“Italians mad at food” is boring

There is one thing that most Italian expats seem to have in common. Something that unites them regardless of region, social status and education – from the bankers in the City of London to the waiters at Starbucks who serve them an espresso. It’s their vocal intolerance for variations on Italian dishes.

Whether it’s the added ingredient in a carbonara or the pineapple on a pizza, their (supposed) anger is so disproportionate and comical that it quickly became a meme. By now it is probably the most common stereotype associated with my home country.

As stereotypes go, the “Italians mad at food” one is friendly and inoffensive, and I have no problem with it. It can even be a nice icebreaker when meeting new people: they hear I’m Italian, they apologise for the pasta they’ve cooked the previous night, I pretend to be offended, we laugh and move on to other topics.

What surprises me is the apparent seriousness with which many of my fellow Italian expats embrace this meme. They really do care about how their non-Italian friends cook their pasta. It is a very strange thing to care about: people’s tastes and preferences are by definition subjective. This role of “fanatic defender of culinary traditions” is maybe fun to watch (especially if you’re not Italian), but I don’t see how anyone would passionately embrace such a ridiculous part1. It is fun to watch precisely because it is ridiculous.

While I understand the feeling of surprise upon knowing that someone prefers cream in their carbonara even after having tried the original recipe, I don’t understand the feeling of annoyance.

Actually, that isn’t completely true: I used to “feel it” too, when I first moved to London. What surprises me is that so many “Italians mad at food” don’t quickly recognise it for what it is: a mild form of tribal instinct. A convenient way of defining themselves in opposition to others, especially needed when you’ve just left your home country and feel lost and misunderstood in a foreign country. You don’t really care what the other person is eating; you just want your diversity to be acknowledged and (ideally) admired2.

I get it. It’s a phase. Most expats go through it. For some expats this phase takes longer than for others (and some people never go beyond it). What I am saying is that we, Italian expats, have chosen quite a boring way to go through this phase.

Memes are fun, unless they’re taken too seriously. Even when they’re not (many “Italians mad at food” play the part just for a laugh or to amuse their non-Italian friends) I wonder whether there are more flattering memes that we could use to characterise ourselves. Why not “Italians mad at medieval misconceptions“? I am sure we could make great logos with Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo.

[1] Especially when the culinary tradition you’re “defending” is the Italian one, that came about as an eclectic mix of regional and international traditions. If it was for the defenders of the tradition, the Italian cuisine would be very different and worse.

[2] The fact that some people are even annoyed at non-Italians for breaking the spaghetti before cooking them is proof that the quality of the recipe isn’t the point.

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