Watch how people share secrets and you’ll discover the things they are trying to hide. Learn how a country exchanges confidences and you’ll uncover the cornerstone of social rapport.
Italians may be known to the world as free-speaking, overly expressive individuals, but in reality, they are rather reserved when it comes to voicing their true feelings. You’ve got to be a bit of a detective if you want to survive in the bel paese.
Shy in all the ways Americans are not, Italians won’t tell their intimate dreams to the lady sitting next to them on the bus. Nor do they confess in code like the Brits. In England, people discuss the price of onions and what’s really being said depends on their tone of voice. In Italy, people scout out the din of unrelated chatter to disguise their tone and distract their listener. Secrets are easier to tell when they can barely be heard. Thus, in this country of narrow streets and wide piazzas, a brimming public place proves the ideal space for spilling your guts. Italians need to feel very safe to tell their secrets, and strangely enough, there is safety in numbers.
Catholic Italians, for example, practice la privacy in church, where the priest drones, the choir sings and all eyes are on someone else. At baptisms, communions, weddings and even funerals, family secrets find fertile ground for growing. The condensed version of break-ups, make-ups, blessings and misfortunes are swiftly passed, pan-faced, through the pews. Let’s just say that most of the confessing Italians do in chiesa never even reaches the priest. In my family, where sacraments dot the calendar with astounding frequency, church gossip is immensely popular. There are few other places in this country where one is so effectively protected from explosive responses.