasonal products and don’t get me started on the wine, all quite hedonistic really but why the hell not!! (Perhaps I am becoming Sicilian after all!)
Schools: Italian schools are loud, confusing affairs with little discipline or logic. I like how even at an early age children study a lot of history and art but I find there is a terrible lack of structure, it’s all creative and sporadic but what’s the good when children don’t know the basics. (My niece is in her last year of middle school and is preparing for a state exam, she doesn’t know what a paragraph is!) Primary schools in Sicily remind me of old style country schools where everyone knows one another, terribly nurturing but very cliquey. Australian schools are green, open aired, well maintained, with swimming pools, athletic tracks, theaters and a wizz bang curriculum to make children want to learn more each day.
Hospitals: Don’t ever get sick in Italy because the hospitals may kill you. If you do you need to find a private clinic or a good doctor to follow you as public hospitals have no toilet paper, no cleanliness, lazy nurses and barely present doctors which makes for a glum prospect indeed. Australian hospitals are great in comparison even though the population boom has resulted in having to wait a long time at your GP.
The last time I was home my mother had a problem with her eyes, we had to wait a couple of hours at the emergency room but we were sent to a specialist at the main city hospital, who met us in front of the door of the Optometry ward at 8pm, which she opened up for us, examined my mother and reassured her that there was nothing serious and she did it all with a smile! This would never happen in Italy.
Ambition: Sicilians don’t have much ambition as their history has made them quite fatalistic, material things can be taken away and unemployment is always a threat for them so they live for other things like family and food rather than highly paid jobs. Australians are all about work and ambition.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a good work ethic and goals but not to the point of screwing over other people or not taking the time to look after yourself or for having a family. There needs to be a balance, Sicilians are to exaggerated and Anglo Saxons are way too anal!
Family expectations: Sicilian’s and Italians live for their families. Italian towns and communities are simply an extension of their family life. I mean it’s great to have families around for big celebrations or life events (like births,marriages and deaths) but a big eager Italian family can be extremely invasive!
It ticks me off when they tell me when to have children, how to dress my child and what to feed him (amongst many other things!) I am always expected to cook, clean and babysit other peoples children as the favor will be returned (even if I never leave my child with anyone other than his father.)
Australian families are more along the Anglo Saxon lines quite distant and each to their own, I wouldn’t mind my Australian family to be a little less distant and my Sicilian family to take a leaf out of the Australian book!
Personal space: There is no such thing as privacy and very little personal space, it comes from being an over populated and nosey people. In Sicily if you’ve been shopping people will want to know what you’ve bought. Australia is about having a lot of space, even if most of the population is spread around the coastal areas Australian’s are used to having big houses, big cars and big helpings of beer in the pub! Heck, why not there’s enough space!
Outlook on life: Life in Sicily is very much about living in the moment which at times can be quite superficial, I mean living for your family, friends, socializing and food might be all right when you are younger but it really is a juvenile way of living life.
Australians on the other hand are all about work and gathering material wealth, often when people reach retirement age they are left twiddling their thumbs not knowing what to do with themselves and with too much clutter in their lives. Perhaps its the do-gooder in me but what about giving something back to the world or getting involved in something that is less about yourself?
Female health: I guess because hospitals and doctors are so horrid in Sicily people tend to neglect things like regular check ups, but gals really shouldn’t be lazy about their health and have regular checks. Even if gynecologists in Italy are scary as hell. There are no private change rooms or robes to cover up your nakedness, you will be asked to drop your ‘dacks’ anywhere and without hesitation or shame. And girls if you are going to give birth in Italy anyone with a white coat in the hospital will get a peek at your ‘who-ha’, including the guy who mops the floor in the morning. [This is certainly true. By the time my son was born, my loins had dealt with more traffic than the Palermo ring road. Ed.] Lordy my, how I miss prudish Australian gynecologists, bless them!
Manners: Please, thank you and sorry are foreign concepts to Sicilians as are table manners, you will be spoken to by a full mouthed Sicilian and will have to pour your own wine, unless you are dating in this case ‘he’ will be on his best behavior, for obvious reasons. [Oh poor Rochelle! this must be a regional thing. I can assure you here in Palermo they keep the grub in their mouths at all tikmes! They would hate to waste any by letting it fall out… Ed.]
Australians will apologies if they accidentally cut you off with a shopping trolley at the supermarket, if they accidentally brush up against you or have any form of physical contact or simply get in your way without realizing it. (Also forget about getting compliments from Sicilians, they are very stoic people!)
Language: Sicilians will pretend not to understand you, immediately pick up a foreign accent, furrow their brow and try to charge you double. (While a Florentine on the other hand will know you are a foreigner and will probably compliment you on trying to speak their language while genteelly correcting any grammatical error.) Australians will say they love your accent and will probably buy you a beer!
Feminism: Sicilian women are still very traditional yet they defiantly wear the pants. I’ve seen many masculine women and lazy effeminate men who do next to nothing while the womenfolk do practically everything. I swear I’ve seen some Sicilian women with more ‘balls’ than their men. Australian women are constantly battling men in the workforce and are happily leveling the playground and often outdoing the gents, so yawn at male machismo. If you tell a sexist joke in an Australian office you will be sued!
Please bear with me as I’m just going to have a little rant about women in Italy:
I’m aghast at how many women in the Italian spotlight are still simply ‘eye candy’ and do little much else than dance around in scant costumes. Socially ideals like the ‘velline’ dancing girls and nude calendars are still seen by some young women as careers and ambitions to aspire to (How fucked up is that!)
Even the majority of Female politicians seem more concerned with getting their pictures published in glossy gossip magazines than having an informed opinion. Come on girls don’t give in and stop reinforcing stereotypes.
Please note I did say ‘some’ women not ‘every’ women- there are many exceptions that come to mind of well known female celebrities, politicians and journalists who are perfectly serious about their jobs and are very good at what they do. For example off the top of my head: Mariastella Gelmini, Giorgia Meloni, Michela Vittoria Brambilla, Stefania Prestigiacomo, Daniela Santanchè, Maria De Filippi , Lucia Annunziata, Lilli Gruber , Rosy Bindi, Bianca Berlinguer and Cesara Buonamici.
P.S: This post was inspired by an idea by Pecora Nera from an Englishman in Italy who compared Sicily with England. I stole his idea with great respect and reverence and ran with it way too fast and now I’ve slipped, fell and made a god awful mess. I hope he will forgive me.