If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done” – Ludwig Wittgenstein 1947

One of the great oddities of society is how empathetic we are of our heritage (Italian, Irish, Scottish, Polish, Russian, et al) but yet we are so culturally removed and defunct in it. This is prevalent particularly in immigrant countries like America, Canada, Australia, South Africa et al. Think of all the African Americans who kiss the ground when they visit Africa (oooh Ophra). Or those silly New Jersey Guido’s. Or the virulent Irish-Americans who swig Guinness on St. Patricks day but have no idea what the Blarney Stone is.

Recently I went to Boston for a Patriots game and had Sunday lunch with Bobsled girl’s family – your atypical Italian-American family (complete with two half-retarded Guido sons!). Anyway like the smooth shrewd politician I am, I kissed babies, shook hands, and schmoozed the parents. Most importantly I got to know Nonna (grandma). Who coincidentally came to the US from Syracusa! (Reminder I coached pallanuoto in Syracusa)

The Castello in me ran completely amock in Italian with old Nonna (it’s my favorite language). Strangely my Italian was better than all her children. No grandchildren (Bobsled girl included) could even string a sentence together. This was when the oddity of heritage dawned on me. Here was a proud Italian family, but it was just a watered down Americanized Bud-Lite version of being Italian.

Nonna was an incredibly fascinating lady. We talked forever about Caretto Siciliano, Caltanisseta, Arancini, and typical cliched Italian family secrets. We laughed at how her grandchildren regarded lasagne and ziti as Italian cuisine. We traded Caponata recipes and showed our Tarantella moves. It was Nonna who expressed to me her tristezza (dismay) in the dissolving Italianess of her family. My Gran probably feels the same thing when she looks at me and her other grandchildren. My Ouma must be equally distraught up in heaven at my terrible Afrikaans! I wander what they feel about my fascination with America and Italy…

Empathizing with a distant and removed foreign culture is difficult, particularly if its not relevant to you. I battle to empathize with my own English heritage. But yet I empathize fully with my broader South African background. I wonder how I’ll make South African culture relevant enough for my own children to empathize? It’s a problem my serbian friend Nikola also faces with his son Filip. I’m sure there are millions of people facing this.

What culture/nationality/religion do you empathize with? and why?

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