Sicily vs. Australia

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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

It explained:

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.

The Sicilian Housewife loves the way old people laze about in Sicily. It is too darn hot to hurry!
The Sicilian Housewife loves the way old people laze about in Sicily. It is too darn hot to hurry!

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!)

This was the roof of a Sicilian Cafe. Go on, pick one!
This was the roof of a Sicilian Cafe. Go on, pick one!

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:

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This is a scene from Italian national TV

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!)

These scientists made groundbreaking progress in new treatments for cervical cancer. Oh no, oops, that was someone else.
These scientists made groundbreaking progress in new treatments for cervical cancer. Oh no, oops, that was someone else.

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.

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15 thoughts on “Sicily vs. Australia

  1. Thanks for the great and thought-provoking post, Rochelle!
    I have written on my blog in the past about the role of women in Italian society and, in particular, about the mindless sex-object nature of the role models for young girls who dominate the media. This all got going with Berlusconi, right from the start when he was bneginning his career in TV. I only recently learned that it all comes from him.
    Somehow he has managed to make a lot of women in italy think that being slutty means they are “liberated” since their grandmothers were not even allowed out of the house without a chaperone.
    I wonder if they will ever realise this is simply a different way of being subjugated to men. There were protests in cities all over Italy a few years ago – millions of women raised their voices, , but then it all died down and seems to be forgotten – nothing has changed.

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    1. Hm, if we consider that liberation of women is a matter of generations, Berlusconi could have made a step in the right direction. Didn’t we have a “slutty” phase in our countries, too?

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      1. Was there a “sluttey” phase in Germany? Gosh!
        There was never a slutty phase in England. They tried to make it happen by writing newspaper article about the “permissive society” in the 1970s, but the hopeful young men who went out trying to find the permissive society were diuappointed to discover it most definitely did not exist.

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      2. @Sicilian housewife: You know, we Germans are always so consequent … if the movement of the time (“Zeitgeist”) is towards a “sluttey” phase, then we move in that direction until the end, until the very end … Germans know no measure, this is our fate …

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      3. Oh that’s interesting, that Germans take things to extremes – a dangerous characteristic, I think.
        I have been told the Chinese are like this too.

        We English ignore almost every trend that sweeps the world, or else participate in a constantly sceptical manner (which drives the foreigners mad in the EU, as I sure you are aware!)
        I think it is usualy a good thing to be like this, even though it means real progress can be badly slowed down.
        What do you think?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The strange role of women in Italian TV surprised me, too. Especially if you consider Italians speak much too quickly to understand any word, you look more carefully at the pictures, and yes, women are often eye candies, there. Not only in the weather forecast (terrible, is it a “women forecast”?!). And then the trashy colours in TV, not decent at all, an explosion of colours, argh, nothing for an orderly grey German mind.

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  3. Haha, there is so much here that I can relate to, myself being of English descent and visiting Sicily very often (actually quite close to Bagheria).
    The things that annoy me most are the lack of table manners, especially eating and speaking/shouting with mouths full of food, even seeing tiny food particles land near my plate;
    and the women often aspire to being superficial airheads, often speaking in a higher childish voice when trying to be interesting, and are rarely study/career minded and just assume that they’ll marry a man who will take care of them. Oh yes, and the men, are often ball-less indeed. One I know doesn’t even know how to hang a picture frame and let’s the wife do it, while another I know boasted that “In Sicily the man is the boss, and the wife must do what the man says”, but in reality, through manipulative drama shows and better leverage, the wife finally ends up calling the shots.

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    1. My sister gets deeply bothered by the lack of table manners when she visits. Apparently I have developed immunity, as I hardly even notice any more!
      You’re right, Italian men are not very macho, are they? Though personally, that suits me fine. I am much happier with my hammer and drill while hubby cooks the dinner and mops the floors. 🙂

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  4. What a load of rubbish.
    Hospitals may kill you? The italian healthcare system ranked 2nd in the world after the french one according by WHO, and we live longer than anyone else along with the spaniards and the japanese. Italian schools may be decadent and without fancy commodities and cooking classes, but at least our kids are given a good knowledge about their historic roots and they know where they come from. Something that not every country can be proud of.

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    1. I have to say, I have overall got far better medical care in Sicilian hospitals than in UK ones – but that is all because of the doctors, not the resources. So yes, I think Italians doctors are great, but believe me, Sicilian hospitals are at breaking point.
      You talk about “Italian hospitals” as if they are comparable to Sicilian ones. They are not. When my son was on the children’s hospital in Palermo they had to put him on a mattress on the floor in the corridor and asked us to bring our own sheets from home as they had none left. The nurse who put him on a drip got a nail out of her pocket and banged it into the wall with her shoe, to hang his nedicine up, because they had no more drip stands. I could go on, but I think that gives you the idea.
      And I also agree that again, Italian teachers are mainly very good indeed, but the fact is that the school here in my village was closed for 4 months because the roof fell in and landed on the children – some of them were injured. They had to close the whole school for repairs which had been postponed until this crisis forced them to do something.
      So my own experiences have been that the people in Sicily are usually great, but the resources are definitely not.

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  5. I think I must be polychronic, maybe that’s why I love Italy. A great guest post.

    PS. I think Italian doctors are great, they are just let down by very poor facilities and lack of money. The hospital appointment system is like… well non existent. When you turn up at the hospital for the 9.00 am appointment, there will be 40 other people with the same appointment time. One by one you will be seen and hopefully you will be seen before dinner time. Oh and this is in the North of Italy, which is supposed to be better organised and better funded.

    PN (who loves Italy despite its faults)

    PS. Veronica, please come and do a guest post for me. Maybe South against North!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I do agree, I have personally had better service from doctors here in Sicily than in England – which I think goes to show, it’s not so much the equipment but the brain and the attitude that matters.
    I would LOVE to do a guest post – maybe we should do something together? I shall email you!
    BTW I looked for your email as you mentioned it a while ago, but didn’t find anything…

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