I've mentioned my boyfriend, Francesco, a few times here, and I thought it would be fun to talk about what it's like to date someone from a culture so different from my own.
We get asked all the time how we met. It's a cute story, actually.
He's a tour guide in his little village of Davoli, and seven months ago, I took his tour with a group. Actually, he'd forgotten he had a tour, so the first time I saw him, he was drinking a beer with friends in the square! Little did he know his life was about to be disrupted by an American!
A week later, we saw each other again at the Naca procession in Davoli. He gave me one of the paper lanterns that they put on the trees they carried through town, and I still have it!
We had our first date on Easter, and have been learning and laughing together ever since.
Learning Each Other's Language
Francesco spoke some English when we met, but I've been his teacher since we met. He's so proud of his English skills that he'll often speak it around others just to show off!
We've created our own language that is a morph of Italian and English. Depending on the day, we might speak one language more than the other. We're constantly correcting and teaching each other, and I have to say, being with him has really improved my Italian!
Now I'm trying to learn the local dialect, Calabrese, but that's another thing altogether!
Accepting Our Cultural Differences
While we're not different in a lot of ways, I've seen just how diverse our two cultures can be.
For example, as I told you in a recent blog post, Italians believe having wet hair causes the colpa d'aria, which can cause all sorts of maladies. If Francesco even sees me on a video call with wet hair, he freaks out. I have pointed out that I have never once in my long life of walking around with wet hair gotten sick as a result! Plus, you know...science.
I like to leave a light or two on when I leave the house at night so I don't come home to the dark. He likes to turn them off, worried about the waste of electricity. I also like to leave the windows open. He doesn't.
One thing I admire about him and Italians in general is their strong connection to family. Often, we'll visit his aunt for half an hour just to say hi. I haven't met the rest of his family yet, but I look forward to long Sunday dinners and family events. It's part of the culture that I didn't grow up with in the U.S. because my family lived so far apart.
And that socializing extends into everything else. I stupidly assumed we could have a quiet, romantic date to celebrate our first six months together, but since this guy knows EVERYONE in Calabria, he first chatted up the entire restaurant staff...and then the group of 15 people who came to dine.
I had a fairly active social life in San Diego, or so I thought, but I've met more people in the last seven months with him than I have possibly in my entire life! It's taking some getting used to, constantly being ready to have a conversation with someone we run into. It's like we're a celebrity couple...except it's like that for everyone here.
And one stereotype about Italian men is true: they're romantic. He constantly tells me I'm beautiful (and I finally started believing him) and tells me he misses me. If an American said these things, I'd think he was full of shit!
Dealing with Traditional Gender Roles
I am, above all, an independent woman and feminist. I have always maintained that anything a man can do, I can do (better. :)).
I'm learning to soften a little into what tends to be more traditional gender roles here...at times.
When I was dating in the U.S. and told a friend that I paid for a meal on a date, she gasped and said, "why would you do that??"
The first time I offered to pay for a date with Francesco, he had the same reaction. I'm sure no woman has ever offered to pay with him! Now we balance out who pays, mostly.
He always offers to drive when we're out, and I like it. He offers a protective energy that I'm surprisingly leaning into after years of being single and so damn independent!
Still, he honors the fact that I do need time on my own and that I'm not always game for going out. I've learned here there's a huge sense of obligation (to see family, to attend events you might not really want to go to, etc.), and I'm still navigating my way through that.
I'd heard that Calabrian men can be jealous and misogynistic, but like all stereotypes, there are exceptions. Sometimes Fra likes to pretend he's a jerk like that, but he's just a big softie, so I laugh at his efforts to be stern and bossy.
Being in a relationship with an Italian man has been nothing but a hilarious adventure as we meld our cultures and create a new one together!