Being from Minnesota, we have very little exposure to Italians. If you could choose a species on the opposite side of the color wheel from Minnesotans, it would be Italians. They are dark, we are light. They are loud and expressive - and we don't like to inconvenience people with our emotions. Better to keep that in check. They are WICKED PISSED like maybe someone's gonna get capped! And we are a little tee'd off if you don't mind me saying so.
There were Italians in Chicago, where we lived for 8 years, and they scared me. They were always fighting; always "not speaking" to someone. I always asked why they weren't speaking; it was like a sociological excavation for me. What makes these people punish each other with silence? Most often, the answer was an ambiguous "She knows why!" I worried that there was someone out there who wasn't speaking to me. And worried that I should know why. Maybe I butted in front of someone's cousin at the grocery store. Or gave someone's kid a broken crayon at storytime. Someone could be punishing me right now and I don't even know it. Other times they would reveal the reason for silence and the offense was usually ettiquette-oriented: "My mother brought a ham to her house for Superbowl Sunday and she didn't put the ham out!" This is grounds for not speaking.
But these were suburban Italians; and although they were angry, they were somewhat more homogeneous. So as to fit in at their toddlers' soccer games. What we saw in the North End was real Italian. Like "my mother doesn't speak English" Italian. Like Godfather Italian. Not "we're worried that The Sopranos portrays a negative stereotype of Italians;" more like " I wish Tony Soprano was my dad!" We go to a restaurant and get seated at a table right in the middle of the room. It was like theater in the round. Our heads swiveling in all directions so we can observe the cast of characters. How do they get their hair that dark? Do women really have mustaches? What are they so angry about? Wait, now they're kissing. Where are Tony and Tina and when will the wedding start?
Across from our table sits a family of four. Dad is wearing a velour tracksuit and a series of gold chains. Really. Seriously. Even Mike, who prefers to downplay the details so as not to disappoint, will back me up on this one. Mom is irritated by velour tracksuit dad because he keeps yelling at the children but continues to eat his spaghetti - while she gets up and down, up and down, picking them up off the floor, cutting their food, cleaning up their spills. She hasn't eaten yet. Finally, she's like "Enough already! I'm eating!" And she sits down. Three year old starts crying. And velour tracksuit dad raises his fork and points it at crying child and says:
"HEY!! YOU WANNA SLEEP WITH THE FISHES?!"
Well. That was worth the price of admission.