Best of Sicily
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Before talking about Sicilian boyfriends, I would like to make a point. (Well, somebody has to.) The best way to compare life in different places is to actually live in one place and then another. Getting to know the people, the customs, the language. Social values. Lifestyles. All those things. The observations will be endless. People are the same yet different. The opposite of firsthand experience is an investigative technique used by police called "profiling" that uses certain traits to identify entire groups of people. It's a controversial form of state-sanctioned stereotyping, and usually not very nice. But certain superficial generalities are innocuous enough: Most Italians eat pasta. Most Americans speak English. Most Chinese have dark hair.
It gets trickier when individual behavior is at issue, and when a generality seems to be true, most of the time. That's what happened a few weeks ago, when I was out with my usual female tribe --eight single Italian women (and one American) between 30 and 45. We didn't talk too much about actual sex, sexual harassment or platonic friendships. The subject was long-term relationships, especially with Sicilian men in Sicily. In reading my notes for this article, my man wasn't offended but he compared our observations to the kind of things he reads (from a male perspective) on Ask Men. Unlike nine out of ten of the men one meets in Sicily, mine speaks English fluently, having spent two years in London and a few months in New York, and he's nothing like the ones described here.
Fortunately, we all agreed, most of our relationships were perfectly normal, but the consensus was that by the age of about 35 the average single Sicilian woman had been involved in certain types of unconventional relationships. It was amazing that every one of us except our American friend (who has lived in Catania for about a year and was scandalized by some of our candid revelations) has had the same kind of experiences. Profiles of some "typical" boyfriends:
The Princeling. Also known as the Bambinone ("big baby" or "Mama's Boy"), this is one of the most common profiles of Sicilian men, or perhaps we should call them "boys." Many Sicilian men are overly-attached to their mothers, and if you aren't "mummy's choice" for her Little Prince, she will make your life very difficult. The best solution would be to date orphans, but if your boyfriend has a mother it's best to gauge the situation before entering into anything long-term. It is also possible that the problem is primarily the boy's, and not his mother's. Few Sicilian men know how to cook or, for that matter, survive on their own, and therefore they usually live with their mothers until getting married. A little ridiculous when he's 30 or even 40 years old! (If you think I'm joking, come to Sicily and see for yourself.) The main question is simple: Do you really want to be involved with somebody whose social development is that of a 16 year-old boy?
The Married Man. It's not really a Sicilian thing, but part of an Italian trend. It's virtually impossible to meet a reasonably attractive woman who has not been involved, however briefly, with a married man --or with a "two-timer" who has another girlfriend that he doesn't tell you about. It's not always as crazy as it sounds, if you know what you're getting into. But usually the lies that accompany this kind of relationship get tiresome after a few months. After a couple years of this situation, one of our friends (who was around 35 at the time) broke off her affair with a guy from Catania on trial for alleged Mafia activity and married a short, fat, ugly man twenty-five years her senior. This brings us to the next profile.
The Older Man, The Younger Boy. We agreed that, with some notable exceptions, these relationships don't usually last very long and are most appealing for their novelty value --as a different experience. But if you walk around Palermo, Catania (and especially Taormina) during the early evening passegiata, you'll see the occasional man in his fifties or sixties with a woman well under forty. We don't like the American phrase "trophy wife," but Italy seems to be full of these couples. Typically, the man is a divorced father whose children are about the same age as his girlfriend. When the older partner is the woman, she is usually in her thirties and her boyfriend is a youngish "stud" in his early twenties. In those cases, the man may at least be in good physical shape; older ones are too often scrawny and flabby or fat and sluggish, factors conveniently overlooked by the younger women attracted to them. (We agreed that more middle-aged Italian men should spend more quality time in the gym.) Often, it's a student-teacher or employee-employer situation. In The Dark Heart of Italy, British journalist Tobias Jones mentions being pursued by a young, zealous, pretty studentessa at the Italian university where he was teaching English. Jones, incidentally, has lived in Italy for a number of years and his book (published two years ago to favorable reviews) is 'must reading' for anybody planning to live here for more than a few months.
The Jealous Boyfriend. In a place where "borrowing" another man's wife or girlfriend is a practice commonplace enough to be considered normal, it isn't too surprising that a man might be a little protective of his woman. Actually, it's to be expected if he really cares about you. But some men are obsessive about it. There's an old Sicilian saying: "The thief thinks everybody else wants to steal from him." Jealousy has its limits. The profile of the Jealous Boyfriend often overlaps one (or more) of the other ones.
The Secret Boyfriend. It may be an innocent fling with a man in New York or Paris, or something in another part of Sicily, far away from local gossip. But it could be a local thing. For months, one of our friends was having a weekly sex romp (and little else) with a short, fat Communist. (Italy's Communists wear designer clothes and drive flashy cars, only rarely sharing the wealth with the masses.) She mentioned him to few friends but was never seen with him in public.
The Foreign Agent. A kind of opposite (or inverse) of "The Secret Boyfriend." Non-Italian women beware! This is the aggressive, flattering, charming "gentleman" in his 20s or 30s that you see romancing a foreign girl in a wine bar, at the beach or in a sidewalk café in Taormina, Catania or Palermo. Favorite prey are pretty young things from Canada, Australia, the United States or northern Europe, the blonder the better. (Many Sicilian men are obsessed with blondes.) The Foreign Agent may be cute and reasonably intelligent but his main skill is convincing a credulous woman from another country --and therefore unfamiliar with his manipulation techniques-- that he's a great catch. Image is everything. To bolster the deception, he spends lots of money, sports nice clothes and drives a new car, but he fails to mention that he has a wife or girlfriend, or that his academic or professional "credentials" are fake or at least overstated. Sicilian women are fairly suspicious of these confidence tricksters and familiar with their "seduction" techniques, though some of the younger ones get entangled in their traps.
The Dead-End Dud. A harsh description, but a few years ago a popular movie called Nati Stanchi (Born Tired), starring the Palermitan comedic duo Ficarra and Picone, chronicled the adventures of two Sicilian men in their twenties ostensibly in search of work but quite content to live the happy life of unemployed (or under-employed), fun-loving blokes. Part of the plot's focus was their attractive girlfriends, who waited years for marriage. In real life, this often happens even after the boyfriend gets a job. One of our friends was in such a relationship (with a lawyer) for eleven years. At thirty-five, he told her that he "wasn't ready for marriage."
The Midget. A figurative term. He may be physically shorter than you or (more often) a Mental Midget less educated than you, his girlfriend. If it's not height it may be length --a "self-perceived" physical "defect" of intimate proportions. In any case, you're expected to bolster his fragile ego. It's more than simple sexism or an identity issue. What's funny about these men is that they want women to believe that they've done everything and know everything, and everybody. And they hate being challenged, especially by a female!
The Fetishist. This doesn't involve traditional fetishes so much as particular sexual techniques, even obsessions. The subject came up even though sex itself wasn't our main topic. The Fetishist could fit any of our profiles. Based on anecdotes and media attention (not just in Sicily but around Italy), certain forms of sex seem to be very popular right now --perhaps moreso here than in some countries-- either for their novelty appeal or as a power thing. We'll leave the details to your imagination.
Love them or leave them, Sicilian boyfriends are rarely boring.
About the Author: Maria Luisa Romano has
written for various Italian magazines, including this one.