Sep 24, 2012

Living with Mom (or very very close)

A survey by Censis reveals that 31% of Italians live at home with their mother and that 42.3% live at no more than a 30 minute walk from her. 
The survey indicates that more than half of the adult Italian population (54%) lives at no more than a half-hour walk from close relatives. I have published extensively in Italian upon this phenomenon — Clicca su te stesso. Sé senzal'Altro; I giovani italiani tra famiglia escuola —  and you can read the article How to do Words with Things
We will discuss later during the semester the structural and cultural interpretations of the so called prolongation of youth in Italy and compare it with the pattern of transition to adulthood in Northern Europe and United States. In the meantime you can take a look at the US the reality show Mama's Boys of the Bronx: NewReality Show on TLC and to the article Real Italians. We will also talk about Jersey Shore in Florence (and how the city reacted).
Jersey Shore Abroad
Mama's Boys of the Bronx

Sep 12, 2012

Culture Shock in Florence

First of all I hope that none of my students will ever experience a “culture shock” while they are spending their institutional semester abroad in Italy. I tend to associate the term ‘shock’ to a traumatic event that causes a sudden and violent disturbance in the emotions. 
If my use of the term makes any sense, I do not think that American students necessarily experience a “culture shock” (Kalvero Oberg 1960) [1] while they are studying in Florence. Or, to put it in other, more sociological terms, I do not see this group of people exposed to such a threat — no more than any other group of youngsters that comes to my mind. As a sociologist, I would never start studying the topic “American Students Abroad” from such perspective. That’s why I am always surprised when a student uses the expression “culture shock” — a bit as a mantra, I shall confess — in class. It seems as if they were prepared and socialized to this theory, and they are applying it as "the" interpretative paradigm for their acculturation process abroad. Therefore, I believe culture "shock" is an inopportune terminological choice; I would consider “culture malaise”, or “culture fatigue”, or  “culture frustration”,  or  “culture anxiety”, or  “culture stress”, proper expressions. Shortly, I consider the locution cultural shock, referred to the average American youngster who is studying in Florence, a hyperbole. How would you describe a true traumatic event, Cultural Super-Shock! I believe there is a profound difference between frustrating and traumatic events.
Within the psychological literature “acculturative stress” has become the preferred expression for other reasons, because “it is closely linked to psychological models of stress as a response to environmental stressors” (Berry & Sam, 1997, 298).  Anyhow, we are talking about stressors, not shockers!
Acculturative stress is defined as a negative psychological reaction to the experiences of acculturation, often characterized by anxiety, depression and a variety of psychosomatic problems. Berry prefers to use the expression “acculturative stress” for two more reasons.

First, the notion of shock carries only negative connotations, whereas stress can vary from positive (eustress) to negative (dis-stress) in valence. Because acculturation has both positive (e.g., new opportunities) and negative (e.g., discrimination) aspects, the stress conceptualization better matches the range of affect experienced during acculturation. Moreover, shock has no cultural or psychological theory or research context associated with it, whereas stress has a place in a well-developed theoretical matrix (i.e., stress-coping-adaptation). Second, the phenomena of interest have their life in the intersection of two cultures; they are intercultural, rather than cultural, in their origin. The term “culture” implies that only one culture is involved, whereas the term “acculturation” draws our attention to the fact that two cultures are interacting with, and producing, the phenomena. Hence, for both reasons, the author prefers the notion of acculturative stress to that of culture shock (Berry, 'Acculturation', in Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology, 2004).

I do have some problems also applying to the American students in Florence Peter Adler’s  five-stage process (1975). The initial contact, or the honeymoon stage, is when the newly arrived individual experiences the curiosity and excitement of a tourist without any corresponding sense of responsibility for his or her own behavior. The second stage involves disintegration of familiar cues and overwhelms the individual with the requirements of the new culture. The individual typically experiences self-blame and a sense of personal inadequacy for difficulties encountered. The third stage reintegrates new cues with an increased ability to function in the new culture. However, the emotions associated with this third stage are typically anger, blame, and resentment toward the new culture for having caused difficulties unnecessarily. The fourth stage continues the process of reintegration toward gradual autonomy and increased ability to see both bad and good elements of the old and new cultures. The fifth stage is when the individual has achieved a bicultural identity and is able to function in both the old and the new cultures.
What's my problem with such a sequence? I simply never met a student that went through anything like that; if you are one of them — or you know one — please reply to this post.
Moreover, this sequence is considered by some scholars controversial and simplistic. According to Furnham and Bochner (1986) the U-curve theory first does not consider several important variables in the adjustment process — such as depression, loneliness, homesickness. Second, each subject might experience cultural stress in different moments of the adjustment process. That is, you might be "shocked"  as soon as you get off the plane, and experience the honeymoon stage at the end of your sojourn — may be because you truly fall in love with an Italian boy or girl!
The U-curve model does not even address differences in time, location, and intensity of the sojourn —predicting the same curve for people who experience little or significant culture gaps. The U-curve and  its variations —W-curves; but I can easily imagine other kinds of curves appearing in the next future (M, Z, K, and X-curves) —  are largely anecdotal and fail to describe other types of sojourners: who fails to adjust; who returns home early.
Finally, why cultural problems, or however you want to name them, are thought in a negative way? Why critical cultural encounters have to be weathered in advance? Why not seeing them as positive experiences within the overall identity development of the youngster abroad? 

-        Berry, J. W.; Kim, U.; Minde, T.; Mok, D. (1987) Comparative studies of acculturative stress. “International Migration Review”, 21, 491-511. 
-        Berry, J. W.; Kim, U.; Power, S.; Young, M.; Bujaki, M. (1989) Acculturation attitudes in plural societies. “Applied Psychology”, 38, 185-206. 
-        Berry, J.W., & Sam, D. (1997) Acculturation and adaptation. In J.W. Berry, M.H. Segall, & C. Kagitcibasi (Eds.), Handbook of cross-cultural psychology: Vol 3 (pp. 291–326). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
-        Furnham, A., & Bochner, S. (1986) Culture shock: Psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments. London: Methuen.
-        Oberg, K. (1960) Cultural shock: Adjustment to new cultural environments. “Practical Anthropology”, 7, 177–182.

Shock (New Oxford American Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2010). 
N.  1. a sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience: it was a shock to face such hostile attitudes when I arrived. ■ a feeling of disturbed surprise resulting from such an event: her death gave us all a terrible shock | her eyes opened wide in shock. ■ an acute medical condition associated with a fall in blood pressure, caused by such events as loss of blood, severe burns, bacterial infection, allergic reaction, or sudden emotional stress, and marked by cold, pallid skin, irregular breathing, rapid pulse, and dilated pupils: he died of shock due to massive abdominal hemorrhage. ■ a disturbance causing instability in an economy: trading imbalances caused by the two oil shocks. ■short for electric shock2. a violent shaking movement caused by an impact, explosion, or tremor: earthquake shocks | rackets today don't bend or absorb shock the way wooden rackets do. ■short for shockabsorber.
V. 1. [with obj.] cause (someone) to feel surprised and upset: she was shocked at the state of his injuries. ■ offend the moral feelings of; outrage: the revelations shocked the nation. ■[no obj.] experience such feelings: he shocked so easily. ■(usu. be shocked) affect with physiological shock, or with an electric shock. 2. [no obj.] (archaic) collide violently: carriage after carriage shocked fiercely against the engine.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from French choc (noun), choquer (verb), of unknown origin. The original senses were ‘throw (troops) into confusion by charging at them’ and ‘an encounter between charging forces,’ giving rise to the notion of ‘sudden violent blow or impact.’

[1] Kalvero Oberg coined the term culture shock to describe the anxiety resulting from losing one’s sense of when to do what and how in a new culture. A visitor to a foreign culture experiencing culture shock discovers that familiar cues have been replaced by strange or unfamiliar cues. Oberg mentioned six aspects of culture shock: (1) strain, resulting from the effort of psychological adaptation; (2) a sense of loss and deprivation, referring to former friends, status, profession, and possessions; (3) rejection by or of the culture; (4) confusion, referring to role, role expectations, feelings, and self-identity; (5) surprise, anxiety, disgust, or indignation regarding the cultural differences between old and new ways; and (6) feelings of impotence, as a result of the inability to cope in the new environment.

Sep 7, 2012

Italian Sugar-Misogyny

A member of the Arcigay (an Italian association whose aim is to defend gay rights) walks in a bar and — I imagine — order an espresso. While putting the sugar, she notices what is written on the packet: 
“The difference between a toilet and a woman is that the toilet is not chasing you for nine months after you've used it”.
She feels offended, disgusted and picks up another packet “What is the difference between a battery and a woman? That the battery has at least one positive side” and another “The difference between a mirror and a woman: the woman speaks without thinking, the mirror reflects without speaking”.
The italian LGTB community reacted and an article on the local edition of the Corriere della Sera finally appeared Frasi sessiste sulle bustine dello zucchero (Sexist phrases on sugar packets). The marketing manager of the company, Techmania, replied: “The message has a clear ironic purpose and was conveyed without wanting to offend anyone”.
I may perhaps stop here — there is enough information to formulate a clear opinion about the issue — but I won’t stop, and, in a certain sense, surrender. While I continue to write, I feel a bitter taste, a strange and uncomfortable sentiment. I keep it under control because I hope — I hope — that another Italian professor, female, who is also introducing Italian society and culture to American students, is doing the same. According to Maria Laura Rodotà, Italian women today are an incomprehensible hybrid:

"Today's average Italian woman is a hybrid incomprehensible to foreigners: she's overdressed, overworked and has the lowest self-esteem in the western world. If she has a job, she has to work overtime inside and outside the home (Italian men rarely clean or cook, and spend less time looking after the children). Unwritten laws demand that she is cute, thin, elegant and well made-up. For Italian men it's normal to have a wife and a lover, which is why many have been amused by the adventures of the prime minister. The number of women in positions of power is small; in politics, almost all owe their status to men. The fear of being caricatured as a bitter feminist (who probably hasn't got a sex life) is always strong. Women who overcome that fear are often ridiculed". (Italianwomen have to fight sexism in every aspect of their lives, Guardian Sunday20 September 2009).

To get started, you can watch the documentary “Ilcorpo delle donne (The Body of Women), by Lorella Zanardo and read the article WomenTake On Sexist Image in Italian Media.
Then let’s go back to the bar where everything started  (re-started?). The bar is in Eboli, a little town in the province of Salerno, southern Italy. The name Eboli is known mainly for the book Christ Stopped at Eboli (Italian: Cristo si è fermato a Eboli; movie adaptation by Francesco Rosi). It is a memoir  by  the antifascist Carlo Levi, giving an account of his exile from 1935-1936 to Grassano and Aliano, remote towns in southern Italy, in the region of Lucania which is known today as Basilicata. In the book Levi gives Aliano the invented name 'Gagliano'.
The title of the book comes from an expression by the people of Gagliano who say of themselves, 'Christ stopped short of here, at Eboli' which means, in effect, that they feel they have been bypassed by Christianity, by morality, by history itself — that they have somehow been excluded from the full human experience. Levi explained that Eboli, a location in the region of Campania to the west near the seacoast, is where the road and railway to Basilicata branched away from the coastal north-south routes. Below the full incipit of the book in its English translation (Farrar and Straus, New York 1947). 

Because of his uncompromising opposition to Fascism, Carlo Levi was banished at the start of the Abyssinian War (1935) to a small primitive village in Lucania, a remote  province of southern Italy. In this region, which remains unknown not only to tourists but also to the vast majority of Italians, Carlo Levi, a painter, doctor, and writer, lived  out a memorable time.

MANY years have gone by, years of war and of what men call History. Buffeted here and there at random I have not been able to return to my peasants as I promised when I left them, and I do not know when, if ever, I can keep my promise. But closed in one room, in a world apart, I am glad to travel in my memory to that other world, hedged in by custom and sorrow, cut off from History and the State, eternally patient, to that land without comfort or solace, where the peasant lives out his motionless civilization on barren ground in remote poverty, and in the presence of death,
"We're not Christians," they say. "Christ stopped short  of here, at Eboli." "Christian," In their way of speaking means "human being," and this almost proverbial phrase  that I have so often heard them repeat may be no more than the expression of a hopeless feeling of inferiority.
We're not Christians, we're not human beings; we're not thought of as men but simply as beasts, beasts of burden, or even less than beasts, mere creatures of the wild. They at least live for better or for worse, like angels or demons, in a world of their own, while we have to submit to the world of Christians, beyond the horizon, to carry its weight and to stand comparison with it. But the phrase has a much deeper meaning and, as is the way of symbols, this is the literal one.
Christ did stop at Eboli, where the road and the railway leave the coast of Salerno and turn into the desolate reaches of Lucania. Christ never came this far, nor did time, nor the individual soul, nor hope, nor the relation of cause to effect, nor reason nor history. Christ never came, just as the Romans never came, content to garrison the highways without penetrating the mountains and forests, nor the Greeks, who flourished beside the Gulf of Taranto. None of the pioneers of  Western civilization brought here his sense of the passage of time, his deification of the State or that ceaseless activity which feeds upon itself. No one has come to this land except as an enemy, a conqueror, or a visitor devoid of understanding. The seasons pass today over the toil of the peasants, just as they did three thousand years before Christ; no message, human or divine, has reached this stubborn poverty. We speak a different language, and here our tongue is incomprehensible. The greatest travelers have not gone beyond the limits of their own world; they have trodden the paths of their own souls, of good and evil, of morality and redemption. Christ descended into the underground hell of Hebrew moral principle in order to break down its doors in time and to seal them up into eternity. But to this shadowy land, that knows neither sin nor redemption from sin, where evil is not moral but is only the pain residing forever in earthly things, Christ did not come. Christ stopped at Eboli.