Friday, July 30, 2010

Mars and Venus in Calabria

   Rock Music concert for Festa di San Giuseppe, Santa Domenica Talao  
Sorry, astronomy fans, The subject of today's post is related to the book by Dr. John Gray published in 1992--Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus wherein it asserts that men and women have a communication problem.  I am a consciousness-raised survivor of the second wave of feminism that fizzled out in the USA sometime in the "wonderful" '80s. Since the fizzle-- brought on by a combination of improved conditions (better jobs, no longer hearing "I'm not listening to a damn woman about it", or "we don't hire women, period" on a daily basis) and a general lack of interest in civics since the late '70s.  I am fully credentialed for noticing the blatant as well as the subtle forms of oppression. 

I have been here in Calabria since February and am still very cautious about generalizations or even the accuracy of observations of the language impaired.  However, this blog is supposed to be about our impressions of life here so please consider the following my observations--as I see things currently and specific to this exact place, nothing more.

First, I'll discuss the unexpected pleasant surprises, things that seem to click with me naturally and against what I heard about Italy or Calabria:
  • It's no surprise that women keep their maiden name here.  It's often done, I don't really understand why.
  • Being a "Senora" here is MUCH more comfortable than being an old broad in the US.  I'm invisible because I'm a foreigner somewhat, but not because I'm a woman of a certain age.  This is a big deal and not to be minimized.
  • Women get to do the whole spiritual thing for men, including going to church for them. Some men are very involved, but not many.  Makes the church sort of a women's club.
  • Our contractor (restoration project) is very respectful of my ideas.  I am comfortable discussing things with him or with our geometra.  He generally thinks Doug and I are clueless, but he listens and the clueless assumption is for both  Doug and I.  The only exception is physical stuff.  Hates to see me on a ladder.
I have a comfort gauge that tips me off when things are not quite right.  The following have set off this gauge:
  • Women on Italian TV (this has been discussed to death--suffice to say men are clothed thereon, women not so much).
  • Some men (not unlike the US) just plain don't listen to me and talk to Doug instead, regardless of who is talking when it comes to business.
  • Only Doug needed to sign on our residency application for our Comune.
  • I was working on refinishing our front door and a man walked by and asked me if my husband was sleeping (?).
  • Doug (!) noticed that our geometra (last time we got together) kept looking at him while he talked rather than looking at both of us.  Usually I notice these things.  I must have been concentrating on the Italian. On the bright side, I've never found that he devalued my design input.
  • Men wait for their women to cook lunch and dinner in the town square.  On the other hand, I'm guessing it all started because they got kicked out of the house.  The fact that Doug does our cooking is not a bad reflection on him, but I'm getting the vibe that it's a bad reflection on me.  I'm not too certain of this one yet.
You can see that these lists are not very long.  I'm not trying to make it in the workplace, so I'm sure I'm missing a lot of potential observation.  I don't yet have any Italian women friends who talk to me without their families, so I know I'll find out more as my Italian improves.  All in all, there is a lot to learn about Mars and Venus in Calabria and I'll stay here and keep you informed. 


  1. I'll never forget the police in Sicily insisting that they had to talk to me when my daughter, the only one of us fluent in Italian, asked for directions!!! After they found out that I was just another dumb Mericano they talked to her and then commented her on her good command of the Italian language.

  2. I do all the DIY in our house. I get lots of "che brava !!!" comments while slightly dirty looks get shot at my husband.
    I find I am let off the hook in the housewife stakes by most, male and female (with the notable exception of MIL) on the basis I am "forrin".

    Most of my friends love playing "Ironing Olympics" when I am in the group cos they are never going to limp in last while I am around.

    I don't really have much to compare things to, having left home so long ago while I was only just in my 20s, but it does seem that in the home at least the divvying up of roles is really rather traditional.

    I know my husband faced a steep learning curve, finding himself with a wife who labels herself a feminist with no attempt to soft soap with modifiers, given that he was brought up by the archetypal old school Italian mother/housewife.

    We had some rather interesting conversations in the early days when each of us thought the other might possibly be speaking Martian given how little the entire foundation of their argument was based on universally understood norms.

  3. You guys both crack me up.
    Ironing Olympics! Doug irons his clothes all the time and I just buy ones that don't need it.
    I never really noticed this stuff when I was breaking my butt making a I notice how well we divided the home labor. Unfortunately, some of what I did is obsolete in retirement (we had a big garden in Oregon, I did all the money stuff--there was more to do before) Doug's Mom gets all the credit. She made him work. He won't hang laundry in front of any Italian men, tho.

  4. Hi guys Helen M and I were discussing you the other day wondering if you had made the jump. Drop me an e-mail sometime by the looks of this thing are going well. Beckner

  5. Hey, Craig,
    Yes, we jumped. Long way from Dale, eh?



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