Understanding the case of the man-child and when papà Beppe announces he needs to “go have the battle” while everyone chats on about his bowel movements over lunch.
So you’ve lived among and dated Italians. Then you decide to be with one because you just can’t help it, they’re adorable with that “uffa” sound they make whenever you snatch away the last piece of pizza from under their nose. Or when they’re singing along to Purple Rain and say “parple” instead of “purple”. You’re having the time of your lives when suddenly, your friend A. tells you a story I’ll call Judged by the Virgin Mary and Her Yellow Perfume Samples. You look over at the mass of chest hair heaving up and down in gentle sleep next to you in bed and can’t help but think: Is this a giant man-child?
Judged by the Virgin Mary and Her Yellow Perfume Samples
One day, A. met Marco, a man in his forties who didn’t know how to put new sheets on a bed. She hadn’t learned Italian yet, his English was limited. But she had a wonderful time, driving around on the back of his Vespa, eating out and enjoying delicious wine, all without having to talk too much. It was a connection based on senses, less on deep talk. He had mentioned he was working in cinema and given that he was driving around in a Porsche, she assumed he must be quite good at what he does.
Then he invited her to the cinema and popped out from behind the popcorn counter like a popcorn himself to greet her when she walked in. The man owning a Porsche had just finished his shift at the popcorn counter - obviously no reason to think any less of him. I had my own string of jobs I did because I found them “interesting”, including wrestling with a woman at the pub who looked and behaved like the creepy girl from The Ring, being a spy for the Italian police and cleaning a cinema in Australia at two in the morning with a vacuum cleaner strapped to my back.
So when Marco invited A. over, she went and was greeted by an array of Mary the Virgin’s plastered all over the walls, like Taylor Swift posters in an American teenager’s room. When she saw the biggest of all the Virgin Mary’s hanging over the bed, gently judging her from next to a shelf spilling over with yellow perfume samples and Murano glass sculptures of dogs, she knew that this was not Marco’s home, but his mothers. It’s where he humbly abided at the gentle age of 45.
Jobs are rare in Rome, wages are low, rent is high. That adults live with their parents makes sense, most of the time. But parking your Porsche in mum’s garage while she’s up there changing your bed sheets? Giant man-child.
Super-Humans Who Never Do Number Twos
Drawing on my own experiences, I knew about the closeness most Italian men feel towards their mothers. I also knew that privacy isn’t big in a country where every minute a new cousin enters the house to join a regular Tuesday lunch that then turns into a small town assembly. But can you ever be prepared for that day when you’re staying at the families’ holiday home at the beach and the mamma marches into your bedroom at eight in the morning, collecting your dirty laundry, including the black lace underwear you carefully hid away in your suitcase, returning the entire pile washed, ironed and neatly folded? Or seeing papà Beppe getting up from the table announcing he needs to ‘go have the battle’, and everyone vividly chatting about his bowel movements over grilled fish?
I come from a country where everyone pretends to be a super-human who’s never done a number two in their lives and you can tell when someone farted because they tense up and quickly say something clever about the impending collapse of society as we know it. So thank you Italy for being chilled out about the natural behaviour of the human body.
I Can’t Eat the Entire Cow!
Being with an Italian man and his family, because they come in twos, gave me a unique insight into Italian culture. It made me want to be less reserved (or “Swiss”, as they call it here), but it also highlighted how coming from a mere 800 kilometres up north I would always be different and had to accept certain things. Like that the general Italian public will never notice how clever and witty I am because sarcasm just doesn’t translate. Or that on plenty of occasions, I apparently displayed offensive behaviour. I’m clearly guilty of lack of conversation and appetite during big Italian social events like Sunday family lunches, because I’m an introvert in big groups and can’t eat an entire cow in one go. The only way I can respond to getting a private guitar performance and being sung at in public is by hiding my face in my purse, urgently "searching" for something but really hoping the bag will swallow me whole.
But to come back to the man-child, mine isn’t one. With a surprising rationality, he doesn’t care about any of my offences. He makes the bed. And he never took me to see the stars on Gianicolo Hill either.
Missed the first two episodes? Read them here: