We already met Katherine Wilson through her beautiful article where she shared her story of moving to Italy and falling in love with Naples. Today we asked her about the challenges of being in an intercultural marriage and living in the place her husband comes from. We are also curious about her opinion and experience living with a man that accoording to common (and widely spread!) stereotypes would fall into the category of “mammoni” (mama’s boy). Thanks again, Katherine!
When I landed in Naples for my three months experience after college, I met and started dating a Neapolitan man. He and his family immediately “adopted” me. Without any questions, they took me in and fed and loved me in a way that was immediate, and completely without judgment. It was what in Naples they call “carnale”: of the flesh. I started to accept myself and my own appetites and passions without recrimination.
That man is my current husband and the father of our two children. Many Italian men who are close to their mothers (as mine is!) get labelled “mammoni”, or mama’s boys. The stereotype is of a dependent boy/man with a mother who is jealous and protective of her son. What I saw, however, was a young man who was an integral member of a tribe. I saw deep love and loyalty, and a mother who not only cared for and cherished her son, but who immediately cared for and cherished me as well! There was an acceptance and appreciation of me as a foreigner, never suspicion or jealousy. “What do YOU want for lunch, Ketrin?” my mother-in-law asks me when we go to Naples. She isn’t just thinking about her son, she wants to spoon-feed me too 🙂
Of course, there are many cultural differences that aren’t always easy to negotiate – especially when it comes to raising children (my parents-in-law would put three sweaters on my kids when it’s 70 degrees out, for example!). But what has always helped me is seeing how love is translated in different ways in different cultures. So much love is put into my mother-in-law’s 8-hour ragù, for example – it’s a way of expressing affection. Meanwhile, I would play Candyland for hours with my kids, because time spent together is the way I express my love. My children have helped me understand that both are valid, and both are authentic. It’s not an either/or but a both/and. Kids that grow up with different “languages” of love are all the richer for it.
And…I couldn’t survive a bi-cultural, bilingual relationship without a sense of humor. In my family, we are ALWAYS laughing about cultural extremes: performing imitations, highlighting contrasts, mammoni. Sdrammatizzare is the word in Italian, not taking ourselves or our cultures too seriously. My aunt cooking pasta on simmer, my in-laws asking for a discount at the Washington metro – you get the picture!