Tired of fake Italian

I have to admit it, it does bother me.

Looks like it’s something cool to say just to have a reaction. It happens to me all the time. «I’m Italian» they say. “No you are not!” my mind screams!!!

I understand that in Toronto, the most multicultural city in the world, definitions don’t make too much sense, and I also believe that everybody can wrap themselves up with your favorite flag without giving any explanation. But that doesn’t make you Italian, or Canadian, or any other countries citizen.

I’m Italian because I was born in Italy, because I lived there 23 years of my life. I’m Italian because I can speak Italian, I sing, I think, I write, I read and I dream in Italian. I’m Italian even if I don’t drink wine, but I could recognize the smell of my land with my eyes closed.

My passport is Italian, I can cook pasta, I like pizza, I like Italian fashion and I do cheer like crazy for the Italian soccer team during the World Cup, but all those things don’t make me Italian. Neither does my Italian last name. And you know what? When I’ll be a mother, my child won’t be Italian, and it’s totally ok.

My being Italian doesn’t make me any better than anybody else, so it really sound strange to me how people that were born in another country, that cannot speak Italian, that don’t know anything about Italian culture and politics, and in most cases they have never been to Italy can define themselves as Italian.

I wouldn’t define myself as French, or Japanese, and it’s not even a must to define yourself.

And let’s not start with that song either: if we talk about your roots, and how important they are for you, how come you didn’t study Italian? Who is the Republic’s President? Who is Dante o Garibaldi? Why you don’t know anything about “your” country?

Please don’t even ask me about those “Italians” made in USA with big muscle, orange skin and ridiculous TV shows, all those grocery’s products called “Italian”, or restaurants with Italian names and wrong spellings.

To end, I just would like to say that I respect much more somebody who falls so deeply in love with a country to decide to study everything about it, than a person who gets confused between a last name and a life.

Please read Italian food stereotypes, no grazie!, my #1 post published by the CNN website Eatocracy


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39 responses to “Tired of fake Italian”

  1. Anthony says :

    I am totally in agreement. While I was born in Canada, I was born to Italian parents, can speak in Italian and have spent time in Italy. I hold an Italian passport and I know that the plural of tortellini isn’t tortellinis. And I am not a meat headed, orange-tanned, guy who thinks he’s Italian because he’s seen every Sopranos episode.

    There’s a special place in Dante’s hell for people who emulate the guys from Jersey Shore.

  2. Fragolina says :

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. I studied Italian for three years and whenever i find something written about Italy i try to read it, i search stuff about Ialian food, the things that interest me, just to be close to “Italy”. And I would love, a dream, to go live in Italy for a while, live the culture, learn more about the real italian food (that’s my passion) speak more Italian, enjoy the beautiful scenes. To understand what “Italian” means.

  3. stefafra says :

    So after how many generation your Italian emigrant descendant will be “non Italian” anymore?
    Do you need to be born in Italy, to have an Italian passport, or to have an italian family name (and that’s very unfair for us girls, very unlikely to trasmit family names..). Or do you need to be able to speak Italian an cook pasta?
    It’s very difficult, especially for people born away from the country of their parents, or with parents with different origins, to feel that they belong somewhere.
    I’m 100% Italian, born and bred in Italy, but I don’t care if somebody is proud to be Italian and he/she is not “purebreed”, as you seem to imply.
    Good for him/her.

    • elenasc says :

      Hi Stefafra, thanks for your comment!
      If you have red my post you know I believe the identity is something more than a last name, the place or birth or the language you speak.
      My post talks about people that say “I’m Italian” (but it could be any nationality) in the same way the show off their last car or a watch, and I do not like that! That’s all!

  4. katia68 says :

    ….To me it’s more important that a person is 100% true and genuine when it comes to the heart. The rest..”don’t sweat the small stuff”. If somebody wants to be a fake Italian it’s his problem.

    • lmarmstrong66.wordpress.com says :

      Hi Elena, I’m really enjoying your blog. I want to comment on several posts but this one caught me for a personal reason. I agree that many “Italian’s” in Canada think they know Italy etc. while most of them have never even been there but there is also “Italian culture”. Now that I live in Italy I can see for myself that these Canadian Italians were that badge proudly because they know that Italy is so rich in culture and that their parents who emigrated 50 years or more ago have passed on that pride…there is nothing wrong with that. But what these children of Italian immigrants don’t realize is that their own Italian parents have not lived in Italy for 50 years or more and that the country has changed! They still hold onto the past because that is how they remember Italy when they left it. I have not lived in Canada for 10 years, it has also changed but I will always be “Canadian”.
      I grew up in Niagara Falls where most of my classmates were “Italian” I learned to love the food and culture and when I finally did come to Italy it felt like home. My sister married an “Italian Canadian” and he openly admits he has never been to Italy, sad but true. But he still had “Mama” and the last name and he was proud of his heritage :)
      Buon paese…isn’t that the saying?

      • elenasc says :

        Thank you so much for your comment!
        You are totally right! Please feel free to comment every post you’d like, I would love to have more of your comment.
        Keep reading!

  5. Strappo says :

    Always an interesting debate. As someone who is not ethnically Italian but decided to become as Italian as I could at an early age, I understand your frustration about those clueless Italo-Americans and I identify closely with Fragolina.

    Stefano Frega (I know it’s you, caro Sior Stefafra), it’s not a purity test or anything like that which Elenasc is proposing, it’s the utter lack of understanding about Italy and Italian culture on the part of so many Italo-Americans. Prime example: Food. Eggplant Parmigian? Magari.

    Wine: Italian-Americans love to pretend they know all about Italian wine. By and large they wouldn’t know Chianti from Central Valley plonk. (Granted, a great deal of Chianti is rotten plonk as well, which is why we will probably never import one – oh, another one! – to the States.

    For what it’s worth…

  6. Leah says :

    I live in Italy and my mother-in-law cooks eggplant parmesan…so I don’t know why you say this is not Italian?

    • ElenaSC says :

      Did I say you are not Italian?

      • Leah says :

        I’m Canadian…my husband is Italian and we live in Italy. You have said several times that eggplant parmesan is not Italian but yet I have eaten it here in Genova many times…

        • ElenaSC says :

          I have never even mention eggplant in this post! Someone else did it in a comment, so please do not get confused between what I think and a comment from somebody elese.
          Anyway it’s not about what I think: Melanzane alla parmigiana is an Italian recipe, and I actually posted it on my blog (http://wp.me/pXsUB-iz). Enjoy!

          • Leah says :

            Excuse me Elena, I didn’t realize I was reading someone else’s comment as your own. The recipe looks good, this is one of my personal favourites because it is a meatless/fishless dish.
            My mother-in-law cooks fish almost everyday and it always surprises people who come to visit. They expect pasta, lasagna and salami! In Liguria it’s all about the sea and fresh fish! Personally I prefer Tuscan cuisine which is heavier and more filling for the damp cold winters.

          • ElenaSC says :

            Sardinian is the best!
            Enjoy your holiday!

  7. Strappo says :

    Ero io a calunniare eggplant parm.

    Not because I don’t think it’s Italian but in irritation because most North Americans believe that everyday Italian food consists of overdone spaghetti swimming in gloppy Bolognese sauce, eggplant parm and about 4 other things. Not to mention junk that Olive Garden and other chains have caused to metastasize beyond all reason: fettuccine Alfredo, pasta primavera and Chicago pan pizza.

    The way it’s f’d with over here bears zero resemblance to the simpler, tastier and healthier originals in Italy.

    I hope I’ve ended the polemics over who’s Italian, etc. Colpa mia.

  8. Strappo says :

    I did and that’s what inspired me to get all riled up.

  9. lmarmstrong66.wordpress.com says :

    Well I’ve been to Mexico a thousand times and I can tell you that Taco Bell is nothing like real Mexican food, so I think that it’s safe to say that all food is better when sampled at the original source. Since moving to Italy I have learned that each region has very specific recipes and food that is typical for the agriculture grown there. Since most Immigrants to North America are from Calabria and the south of Italy, most people think Italian food is just pizza, pasta and wine…
    I’ve even been served bland arribiata spaghetti here in Italy because I was in a tourist district and they assumed I didn’t know what arribiata was. Quite disappointing!
    The same goes for the cioccolato caldo, I actually found a bar in Genova that makes it watery like the American stuff when I finally got used to the thick Italian version. I’m guessing that when they heard my accent they decided to give me the ‘tourist version’. Now I specify ‘denso’.
    I’ve also been charged double for gelato etc. when I am not with my husband because I’m obviously not Italian. It’s quite frustrating and I always feel taken advantage of!

  10. Owen says :

    I wish we could get half the people who live in England to feel/say they were English.

  11. donatella says :

    dear Elena, I perfectly understand your feelings. I was born in Italy, I’m living in Italy but I lived four years in the US and all the time friends invited us to an “Italian” restaurant I was terrified. I wasn’t frustrated anyway and appreciated their love for my country …and invited them for a real Italian dinner at home. People around the world are aesily attracted from our language, food, music maybe and this is good. Globalisation also means adapting local food to different tastes: I do not expect to find the Chinese food of Milan restaurants in Bejing. And for sure my pumpkin pie has nothing to do with the real American one.
    For what concerns the Italian culture instead, we can’t be too proud nowadays and we need to inspire ourselves looking at other countries. For this reason I’m happy to say, after the small American experience, that a bit of that culture has followed me back to Italy, together with the chicken wings!

    • lucia fatone says :

      Dear Elena,

      you wouldn’t define yourself as French, Japanese or American, simply becuase you were not raised in a houseld that IDENTIFIES as a culture with roots in that country…
      While I agree with you that there is somewhat of a language/cultural difference between Italians who were born and raised in Italy, and those who were born elsewhere BUT BELONG to a large ethnic/cultural community, I don’t agree with you that the latter must be deemed “fake” or that they don’t have a right to define themselves as Italian!
      That, mia cara Italiana, borders on the offensive.

      I don’t know what it’s like in Toronto, but I can tell you that here in America, a country that was built on the blood, sweat and tears of immigrant work, people show amazing pride in their cultural roots.

      I would never dare tell a Hispanic person who was NOT born in Mexico or Puerto Rico that they should re-think how they define their cultural identity, based on what they know of their ancesteral country!

      According to what you’re saying, only in-depth knowledge of language, cuisine, literacy and socio-political status of that country, should dictate the level of pride and love one has for one’s roots???? And Identity? Really?

      The Italian-Americans that I know, come in varying degrees of this “knowledge” you presume to lay a a pre-requisite to cultural identity.
      They have extended their love of country and culture throughout the years with the painstaking establishment of social clubs, schools, museums, maintaning cultural traditions, parades and festivals in their adopted land, for generations to come.

      So maybe some don’t have the advantage of being exposed to the things you or I were, as natives of Italy, trough the coincidence of being born there. But to suggest they need to stop calling themselves Italian is pretentious at best.

      Just like people who think their “Italianness” is so intact and pure, have no right to tell me “non sono piu’ tanto Italiana, perche’ ormai sono piu’ Americana”, there is no rhyme or reason not to embrace all people belonging to our culture, even (gasp!) if it’s by last name only. There is ALWAYS something to be taught and always something to be learned too….

      • ElenaSC says :

        Cara Lucia,

        I’d like to start saying that you – like every person – have the right to define yourself as you like.
        I wrote this post to express my opinion about people who define themselves as Italian just because it’s cool or trendy, or perhaps for their last name. I can’t be offensive if I say this, and honestly I don’t think my post is.

        What you are talking about is totally different. You mentioned “those who were born elsewhere BUT BELONG to a large ethnic/cultural community” which it’s clear they are not the kind of people I am talking about. You even mentioned the “blood, sweat and tears of immigrant work” which again it’s totally off topic.

        And just to clarify: I have never said or even suggested that an Italian who live in American is not Italian anymore. Being Italian – or any other nationality – is not like wearing a T-shit that you can take off and on. There is not somebody who is more Italian than somebody else.
        There are Italian and not Italian, Italian-America, Italian-Canadian, Italian-Chinese and all the nuance in the between.

        Cultural identity does not have any pre-requisite, but in my opinion it does have meaning. So I’d like to know that if you define yourself as Italian, you do it because you really feel Italian, and not for other reason. This is what my post is about. Nothing more, nothing less.


        • lmarmstrong66.wordpress.com says :

          I’m going to throw my 2 cents worth in here as a non-Italian who grew up with Italian immigrants and now lives in Italy. I think the word ‘fake’ is what is making this sound offensive…perhaps? Knowing that Elena’s first language is not English I am thinking that perhaps ‘authentic’ or ‘non-authentic’ would have been a better choice. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to use ‘lei’ or ‘tu’ and I make mistakes all the time but I certainly never intend to offend…get my point?

  12. renee says :

    I think this whole thing is ignorant and stupid,but what do I know??? I’m an Itlaian American who has not lived in Italy. My grandparents and parents are from Sicily. We were raised knowing the culture and the language. My skin is not orange,but it’s olive.I have dark brown curly hair and hazle eyes and a nose to boot.It’s my “blood line”.I’m not another race?? I am Italian. All I have heard on here is the food and wine list with a few cultures that define “a race”. I Know Itlaians from Italy that do not know alot of things about their own country.. that I knew more about. Are they “fake”??? What’s funny is I lived in America all my life and I still can’t remember all the presidents.. Does that define me as being a”fake American( with no race)”?? LMAO… Thanks for the laugh.Where I Live it’s so diverese No One introduces themselves defining by race/nationality.No one here cares if i’m Italian ,or not. I also eat itlain food authentic and recipes from the old country passed down from generations. Here in America you can find the authentic food. You have to know where to go. We have many itlaian comunities from the old country who travel back and forth to Italy “with their passport” cooking and passing down culture. I’m not sure who you’re meeting to create a blog like this?? Please do not over generalize who you think is a “fake italian” using only your perception. That’s when it becomes offensive to people like me. It’s really superficial way of thinking. good luck!

    • ElenaSC says :

      Sure, my post could be ignorant and stupid! (btw, I didn’t come to your house calling you ignorant and stupid, and since I publish in my blog comments that agee or disagree with me, I would like that people could keep the conversation costructive and without insults!)
      I just don’t think you even read my post! Why would you say “All I have heard on here is the food and wine list with a few cultures that define “a race”” when I wrote “My passport is Italian, I can cook pasta, I like pizza, I like Italian fashion and I do cheer like crazy for the Italian soccer team during the World Cup, but all those things DON’T MAKE me Italian”.
      I have never say that Italians born in Italy are more Italian, never. I wrote I was born in Italy because it’s true, and if I talk ABOUT ME being Italian that is an element that is part of my being Italian.
      I can guarantee that, beside the comments in this page, HUNDREDS of Italians from all over the world wrote me about this post. 99% of them told me they feel in the exact same way! They told me their personal stories, about how they are far away from Italy but they always keept their italianita’ alive, and they are bothered from all those people who pretend to be Italian.
      To end, of course I write using my perception, this is my blog! And honestly, two people who misunderstood my post over hundreds that got it…. it would happen no matter what the topic is.
      I keep the conversation open, that’s why your comment is here…. you however are even insulting the people I met. See, this is the difference, I wrote my opinion about something, in my blog. You came here to insult and then tell me I’m offensive. Good luck to you….

      • renee says :

        Well. I see your defensive. I did not call names(coming into your house insulting you??). My opinion was…. BLOG ITSELF was superficial and ignorant,and yes stupid( to me)(But what do I Know?). It’s based on my perception of what I read more than once. How is that insulting you? I don’t know you at all. If you open a discussion then be prepared to hear the good,bad,and indifferent.Your blog is INSULTING to Italian Americans like me My comment was constructive(Just not to your liking). How can you not see that??? I don’t care about the 99%. Not everyone needs to agree with you. I Know what your blog says ( 99% of the people I know agree with me from America and Italy) Does that really matter??….lol Because I find your blog to be judgemental and superficial because of your mistake of over generalizing a topic that clearly do make some people offended ( whether you want to understand that ,or not)It’s a blog I responded to with my personal feeling.

        • ElenaSC says :

          Cara Renee,
          it is not a competition of who is right. I wrote my opinion, you can disagree in a polite way and have all you friends agreeing with you, but that is still my opinion (and apparently not only mine).
          This post is not meant to insult anybody, and it’s not different for the one I wrote about food. The concept is the same, so I’m going to use different words to say what I mean: would you call “Pizza Pizza” Italian food? or all the restaurants or products that call themselves Italian? You probably know better than me that there are lots of fake Italian stuffs out there, right? Ok, the same is for people. It could not be you, but there are, and everybody (even not Italian) knows that. It happens for all the nationalities (I think) so don’t take it personaly. If you are not “fake” it means I am not talking about you!
          You wrote “Your blog is INSULTING to Italian Americans like me”…. let me correct that: you found my post insulting. I’m sure Italian Americans can speak for themselves. Please do not over generalize, as you asked me in your first comment!

        • andrea says :

          Ciao Elena!
          I think that the main reason why people from the united states of america like to call themselves eitheir italian’s, french’s or german’s is because their lack of identity with their own country… It’s way cooler say “i’m italian” than say “i am a plain boring american with nothing exciting about my culture”.. they want to feel different from the others to get attention… because off course its better to say i am french than say “i am a pure american redneck” lol … and i really dont blame them cause to be honest their cuiture is really poor compare to the ones from the rest of the world…

    • andrea says :

      You are not italian!!!You are from the united states of america!!! ..Not even american because america is the continent not the country!!…(talking about ignorance) you were born and raise in the u.s.a. you belong to the u.s.a culture!!!, i know there is nothing exciting about the u.s.a culture, and you probably called yourself italian to sound more interesting or to get some attention but come on the fact that your parents are from italy it doesnt mean you are italian!!! what your are is a “american” with italian descent!!! thats it!!!

      otherwise who can we call american if everybody in usa has a different heritage but the native indians??? come on you are AMERICAN !! dont be ashame to say it!! dont u feel excited when the u.s.a plays at the olimpics?? dont you sing your national anthom?? dont you celebrate july 4th with fireworks??? dont you support the u.s.a troops in middle east??? come on be proud of your culture… thats what you are!!!

  13. Cynthia says :

    Hi Elena-

    I’m coming to the discussion a little late (just discovered your blog) but felt I needed to write to support you. You are absolutely right, as you are about the fake Italian food that North Americans think is Italian. I have an Italian mother and an American father, lived in Italy twenty years and went to elementary school there. Yet I am American. North American “Italians” who don’t know anything about Italy, have never been there or have only been there as tourists, can’t even pronounce a few common words correctly in Italian- are not Italian. These people are mildly pathetic. As for taking pride in their heritage- if you don’t make effort to learn the language, the history, the cuisine, current events- how do you even know you’re proud of your heritage? These people think that identity is a genetic thing. Not so.

  14. Alessandra72 says :

    grazie per il blog e le tue opinioni. Sono nata e cresciuta a Bologna, rinomatissima per le sue tradizioni culinarie. Ho imparato a fare i tortellini, le lasagne, il ragu, la torta di riso, e tante altre delizie da mia nonna e dai miei genitori. Da 23 anni, vivo nel sud degli USA, ove mi sono trasferita quando mio padre fu incaricato di amministrare una succursale USA della sua compagnia italiana. Ho anche vissuto per 5 anni a New York, nel downtown di Manhattan. Devo dire che sono pienamente d’accordo con le tue opinioni. Anche in una megalopoli come New York e` veramente difficile trovare cucina regionale che varia dagli ‘standard’ spaghetti, meatballs, etc. E` ancora piu` difficile cercare di spiegare le differenze tra la cucina degli immigranti e le varie cucine regionali d’Italia a proprio coloro che sono di discendenze italiane. Nessuno dice che spaghetti e meatballs (cosa che io trovo orrida, ma e` la mia opinione) siano cattivi rispetto a un bel piatto di tagliatelle al ragu`.. pero`, uno e` un piatto italo-americano e l’altro e` un piatto veramente italiano, e quindi c’e` di sicuro una differenza notevole.

  15. Victoria72 says :

    I just read a couple of your articles (not really sure what to call them) and I loved it. I’m american of italian decent, my mother was the first child born in the US and my family is to put it lightly; very italian. I’ve had the opportunity to grow up in an italian home in terms of food, language and culture. The one thing about americans that bothers me the most is their ignorance of italian culture, I mainly mean the food. I hate going to those “italian” restuarants because I’ve lived in Italy and come from a family who can make authentic italian cuisine. Or going to a friends house, it’s terrible when their mom says, “we’re having italian tonight”. Those four little words just bring me dread and dissapointment. And I’m not trying to be rude or a know it all, but the fact is it’s just hard to eat americanized “italian” food when I can have the real stuff at home. Oh god, don’t even get me started on that pre-grated “parmigiano” cheese crap- it tastes disgusting and people believe that it’s real italian. It’s just insulting.

  16. Fernanda says :

    Here, in Brazil (especially in the south and southeast) it happens too much too. In the 19th century lots of italians came here because of the crisis that italia was passing thru.
    I totally agree with you. it’s so ridiculous that they claim to be italian, but they don’t know nothing about its culture.
    I can talk about it because apart of living in a region colonized by italians, i’m a brazilian of italian descent (a very old connection, though) and i don’t consider myself italian.
    Some of them can speak “Talian” (a modification of the Venetian dialect), can dance some traditional dances, cook some traditional food and etc, but there are really only few ones.
    The big majority can only fake some few words in italian and a disgusting accent that doesn’t maches with the real ones.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Italian food stereotypes, no grazie! « Elena_SC's Blog - September 2, 2010
  2. Italy for dummies « Elena_SC's Blog - October 3, 2010

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