My parents are Italian immigrants. They moved here in the late 60’s from Naples, Italy – Naples proper – not one of the mountain villages around it. (No offense to people who are from those villages, but they ain’t Naples and people from there ain’t Napoletan’.) My mother was in her late 30s, my dad almost 40 when they uprooted my two sisters and my brother and came to Boston to build a new life. Both of my parents speak English and considering how late in life they came here, they speak it pretty well. But they never lost their accents (thank God) and there are some nuances of speech that they still sometimes screw up. Here’s a prime example:
Before my sister got married, she dated a Jewish man. (Funny story: she dated two Jewish men with the same first and last names but that was just a happy coincidence.) Anyway, he came to my parents’ house for dinner one Sunday. God bless him. He tried so hard all afternoon to make small talk with my parents and to find some common ground with them. Food was one easy topic. My mother put out her usual Sunday spread – red sauce with meatballs, broccoli rabe with sausages, marinated eggplant, fried artichokes, chicken cutlets, etc. He was very complimentary and he ate a LOT, so that made my dad happy. According to my dad, if you don’t eat in abundance, there must be something wrong with you and it’s probably cancer.
Later on, the topic of conversation turned to religion. My mom told him that his Judaism was fine by her. My other sister’s first husband was Jewish and she had long since gotten over the fact that the Jews killed Jesus. (No, seriously.) Some time later, after he picked his jaw up from the table, he asked my mom politely, “Carmela, are there Jews in Italy?” I’ll never forget. She was standing by the stove. She looked over at him as if he was the stupidest person alive. Was he effing with her? They were from the big city! “Of course we have Jews in Italy. We hava the apple jews, the orange jews, any kinda jews you like.”