communication, Italian-style

Journal 11.02.12

Communication in M.’s family: everyone engages in a kind of stream-of-consciousness commentary on what they’re doing, what they’ve done,  what they’re going to do, and constantly judges and comments on each other – all of this simultaneously, so they are often talking over each other. I think this is what dad meant by “Italian” communication.

It used to drive dad crazy, when, at the dinner table in Italy, he’d just have finished telling a story, and my grandfather, who’d been talking to my uncle, would say, “Who? What did they do?” and expect dad to start all over again. Then when he’d finish telling it again, my uncle, who’d been talking to my mother would say, “Who? What did they do?” This would go on, until every member of the family was sure they’d heard the story.

Dad dismissed this as crazy and chaotic, with no-one ever listening to each other but when it works, a lot of information is exchanged very effectively. It can also become pathologically critical, competitive and “invasivo” – the Italian  for ‘invasive’, a term that’s used for behaviour as well as for surgery.

In my English-dominant-culture family, communication was very top-down, i.e. dad-down, one-on-one, and there wasn’t very much of it. English children should be seen and not heard. Italian children need to be emitting a high-piched racket all the time so their mothers can always tell where they are.

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