quantifying weirdness

Shelley of At Home in Rome modified the famous “Six Weird Things About You” meme into the “Six Weird Things About Your City” meme. I’m an overachiever, so I’ll tag myself with both. Anyone who would like to play along, feel free and then come back and leave a link in my comments so I can find you in all your weirdness.

Let’s start with me:

1. I have neither set foot in a Starbucks nor drunk their coffee. Ever. I don’t have anything against them, but we just never crossed paths before I left the U.S. Now I’m quite proud of this, so I will spend the rest of my life purposefully avoiding that caffeine-pushing Siren out of sheer stubbornness. Lucky for me, in southern Italy, this is quite easy to accomplish. I crack easily when it comes to coffee.

2. I arrange my silverware drawer in a very particular way and get upset if someone goes in there and moves things around. Of course all like items are together in slots, but the most important rule is that the bigger ones face up and the smaller ones face down (talking mostly forks and spoons here). And they are stacked, not willy nilly all over the place. Sharp knives all together *in their sheaths* as I don’t need to be slicing myself reaching into the drawer. The rest of the knives congregate in another slot and wallow in their dullness. Don’t worry, if you’re ever a house guest, I won’t ask you to put away silverware. In fact, I’ll probably ask you not to.

3. I can recite all of the Presidents of the United States in order. Wanna hear? Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams….OK, I’ll stop. We had to learn this when I was in 11th grade to recite every week to our teacher as a quiz, and what can I say? Some things in my brain just won’t give up their prized positions. On that note, sorry if I forget your name. There’s only so much room up there.

4. I can tie a cherry stem into a knot using only my tongue. This has more value in the real world than most scholastic accomplishments, so, kids, get practicing!

5. I used to have an intense fear of fire, as in fear that my house/apartment would burn down. I can’t say it was irrational because my family’s house did burn down in 1971 (before I was born) and so THE FIRE was always part of our lore. On the other hand, seven years of college and apartment building 3 a.m. fire alarms only fanned the flames, so to speak. I’m getting past it now that I live in a stone house, but the fact that people burn off their land still freaks me out. A lot.

6. I have two different sets of 4 cups each.

The narrow, flowered ones are for coffee and the wider ones are for tea. In the morning, first I choose coffee or tea (usually coffee), then I pick the mug to match my mood and/or my outfit. Yes, my doggie is the only one who sees my morning routine, but this process grounds me. Get it? Coffee? Grounds? I’m here all week folks!

Moving on to the second half, which I’ll call “Six Weird Things About Southern Italy (although some may apply to the entire country).” Now, to be clear, I’m not necessarily complaining, just observing. And remember, this is all from my experience, so if yours differs, do share in the comments:

1. The whole wedding process. This includes but is not limited to: (1) hand-delivering all invitations; (2) inviting 500 of your closest friends; (3) the fact that only women actually enter the church except for the groom, best man, fathers (maybe), altar boys, and priest; (4) as a guest, being expected to give an envelope full of money–anywhere from 150 euro per person on up is the norm; and (5) having to get married in the comune even if you have a church wedding. This last one might or might not be Italy-wide although I’m not sure.

2. Another general Italian thing–milk in boxes, unrefrigerated and on normal shelves. I’m used to it now, but it’s just an odd concept to get used to when you’re used to a big ole plastic container in the refrigerated dairy section.

3. Southern Italians’ proficiency with knives. I don’t know if this is country-wide or not, but man, down here, even children are adept with knives. Maybe part of it is because they peel all their fruit, and I’m not just talking about oranges and lemons (which, incidentally, is also done with a knife). Apples, pears, really anything with a skin. Even potatoes get peeled with a knife as opposed to a potato-peeler.

And if you’re ever in southern Italy up in someone’s campagna, you’re bound to see each and every man pull out his own pocket knife to cut up bread, salami, and cheese. Seriously, this is the go-to utensil, and when it comes right down to it, it is rather hard to argue with the logic; you can poke things/hold them in place like you would with a fork, scoop things like you would with a spoon, and of course cut. Weird but kinda genius.

4. The fascination with the wind. Shelley wrote about how people are always concerning with taking in the wind, you know, getting sick, and yes, this is true here as well, but I’m talking about the actual wind. The scirocco and tramontana are the biggies. At any given moment, someone is ready to tell me that the weather is all due to whatever type of wind blowing, and, for instance, whether or not I should take my laundry off the line because the scirocco is blowing up odd pink ash from Mount Etna that I’ll never get out of my clothes no matter what I try. Weird but kinda cool, actually. I love the wind.

5. Female friendships. I’ll probably get some flack for this one, but I’m going to say it: it’s difficult to form friendships with many Italian women. Some are closed off to the possibility, others have far different interests than your average Western woman, still others are just worried we foreigners are just man-stealers. In their defense on that last one–show of hands! How many expat bloggers are with Italian men? Uh huh.

Anyway, it seems to me that many Italian women just have a different mentality regarding female friendships–that they are formed very early on in life, and after that, it’s tough to break into the circle. Not impossible, especially where there are open-minded, curious Italian women, but difficult nonetheless. Weird and sad.

6. The strict adherence to the coffee routine. By this I mean the fact that coffee may be drunk in the morning, around 10, after lunch, and possibly after dinner. A cappuccino may only be drunk sometime before 10 a.m. as far as I can glean, and never, ever after meals. I know many of us expats have written about this one, but it’s so weird and so prevalent that it bears mentioning yet again.

Come on, share your weirdosity with the world!


[tags]weird things meme, memes, calabria, italy, life in italy, life in calabria[/tags]

12 Beans of Wisdom to “quantifying weirdness”
  1. guinness girl

    Oh no on the women friendships thing! That would really, really suck. 🙁 At least you have blogging and blog friends!

    Great meme!

  2. Antonella

    Sognatrice, it’s not just men who carry knives. Think of those long trips by train, when you bring bread, cheese and meat to make panini. Of course you have to bring a knife.

    Funny story: I now always carry my swiss army knife with me. I got chosen for jury duty and guess who has a knife in her bag while going through the metal detector at the courthouse? Yikes! The guard started to say something and soon was distracted. I felt so guilty! At lunch break I went shopping and slipped the knife into the shopping bag. I asked the restaurant owner where I ate if I can leave the (heavy) shopping bag with him and pick it up after jury duty that evening. Problem solved. 🙂

  3. A far away friend

    Sognatrice, we have some strickly similiar weird things in common…although I have been in a Starbucks and have drunk the coffee. I’m not a fan…gave ’em several chances…never liked it from the first sip.

    Silverware…now, that’s something I thought no one else was concerned about. I too must have them all neatly stacked. It’s a real shame that someone may try to lend a helping hand and empty the dishwasher for me, but I couldn’t go to sleep knowing the silverware wasn’t stacked properly. Hmm? I think they might have medicine for that condition.

    The U.S. Presidents …. I can do it too. In order… I think you left off at Jackson, VanBuren, William Henry Harrison….

    The Cherry Stem, well, nothing there….perhaps I’ll try and conquer that one soon.

    My intense fear is of drowning…never had a near drowning experience. I can swim, float…but don’t ask me to dive to the bottom of a 12 foot pool to pick up pennies…this one is not good at being under for more than a few seconds….so, I know I would never be a good Fear Factor candidate.

    And although I, personally, do not have two sets of cups….I totally see the functional difference of both of them…..but, I don’t think I’d go as far as picking a mug that matches what I am wearing! I think they have medicine for that condition… hey, do you think we may have a touch of the same condition???

  4. Sharon

    Showing my hand. I have been here 14 years and I second you with the female thing. Women my age tend not to gather together for much of anything. They stick with sisters..cousins…and other relatives. I do have about 4 or 5 great friends. Each one of them spent time living outside of Italy/Sicily. And all but one is way younger than I am.
    However they have absolutely no problems coming to my house to ask if I might do a favor for them.
    I wonder if this is also the case in larger northern cities.

  5. Gil

    Why suffer with Starbucks when NC has Cariou coffee shops!!!

  6. alexmom

    I totally agree that tying a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue has enormous value…especially at happy hour.

  7. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    I was just talking about this last night. All the American/Italian relationships I know are American women with Italian men. Why aren’t there more the other way around? I will have to ask about it in a post.

    Re: Female friends. The Italian women I know lived in the U.S. or the U.K. at one point and I met their friends.

    I also have a fear of my apartment burning down. I am always relieved when I come back from a trip and it’s still here.

  8. Bongga Mom

    I’ve been trying for years to do the cherry stem trick, to no avail. Great post! You inspired me to write my own weird list:


  9. Anonymous

    well, i guess you dn’t think things about yourself are weird until others point them out. here are a few i can think of (but maybe not 8!!)
    -my knees go purple when i’m cold
    -i jam my tongue btwn my lower teeth and front lip when i cough (apparently to others this looks hilarious but had gone totally unnoticed by me for 30 years until G pointed it out)
    – i live in italy and i hate coffee, olives, seafood, salami. Luckily i like red wine!
    – i was named after my pram
    – my first word was hole.
    – I give my cats weird names. Friendlycat, Stumpy, Spazzy (althoug there is logic in them!)
    – when i hang shirts up i only do up the top button
    – i can french braid my own hair without looking in a mirror

  10. Shelley - At Home in Rome

    Oh, Sogna, you’ve got some comic gold here. Not only did I laugh out loud, I admit that at one point I actually clapped my hands together in joyful amusement. This happens, oh, close to never, so… brava!

    Now, a couple things that I found interesting!

    1) Weddings are much different in the south. Here in Rome we don’t have to have two ceremonies (Ale and I are getting married in the church only) but you do have to register some docs with the comune. Also, I’ve never been to a wedding where men weren’t allowed in…that is definitely weird, and I’ve been to like 10 Italian weddings, but all in the central area of Italy. We don’t give money envelopes here either. But we do hand-deliver invites. We invite less people in general though. So, you can see, weddings are a whole other world down where you are!!

    Italian women. I have had some real problems with a female relative not being very accepting of me. After six years I’ve learned how to manage it, but it ain’t easy!! As for friends though, I have developed several lovely friendships with Italian women, but they were almost all friends of Ale or his friends, and it takes time.

    Thanks for the interesting post!!!

  11. Aurora( Dawn)

    Ciao Bella! How are you? I’m still alive, just procrasting in writing e-mails as usual when I’m not working. I laughed so hard when I read this blog because I can relate to every weird thing that goes on in southern Italy. The weddings are scary and the guests look more like a crowd than actual wedding guests. Don’t forget that you have to give the 11th cousin a invitation or they will be offended.:-)

    I could write a book on the Italian/ foreign woman friendship. They get married and have children, and that becomes their whole life. Not all Italian women are alike. However, in the south where family
    ( only family) is more dominant above all priorities , the females tend to stay with each other( the females they grew up with or relatives)or stay only with family. :-O It is sad because it makes for lonely life in the end esp. when the kids grow up, marry, and move away. Hey wait! That’s right, the kids don’t grow up and move away. They finish school, marry and move upstairs. 🙂 lol

    The knife thing is a little weird isn’t it esp. when it’s like bring your own knife to dinner. lol Oh! if you’re friends with someone, never buy them a knife for a gift because it’s a sign of badluck and cutting the ties of friendship.

    It’s weird we have a lot of in common besides the cherry stem thing. My house burned down when I was 8 years old and I still find myself fire-proofing everything. I’m quite nuts about making sure the gas is turned off on the stove.

    You have a great blog and keep up the good work! Have a good day and talk soon. Dawn

  12. AJ

    I found you from the blog party and am so glad I did. I must say you are so lucky to have avoided the whole Starbucks craze. Thanks to my lovely aunt I am now addicted! I also firmly believe that a woman really only needs two geniunely true friends and if they are your true friends they will be there for life. So basically what I am saying is who needs the trouble of trying to break a woman’s shell if you already have your friends for life…which I hope you do!!! Besides, judging from your comments, you have plenty of pretty great prospects in the friendship department!

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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