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Student Perspective: La Famiglia


Photo by Camilo Alexei M Giannella

Reflections on the Italian Family

by Richard J. Widden

When living in Italy one cannot help but notice the social and cultural differences between this country and America. The Italian lifestyle, as evidenced by habits like the pausa di pranzo (or long, midday break) seems much more relaxed and stress-free than ours. In other ways, too, Italians differ.

If there is one thing in Italian society that stands out as the highest focus, treated with utmost priority, it’s the family. Italians rely on family for an array of help, as shown in the way individuals live here. Family is the epicenter, the core social unit, and gives the expression “the Italian way” meaning, to an outsider’s perspective, too.

As significant as family, there is also food. Family and food go hand-in-hand in Italian culture, as demonstrated during family mealtimes. A family meal is about so much more than sustenance. It’s a ritual. Eating with the family gives those involved a social opportunity, to nurture and develop family relationships and important ties to those that share one’s name. Most importantly, mealtime allows Italians to enjoy the company of significant others and loved ones. Clearly the “art” of food and drink is practiced by all families here, and is a key component of life.

There is a saying known by many: “Behind every great man there is a great woman.” In Italy, the saying goes: “behind every Italian there is a great mother.” Mothers naturally play a vital role in any family, yet in Italy the status of the mother seems particularly elevated and important. Italian mothers influence heavily the lives of sons, it’s well known; Italian mothers are the key decision makers of the family-deciding everything from what is allowable behaviour to the choice of their son’s underwear; and within the family, the Italian mother is the go-to person when something is wanted.

Italian fathers for the most part remain the traditional breadwinners, yet virtually all other family responsibilities fall to the mother. As a social unit, the Italian family might seem old-fashioned, or at least out-dated, to some Americans. Yet Italians are said to have one of the highest qualities of life of any society, due in large part no doubt to an effectual family structure and the positive influence of mothers. While there is no “right” of “wrong” way to look at different countries’ social structures, it is worth appreciating the “family way” as exemplified by the Italians. Italy like any other country, has its faults, but what Italians do well, they do better than most.