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    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    Italian stereotypes? Bring ’em on

    There are times, in moments of deeper contemplation, I play this little game. Loosely translated, it goes something like, “so what’s everybody feeling offended about today?”

    It’s really replaced baseball as our pastime. You can’t go 22 seconds anymore without some surly Shirley or huffy Buffy unburdening themselves, regardless of whether the rest of us asked.

    And that’s why I’m proud to share my Italian heritage today. Because let me just say this about all my fellow paisans (and paisan-ettes): We are a thick-skinned posse. We have plenty of stereotypes lobbed our way. And we mostly get offended over nothing.

    I got to thinking about this watching the kid quarterback for the Giants recently. Tommy DeVito has made this bus crash of a season suddenly more fun. The Giants have won their last two games with this kid who might as well have been in witness protection at the start of the season. Four touchdown passes and no interceptions the past two weeks. And each touchdown punctuated with the finger purse.

    Can I just say how much fun it is to see his teammates, not of Italian heritage, joining in the finger purse? They’re on record saying they have no idea what it means, but it looks like fun. It’s like DeVito is spreading the culture. From Pied Piper to Pied Paisan.

    Many of us Italians grew up with the finger purse. The tips of all the fingers of one hand are brought together to form an upward pointing cone. You quickly learn the phrase “ma che vuoi” or “what do you mean?” It’s normally used in a time when we think something is unfair or unbelievable. And really, what’s more unbelievable than a Giants’ touchdown?

    The media is beginning to love DeVito. It has been unearthed that he still lives at home. His mom makes his bed and does his laundry. They’re calling him the “Passin’ Paisan” and “Tommy Cutlets” because of his affinity for chicken Parmesan, which begins with carefully crafted chicken cutlets. His father is a plumbing contractor. Of course he is.

    And it’s all in good fun. That’s still allowed today, you know.

    Now we get the idea that stereotypes aren’t generally encouraged. But Italians tend to welcome them. Like we don’t get offended that the public in general thinks that we eat pasta every day, talk with our hands, know point spreads, lead the league in holding grudges, yell indiscriminately, are all connected to the Mafia, barf at the thought of jarred spaghetti sauce, frequently contemplate revenge, cover living room furniture with plastic, find more use for eggplant than the rest of society and guzzle red wine.

    Nowhere is this better depicted than the song “Christmas in East Haven,” frequently played on state radio stations during the holidays. Sung to the tune of “Silver Bells” …

    “Cousin Lori/got a story/That she can't wait to tell/So she talks on the phone/To Gina … Bobby's cheatin'/He needs a beatin'/'Cause he stole Louie's girl/And above all the cursing/Ya hear … Silver Bells/Hair all Gel-ed/It's Christmas Time in East Haven/Ring-a-ling/Bada-bing/Soon it will be Christmas day.”

    And we just kind of laugh along.

    Now this is not to suggest we Italians don’t get offended. I know some Italians in New London are still chafed over the disappearance of the Columbus statue from downtown. Not going there today. Just pointing out that we’re still human, but perhaps not as touchy as other segments of society.

    And before the aforementioned surly Shirley arises here, let me just say it wasn’t easy for my extended family. They arrived here “on the boat” from Sicily in the early 40s without a pot to peel a potato in. They worked as many blue collar jobs as necessary to make a living. Grew their own food. Turned the cheapest cuts of meat into the metaphorical steak at the Ritz. They experienced discrimination. Relegated to one end of town. Never asked anything of anyone. As Geno Auriemma once said of his upbringing: “If there was something bothering you, you fixed it. Nobody else really gave a (hoot).”

    Maybe that’s how one develops thick skin.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying watching the kid DeVito, the finger purses and the odes to his heritage. It’s brought me back to childhood, a wildly unintended consequence of something so unimportant as a football game. Now with the Giants on a bye this week, I believe I’ll make Sunday sauce.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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