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The Difference Between Italians and Italian-Americans

Updated on September 17, 2009

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.


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      Nick 3 months ago

      If you want to see Italian pride, trying saying anything negative about Italia to any Italian (Southerner or Northerner). Italy is like a family - the regions are siblings fighting, boasting, belittling each other; but sangue e sangue.

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      nn 19 months ago

      nowhere in Europe you'd find anyone obsessed with national flags.

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      eleonora 21 months ago

      It's not true that historically each region has spoken a completely different version of Italian, the true is each region historically has spoken a vulgar Latin, one of these languages was the Florentine, after becoming Italian, all other local languages became just dialects, however they aren't dialect of Italian at all and they aren't ''other Italian''.

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      Stefano 24 months ago

      You should understand that also if you have italian blood you have us culture... europeans are different we don't need to show our flag just because we are proud of our nations there are so many differents way to show it... for sure we (italians) are much more critics with our country than you are... but do you really Think this is due to we don't love our country as you do? I don't!

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      Ryan 2 years ago

      Most people in Italy who are proud to be "Italian" are those benefitting from the north's money and image

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      Bob Wormer 2 years ago

      While many call themselves "Italian-American", they are really totally American if born here and as time as moved on since the days of the large immigrant waves of mostly poor Southern Italians from Campania, Puglia, Calabria and Sicily. Subsequent American-born generations after the first-born generation here in America are more likely to have married other white, non-Italian groups. Creating what we now know of as the "Caucasian American", a mixture of Irish, German, Polish, Greek, Italian, Hungarian, etc. The next generation is even more diverse and may have married Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, etc. That is the world we live in today. Italian-Americans do not speak Italian and the children of the original immigrants spoke the local dialects where their parents were born. The only thing that really remains a constant and identifies them as ethnic is the culture of food. Holidays always contain a table over flowing with high quality antipasti and salted, cured meats, world-class and rich Italian pastries, pastas, homemade sauces with recipes passed down from generation to generation....nothing but the best ! Any wonder the world finds Italian cuisine so delicious and a fine Italian restaurant;(often,several) can be found in almost every major city around the world today ?

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      Lala 3 years ago

      Good post. In most of Western Europe, people are not proud flag wavers like in the US. That is because flag waving is equated with fascism.

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      Steven 3 years ago

      I guest all that pizza went to your proud head.

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      Chiara 4 years ago

      I'm italian and PROUD to be italian!

      Our Flag is not just in the government buildings, but almost in every house! In mine for sure :)

      Yes, we've got lots of problems, but the biggest of them all is our self-criticism, which can be deleterious and can show us like the country of pizza, pasta and mafia and other things, that are so reductive and simplistic!

      PS:you have to stay for a while in Italy, before starting to judge or even try to appreciate our history and our present!

      Try to open your minds people!

      (Sorry if my english is not good!)

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      Fabio 4 years ago

      I'm Italian from Milan and I'm not proud of my Country at all. Most of the people I know are not proud either.

      And yes, Italian Americans are only Americans.. We have nothing to do with them.


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      Valeria 4 years ago

      You are such an ignorant. Italians are proud. We are second in arrogance only to french, we just aren't like americans, convinced that there is just their country and the rest is shit. Historically EVERY country of the world is divided into regions. Look at France, UK, Spain.. This is the problem about yanks, they don't have history so they don't read.

      Americans with Italian ancestry are AMERICANS, stop comparing.

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      Antonio 4 years ago

      You are confusing nationalism with beeing proud of what you are. Most of the italians are not nationalist. Because they don't want to be seen as fascists.

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      Emme 4 years ago

      I'd like to meet italian americans who thought they are italians and represent Italy. This must be very funny :-) At the most, they represent the street where they live. An Italian (from Europe)

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      MATTEO 4 years ago

      I'm italian and, I promise you, you're so right...this is not a generalization, this is really how it is...good job, good article, good observer.

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      Bob 4 years ago

      Italians are proud of theselves only in South Italy, not in North Italy where many of them seem more bounded to Austria

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      Pino brigante rispo 4 years ago

      First of all let me introduce myself, I'am from the glourious kingdom of the 2 sicilies, and I was born in my CAPITAL,NAPOLI (kingdom of the two sicilies) wich was ferocioully taken over by the kingdom of piedmont AKA kingdom of sardinia. In brief I will explain, most italians don't don't have a sense of national identity because Italy was never united the correct way, and yes most Italian americans are in the dark of how Italy came to be a unified country, I can say this the peidmontese came and in the name of liberty like they claimed that were coming to free us of the bourbon king that they say we were an oppressed people, this is not true at all the k 2 s was after france ad england the third most richest country in europe it's people before 1860 never immigrated before it was after this time that they did, it's people after they learned the new booss only came to rob lie rape and destroy this beautiful kingdom, they rebelled and they were called ( briganti ) BANDITS not true these were what we the few that know this hidden true were only heroes partisans freedom fighters that fought and gave their lives to oust the invaders ( and so the saying came to be ( o' emigranti o' briganti) either immigrants or bandits).today the government of Italy with the 3 organized crime network camorra. Ndragheta and the sicilan mafia is an accomplice in the matter of a place in my region of campania nicknamed the triangle of death and land of fires the genocide taken place wright in front of our eyes againt my region and against the entire south the toxic waste being dumped and spilled in our water with an estiated of 5 million deaths to occur within the next 15 to twenty years no one knows about this tragedy going on angaist the people of the south. They delibeterally drestroied the south and closed all industry and took it to the north, and the worst is yet to come. But the people of the two sicilie are allmost awake and when everybody knows the truth will finally nend them paking. I am a NEAPOLITAN born living in the U.S and a naturalized american citizen and gladely gave up my italian citizenship. Long live our King and our KINGDOM!!!!!

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      Andrea 4 years ago

      Tons of people in the South (and the North) of the US would very gladly secede from the Union . Does that mean that every single american is not proud of their roots? Just because a couple of dumbasses in Italy are not proud of their country,or just because they would like to live isolated in their whole little world on the mountains,doesn't mean everybody does. Please,stop generalizing.. It's always the dumbest thing to do.

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      damiano 4 years ago

      The various dialects spoken around italian regions, are NOT "versions" of "italian Language"....

      Italian Language is some sort of INVENTED...

      Our dialects comes from Latin, from Greek, from celtic remains.

      Italian language is USED, but never really LOVED by Italians.

      Try to speak Italian to a lower class roman, or to an abruzzese... They will look at you like you were kidding, it's unavoidable. The roman will use double consonants where not necessary, and the abruzzese will think of you like "naaa... another ignorant from the City..."...

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      An Italian 4 years ago

      Italianness is a way of being .Nothing to do with jerseys or guidos.

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      PaulaMarks 4 years ago

      Your article is at best extremely shallow (worst self serving given all these commission based links you have below) and lacks any true understanding of the Italian American experience or community.

      Italian Americans are proud as they realize and fully appreciate the many sacrifices their parents, grand parents and great grand parents went through in pursuit of their American Dream and the opportunities which were created for them.

      When World War II came, Italians were ~2 percent, at most, of the US population, yet Italian Americans filled over 20 percent of the armed forces seeing battle overseas. Do a quick search of Italian American war heroes and you will see some very moving stories.

      Please show more respect and deliberation when writing about this group which has been such a tremendous asset to our country.

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      jade 4 years ago

      I think there are so many stereotypes in this world. Generalize about a country and how the population behaves is stupid and immature. As if I was actually saying that Americans play the banjo with a stupid cowboy hat and eat junk food all day.

      I get so pissed off when I read articles like this.

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      Lucax 5 years ago

      i think you are mixing up pride with nationalism

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      Andrea 5 years ago

      I m Sorry I have to disagree ...

      I live in Bologna area , north part of our country .

      Let me tell you that we re Really proud of Being italian, i mean everyone ..

      Sometimes you may hear people dissapointed for things tha happen everywhere in the world that here have been taken Too seriously ( everywhere there are problems ), but in the end we all know that we have an impressive culture, history, ect like maybe no one in the world.

      Let me greet you all italoamericans we are also Really proud of you , and what you all have done in America ( discovered by an italian).

      For those Who dont remember we Bring civilization in almost every western country, great britain without romans would never been what have been .

      Take care

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      bobhope 5 years ago

      If you Italy so much. Move back.

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      Ilaria 5 years ago

      "In Italy, few people are proud to wave an Italian flag." what the hell are you talking about?? i'm a real italian.. and we LOVE our flag, and we love waving it.. it is true that in the past regions were more important than the country.. and most of italians who came to USA, came there when italy wasn't even a country yet.. with the second emigration, in the 1950's, italians could speak more of it..but we have shirts that say ITALIA.. it's true that the italian flag is only at the gouvenative buildings but this does not mean that we don't want our beautiful flag.. i don't know where u went.. but i can tell u that italians are proud of being italians, as well as they are proud of the place they born in.

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      nicco 5 years ago

      I agree with this to a certain extent. Firstly, I'd just like to point out that I am 100% Italian. I was born in Rome, my entire family is Italian, but I live in France. Italians are proud to be Italians but that does not mean by definition nationalistic in the same sense as Americans. We take pride in what we have accomplished and people especially from Rome/Lazio region take extreme pride in the ancient Roman Empire. To the extent that most people have SPQR tattoos - which stands for the senate and people of rome (roman banner). However, we do not take pride in our government. That is the reason why most Italians do not wave the national flag on a daily basis. Speaking for myself, I have an Italian Flag in my room but I have it from the world cup and because I miss my country.

      This being said, I really liked this blog and what you have said is mostly true. Just keep in mind that we are very touchy when it comes to our country and we are also very protective. However, economically and politically speaking we admit that our country is fucked up.

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      umbrianitalian 5 years ago

      hello, i'm italian from italy and it's true that lots of italians firstly love their region ( tuscany, sicily ect.. ) but mayority of them love italy as a nation as well. Northern league represents only a minority very small at the moment and even in thr north lots of people love italy as nation . Italian republic is one of the founder of European Union . Italians Americans of ourse are differents but they promote very well Italy and reminds me italians from the fifthies and they have the best film actors of the world!!

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      italiano 5 years ago

      Italia WAS divided yes, but only geographically. Also before unification people consider themselves Italians. Now we are united but the differences of the past are our richness of today. We have different regions and every region have its own culture, food and art. We learnt to don't be shy being proud of our country, losing the fear to be called "neo fascist" or something like that for being proud of who we are and our country. Italians, as you can saw in the comments above, are very proud also because we are the only one who can say bad thing about us and our country, but when a foreigner do it, we are quick to fight back because we know that nobody else can understand us like another Italian...

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      egiv 5 years ago

      I appreciate all your feedback. This article is definitely a generalization, although as you can see from the comments most Italians (not Italian-Americans) know it is true. I am not saying that Italian-Americans are all "guidos" or mean to say that they are all obnoxious; these are people who have very strong traditions and so when they came to the United States they found an identity in preserving them, which there is nothing wrong with. This has just evolved over time to a point that has diverged from the way Italians actually are.

      RamaFrancesco: I lived and worked in Italy for several years. People who go there on vacation understandably have a wonderful time and it seems like a dream. However, stay there longer than a vacation and you will see that yes, it is a beautiful country, but it has many deeply ingrained problems and 'forgitaboudit' isn't my idea of a solution.

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      V11 5 years ago

      Signori, I agree completely with what you noted. It seems most of the migrants somehow turn out to be just a bunch of peasants when they go abroad. (I'm not Italian, but I am a migrant from a neighboring country, and I stumbled here cos I have Italians in my family ...)

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      maria tressa 5 years ago

      S DAUGHTER AND A Tableservce Maids Grand daughter I repeat the Italian people I knew as neighbors friends and Marriage Are the salt of the earth!

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      RamaFrancesco 5 years ago

      I'm an Italian American.... I"m in Rome right now with my daughter Savinalucia.... I"m sorry but I'm only seeing love all around here from Napolitans, Calabrians, Venetians, Florentines and Romans..... I"m sure you .... must have had a bad day at the pizza parlor when you wrote this... ... we can't make everyone happy eh, forgitaboudit uuffffaaaa e la vita!

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      Elisabetta 6 years ago is not that simple, Italians are very complicated. Some of the impressions the american friend had are very correct and also the historical facts reported are very true, we named our land Italy in 1861 but we truly became a nation after first world war when so many died to free the very northern cities of Trento and Trieste and ..hey let's not forget so many southern young italian guys gave their lives there. Yes, italians have different regional traditions and the dialect is changing every 2 miles yet and all those differences make our country so special. We wish we could keep only the good pecularities of each region...but we have to accept all, and work hard to defeat the bad ones. Flag...ops italian flag was waving a lot during the misfortunate 20 years of was waving even too much and italian were even too proud to be italian even too nationalistic...too much too much, then the tears and blood the shame on our political mistakes and the fear that waving the flag a lot could be mistaken with that extreme nationalistic fury that dragged italy to the disaster. These days flags are waving back more and more the wounds of world war 2 are healed and forgotten, hmm...let's try not to forget them completely!I am very proud to be an italian tollerant respectful citizen. Ciao Ciao:)

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      Mario 6 years ago

      Older Italians tend to have more of a feeling for their region or even their province over the entire country. Similar to saying one is a New Yorker first then an American.

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      Signori 6 years ago

      I am Italian living in the north and I can tell you that this article is very true!

      I visit America and Italian Americans are not the same, I feel ashame that they even have Italy connected.

      Italian America is not like Italians at all.

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      I love italians i would love to visit yall are so beautiful, awesome skin color, beautiful hair and love their accent. Im a african american 6 years ago

      I love italians i dnt care if ure frm the northern or southern part of your country italians are beautiful. Aweson tone and i love the accent i think its sexy.

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      Linda 6 years ago

      I mostly agree... But why you think "Sicilians especially have never been taken seriously in the rest of Italy"??? Let me tell you one thing, people from the rest of Italy (north and south) don't take seriously people from NAPLES nowadays... Honestly I don't know any people who look down Sicilians but I know people who look down Napolitans. Sicilian "mafia" is probably more famous because of the American movies but now Camorra (frome Naples) is the more powerful...

      I'm Italian:)

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      Tommaso 6 years ago

      Hi, i was born and raised in Florence (IT) and i am currently an international student living in Sacramento (CA).

      The view that you gave is pretty accurate, and i believe the main reason is, how you wrote, the need to create an identity when in a complete new world.

      Italy is deeply divided, people are proud to be from their city (and sometimes even from their "hood"), not from Italy.

      Why would the flag hold a meaning if it is barely 150 years old? Compared, for example, to the Florence flag that has an history of over 800 years.

      Obviously when a massive (over 22 millions in few decades) amount of people emigrate, they need to find somehow a common identity, even more if they tend to be discriminated.

      I myself feel way more proud to be italian here in the US than when i am back home in Italy.

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      Louis Mascolo 6 years ago

      Good historical background. Interesting.

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      IT/AM LADY 7 years ago


    • profile image 7 years ago

      wow i didn't know that plz tell me more

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      Italian 7 years ago

      you suck...italians are very proud of being italian...and just because they don't wave the italian flag or wear italian t-shirts doesn't mean they are not proud. For most italians, being italian is enough, they don't feel the need to publicly display this to the rest of Italy.

      btw-you are obviously NOT italian so how the hell would you know anyway?!?!? go back to America already and eat a hot dog with ketchup

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      Tyler 7 years ago

      Some of this view is accurate, some is not. You seem to have a bias against a particular type of Italian Americans. My grandparents are from Italy and migrated to the United States. My family has tried hard to preserve the traditions of my family's native city of Bari while living here in the US, and I think they've succeeded well in doing so. I speak fluent Italian and really do eat authentic Italian dishes regularly and have visited Italy many times. Don't get some Italian Americans who are close to their heritage confused with the "guidos" that there seem to be so many of. And by the way, Italians from Italy are VERY proud of their country, I don't know where you got the strange idea that they are not.

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      Greg G 8 years ago

      That`s a lot of .......BULL SHIT.

      Italians are very proud to be ITALIANS. They ...unlike Americans are NOT crazy about their flag.

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      JPA 8 years ago

      Very accurate representation of the reality

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      sophs 8 years ago

      Great hub, very interesting, although I have alot of family in Italy (full Italian) and they're proud to wave their flag. Keep hubbing :-)