Dear Dr. Bruce,
my name is Josh and I’m form Jersey City. I’m American but also a Little Italian and I love Italian culture ’cause my grand parents were from Naples. Am I Italian or Italian wannabe? What are other differences?
Thank you for your interesting letter. Among the thousands of responses I had to my introductory column, I have selected yours to respond to, because I believe it to be a wonderful introduction to this question of how to differentiate between Italians, Italian-Americans, and Italian-Wannabees.
First of all I must confess that the first clue to the answer to your question resides in your name: Joshua. Joshua? As in the old African-American spiritual, “Joshua Fit da Battle of Jericho”? As in Joshua, in the Old Testament of the Bible? I think we can safely exclude the possibility of your being Italian on that basis alone. There is, perhaps, one possible exception to that inference which is remote, at best. Although you mention that your grandparents are from Naples, are you absolutely sure that they have no roots in the beautiful Italian province of Romagna? I only ask, because as some of our readers might know, there developed a bizarre habit in the 1970’s and 80’s of naming their children after the principal characters of the American night time soap opera “Dallas”. There are now hundreds of poor Italians in their 30’s wandering around Rimini, Ravenna, and other cities with peculiar names like J.R., Sue-Ellen, Bobby and Pam. Those poor people. Mamma Mia!
If, as I suspect, you are not one of them, and I do not recall any characters named Joshua on that or any other popular American show, then I am forced to conclude, regrettably, that you are not Italian.
That you are Italian-American is entirely possible, especially since you come from what is hilariously and incongruously referred to as “the Garden State” (New Jersey) where to be Italian-American is almost enough to guarantee you a spot on the notorious reality show “The Jersey Shore” with Snooky and “The Situation”.
If you have aspirations, instead, to become an Italian-Wannabe, please forward me supporting evidence of your qualifications (in Italian of course) including some demonstration of your ability to pontificate on the superiority of Brunello di Montalicino to Barolo, or vice versa.
And finally, two more subtle differences between Italians and Italian-Wannabes. Italians suffer terrible jet lag when they return home from New York to Italy. Italian-Wannabes do not, because they are so excited to be back in Italy. Have you experienced this? Perhaps the most subtle difference of all, real Italians have an hilarious habit of stating the obvious. When they meet you at the appointed time and place, they are compelled to say “Ah, you’re here!”. Only the most hard-working and attentive Italian-Wannabes allow themselves to do this, even though they feel quite silly in the moment.
I invite you, dear readers, to offer your own observations on the differences among
these three groups along with your more serious questions for discussion.
In the meantime, Auguri!
Dr. Bruce© All rights reserved