The Difference Between Italians and Italian-Americans
When I first came to Italy from the United States, I had certain expectations of what Italian people and culture would be like. Basically, I just took for granted that Italians in Italy would be just like Italians in America. All my Italian-American friends are always proud to tell you just how Italian they are, even if it means pointing out a distant relation; they all wear the jerseys of Italian soccer teams and talk of their moms' "authentic" Italian dishes. Basically anything with the Italian flag on it is automatically desirable to show pride in their heritage.
As it turns out, Italians are not like Italian-Americans at all.
Italians are one of the least proud populations in the Western world. Since ancient times they have been divided by region, as each part of the country has had its own distinct culture. Within this, each town is often very self-contained and unwelcoming of foreigners. The only place you see the Italian flag is on government buildings.
Historically, each region has spoken a completely different version of Italian, to the point where differences in accent are noticeable from town to town, let alone from Milan to Naples. Sicily has basically been on its own, and the mafia rose to fill that power vacuum. Not until the Italian Unification in 1861 was the Italian language as it is today, which is merely the dialect spoken around Florence, recognized as the national language. Before this, people from different regions could not even communicate with each other.
In general, northerners have always looked down on southerners for being primitive, more or less the Italian version of calling them "rednecks." Sicilians especially have never been taken seriously in the rest of Italy, especially the north. Today, the Northern League, a conservative political party, wants to separate from the rest of Italy.
Since Italy was not created with the idea of a single state in mind, they have a different idea of nation than Americans do. Whereas America is relatively new, Italians have inhabited the peninsula since ancient times. They were only united in 1861, when Garibaldi fought his way up the peninsula and claimed Italy as a state. However, this didn't change the traditions and customs that had always existed.
When Italians immigrated en masse to America, a new and foreign land, they logically banded together. It was only once they had arrived that Italians gained this sense of pride and identity. Those from Sicily, Lazio and Tuscany, who would likely never have seen eye-to-eye in Italy, would now be brought together in America.
Over many years, this crystallized into what exists today, where the majority of Italian-Americans have not even visited Italy, let alone speak Italian. They plaster bumper stickers and wear t-shirts that exaggerate their "Italianness" in search of a way to be different, to have a unique identity. In Italy, few people are proud to wave an Italian flag.