ITALIAN MEMES – POSTCARDS FROM ITALY
A walk in Ischia, Italy, a small island off the coast of Naples, is often remarkable. The cobblestone streets you still find in many places stands as a stark juxtaposition to the yachts in the port and the designer clothes on display in the stores. Whenever I’m walking around, I find myself wondering what this world must have been like for my ancestors, even my father who spent his childhood here. They lived without the luxuries the natives of today know. Yet, they still have much in common with their modern counterparts.
For one, the “bella figura” lives on. I’ve tried many times to explain “bella figura” to non-Italians. And I’m not sure I have the right words. But here I go again. First, it literally translates to beautiful figure. People say they want to “fa bella figura” or “make a beautiful figure.” What they are really saying is that they want to make a good impression. They want others to perceive them in a good light.
They Judge the Book by Its Cover
Sometimes, they are referring to avoiding embarrassment, such as a slip of the tongue or falling in front of everyone. Other times, however, they are simply referring to looking good while walking around. Every hair needs to be in place. Their shirts must be crisply ironed. And they would never walk around in sweats. Flip flops are only permissible if they are walking that one block to the beach here in Ischia. Breaking these rules could mean failing to make the “bella figura.”
So, when you take a walk in Ischia, you have to be perfectly coiffed and wearing your best clothes. You don’t always have to be dressed for a formal wedding. But even your relaxed look should be planned out and designer if possible. This is the reason I am often recognized as an American. I used to wear flip flops everywhere. And I still don’t mind going outside the door in a comfortable T-shirt and lounging pants.
Still, when in Ischia, I try to conform. I’m more aware of what I’m wearing, what I look like. In addition, I’m careful about what I say and to whom I say it. Sometimes, I fail at the bella figura. I chalk it up to my Americanness. I always feel relief at returning home to America, where few care this much about this stuff.
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012). She also has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.