Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Italy is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Italian language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, intuition plays in the daily life of Italians while also influencing their attitude towards superstitions.
Surprisingly, in a country that is as nearly universally religious as Italy, certain issues associated with religion, such as seeing a nun, are considered bad luck, further emphasizing the intersection between religion and superstition. Italians may also touch iron, similar to the way other cultures may knock on wood, as a way of warding off bad luck. There is a myriad of eccentric traits associated with Italian superstition that may either signify good or bad luck. In regards to Italian superstition, hearing a cat sneeze may signify good luck, while having a bird in the home would be unlucky. Particular birds might also represent good or bad luck, as the round eye found on peacock feathers is said to resemble “the evil eye,” and because of this, they may be banned from the home. While flowers often represent feelings of joy, given as gifts or used as decoration in many cultures, chrysanthemums denote a very different feeling in Italian society. To Italian, chrysanthemums should only be placed on graves and are only associated with funerals. Never give an Italian chrysanthemums as a gift, or it will be misinterpreted. The evil eye is a very powerful sentiment in Italian superstition and it is termed “malocchio.” In Naples, for example, to ward off the evil eye, one must extend their index finger, as well as their little finger, while keeping the others folded. You can also wear a bracelet with a red horn-shaped charm, which is called “corno.”
Despite the fact that the Church and all of its many intricacies play a significant role in the daily lives of the average person living in Italy, there is a still a very prevalent level of superstition that lives on the surface. According to the Italian director Federico Fellini, “Italy is a land full of ancient cults, rich in natural and supernatural powers,” and he further expounds by mentioning that everyone in the country is aware of the influence that it holds. In his opinion, the supernatural often intersects with the belief in God, as he stated, “whoever seeks God, finds him…wherever he wants.” In Italy, superstition and the practices surrounding it are a constant factor, and one might infer that Italians are addicted to its concepts and protocols. In popular culture, people who indulge in what might be deemed taboo in other societies (such as fortune-tellers, astrologers, and diviners) are often brought to the forefront. They can secure spots on national television and other popular venues where they get recognition in their area. Just like the patron saints and regional holidays, superstitions may often be specific to particular regions or communities, with many arising from local stories, myths, and beliefs. Because of this, some superstitions may not adhere to, or even recognized in different parts of the country. Many myths, beliefs, and superstitions are particularly strong in the southern regions of Italy, but all share common aspects, such as a strong belief in spirits and luck,both good and bad.
Due to the seriousness involving superstition within Italian culture, there is a belief that evil spirits can be invoked, even if it is inadvertently done. Compliments, depending on the level of superstition held by the person, can often be received in a manner that was not originally intended. An example of this is when a compliment is given by someone to your son or daughter, a person may fear that the evil eye has been invoked. In this case, in the South a parent may choose to make the sign of the horn over a child to protect them from this evil. It is believed that a way of gaining knowledge of whether one has given you the evil eye is to pour oil into holy water. The behavior of the oil will signify whether or not this has occurred. If the oil spreads during this process, it is considered to be a good sign, but if the oil coagulates, it means that someone has indeed given you the evil eye.
Many of the Italian superstitions surround death and burial, and specifics sets of the protocol should be followed to maintain a sense of good faith and luck. During a burial, separate routes are suggested to be taken when delivering a coffin to the cemetery to confuse the dead, which will keep them from returning after the burial. A practice of putting salt under a dead person’s head is also considered a way of keeping the dead from returning, further emphasizing the significant level of superstition present within Italian society.
Italians tend to make a lot of their decisions based on their gut feelings. Their culture relies on emotions in addition to facts and figures. How someone feels about a situation is just as important as the facts that are presented. While an Italian will take into account the logical side of a situation, he or she will often ultimately rely on intuition when it comes to making a final decision. Their decisions are often affected by their family and their family’s values. Decisions may also be based on the region where someone was raised. Italians often view the world and situations with a subjective eye. While they do believe in an adherence to the rules, they are also willing to make exceptions on a case by case basis. Italians also rely on a gut feeling when it comes to making judgements about people.
Italians definitely do consider facts when it comes to making decisions about both situations and people, but facts are not the ultimate deciding factor. In fact, Italians can have great trust and reliance on another person, even if they have very different ideals about politics, religion, and other important ideologies. Often people in the same family belong to different political parties, but can still get along with one another. Italian culture has a strong sense of judging a person based on who they are and how they act, rather than on superficial ideals. Once you convince an Italian that you are trustworthy, your background and opinions are not an issue.