10. Real people in our family are named Mario and Luigi. Just saying their names makes us laugh out loud. The fact that many of them have the actual Mario and Luigi ‘stache (not to mention body type) of the video game characters only adds to the humor.
9. Our immigrant parents are still getting the hang of English. Their customized dictionary is like a joke book. In my family, relatives have referred to Pine-Sol as pinolee, conzom as comfortable, and gangaroo as Gatorade. Of course, there was that time that my aunts had my mother looking for Edison Avenue, when it was actually Anderson Avenue. This invented vocabulary can make for a great sitcom episode.
8. Forget the sophistication of your older, wiser years. For Italians, the Golden Years means you can say and do whatever you want, including putting more Sambuca than espresso in your cup on Sunday afternoon or worrying about holding in your farts. Oh yeah, they relish in letting off flatulence at any moment. They don’t care if you’re sitting next to them or standing in line right behind them (yikes!). My one Nonno really maximized this new, carefree approach to life and performed noogie farts on me whenever he ate with us. Right after he took that last bite of pasta and put down the fork, he’d go in for the kill. You think I would have figured it out after the first 50 times. But I never learned. My brother’s friends witnessed it and still talk about it.
7. The lengths we will go to insure our garden is numero uno is another source of great humor, not to mention potential jail time. You read that right. I have a cousin, whose name I won’t reveal to protect the guilty, who visited me at college in D.C. Just before he left for home, we went to the Smithsonian. He pulled a small tree out of the ground – certain to care for the roots – and grabbed my arm while yelling, “Run, run for the hills. Let’s get outta here.” I thought he had robbed a bank. No, no, just a tree. It still lives in his garden. And I’m still scarred by the trauma of running from the police. Still, the thought of that scene makes me guffaw.
6. At some point in our cultural history, having Tony Soprano’s body became the mark of a sex symbol. Who doesn’t find that funny?
5. Speaking of love and sex, the pick-up lines of Italian men garner a laugh or two, especially from foreigners. In the United States, a man pinching your bottom or telling you that your “breasts are like melons from Tuscany” would, at best, elicit a slap and, at worst, bring on the restraining order. But in Italy, those are compliments. Seriously.
4. Their elected officials are pretty funny, too. What other country has made a former cruise ship singer prime minister or put a porn star in parliament? Oh yeah, that happened in Italy.
3. Bureaucracy in Italy is another of those things that would cause tears if it wasn’t so funny. I spent every Friday for more than a month sitting and waiting until closing at the Italian Consulate just to get the paper work in order to marry my husband legally in Italy. And that was nothing. The country has been promising to build a highway in southern Italy for at least 20 years, and it still hasn’t happened. The prime minister recently talked about it, and even he laughed when he said it would be done by year’s end. Even he didn’t believe it.
2. The Italian belief that a “colpa d’aria” or cold air could kill you makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it. I have the same reaction when they tell me that drinking ice water on a cold day will give me a heart attack.
And No. 1 is…
The sight of Italian men – ages 8 months to 88 years old – wearing skinny jeans on the street and speedos at the beach. Now, that’s funny.