Italian Culture And Traditions Are An Obsession For Many

Italian culture and traditions are everywhere in the US and this article gives 9 reasons why it is so popular in the media, entertainment and restaurants.

Italian culture and traditions - Obsessed

The Amazing Beauty of Italy

Why Italian Culture And Traditions Are An Obsession.

Many people are obsessed with Italian culture in the US, but clearly not everyone and a question that was recently posted was: “Are you tired of watching everyone you know go to Italy?”. This question was posted in a recent article on Eater and while the article was fairly short, the debate it sparked was considerably greater.

The complaint was that the US media focuses too much on Italian food and as a travel destination, while excluding other worthy destinations and cultures around the world. The response was the typical online reaction to such a clickbait title where some people defended Italy and others felt like there was too much. There is no possible way I can, or even want to be objective in this debate so I will throw out some small problems I had with the article and move on.

Too Much Focus On Italian Food And Travel

As I described, the gist of the article is that in the media, there is simply too much of a focus on Italian food and travel. I don’t have a problem with the author’s position, but I do have a problem with the examples given. Specifically, the shows included are: 

Italian culture and traditions - and Food

Never Enough Italian Food

Now, I can’t speak to why the Food Network felt like travel series were necessary, but if you include their full range of cooking shows, then I would argue that there is no disproportionate amount of Italian food being offered. Similarly, the series Somebody Feed Phil and Salt Fat Acid Heat have had episodes in Italy (or featuring Italian foods), but they have also traveled to other countries and around the US. Why cherry pick one episode to make your point, but ignore the full range of what they include?

Italian Culture And Traditions Are Copied Again And Again

The article is implying that there is no originality on TV and when something is successful, the networks will simply repeat the process and copy what works. OK. Welcome to mass media in the US. This isn’t newsworthy or an original idea. Until people stop watching unoriginal programming, the networks and the advertisers will be happy to Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

It All Feels A Little Safe

Similar to my description of the unoriginal programming choices, the idea that the networks will play it safe doesn’t really need to be called out because it is so obvious. To put my geek hat on for a second, there is an old phrase in Technology that nobody ever got fired for buying IBM. Now, those days are long gone, but the concept is the same. Safe programming is low risk.

What Is Special About Italian Culture And Traditions?

My overarching point in reaction to the Eater article is that there is a probably disproportionate amount of Italy focused programming on TV, but that is likely because it is popular. Italian culture is enjoyed, the food is devoured and the wine is drunk all across the US and here are the 9 reasons that Americans are obsessed with Italian culture:

Italian culture and traditions - Art

Amazing Italian Art

1) There Is A Large Population Of The Italian Diaspora In The US

As a result of years of immigration to the US, there are more than 16 Million Italian Americans in the US that have a strong influence on American culture. Whether the movies that show the immigrant experience at the beginning of the 20th century, ubiquitous Italian food around every corner of the US or Italian American artists and politicians that have become popular in the US, the influence is meaningful and can’t really be compared to (almost) any other immigrant group in its scale. The one exception I would make is the influence of the Mexican and Latino cultures on the US.

2) Some Of The Food Culture In Italy Has Become Almost American

The comfort that Americans have with Italian food is obvious. It is almost wrong to call pizza Italian because of the way that restaurants in the US have taken it and made it their own. I wouldn’t think a Neapolitan would call that dish from Chicago a “pizza”, but it isn’t totally unfamiliar to them. The same could be said for pasta dishes and some desserts.

3) Americans Have A Fascination With The Mafia

I don’t think there is an Italian alive that is proud of this export, but there is no doubt that Americans love movies about Italian criminals. The fascinating contrast between unspeakable crimes and close family ties has gripped Americans for decades. For me, it started with The Godfather, of course, but gangster movies have been part of the culture in the US long before that. Today, the gangsters aren’t always Italian, but they were at the beginning of this genre.

Italian culture and traditions - The Mafia

Fighting The Mafia In Italy

4) Italian Food Is Understandable

Italian food is so embedded in American culture that it is familiar and understandable to most people. When tomatoes were brought to Italy from the Americas, Italian food became even more familiar, whether it’s a variety of pasta dishes or different types of pizza, there isn’t anything strange to the American palette. When you combine that with what you hear on various cooking shows, Italian food showcases simple ingredients so you don’t hide any of the flavors, there isn’t anything intimidating about Italian food.

5) There Is An Idealized Version Of Italian Culture Popular In The US

There is also an idealized version of life in Italy that is popular in these various Italian travel and food programs. La Dolce Vita, the movie, was meant to be a bit ironic, but there is something to the idea that life in Italy can be more enjoyable than in the US. Obviously, not for everyone, but it can exist for some. For example, not everyone lives on a Tuscan farm and has a grand lunch outside with their entire family weekly, but I’m certain some people do.

Italian culture and traditions - more Food

Delicious and Familiar Italian Food

6) There Is An Accurate Version Of Living In Italy Popular In The US

In addition to an idealized version of life in Italy, there is a more accurate version that is attractive to people. The resistance to chain restaurants, eating your food slowly and deliberately and trying to eat seasonally are real things in Italy. An example of food seasonality would be easy because we get our produce at a local street vendor and you can only get things in season. The most surprising example for me was Pocket Coffee. If you are unfamiliar, Pocket Coffee is a chocolate treat filled with espresso. I was surprised to learn that this favorite of ours is unavailable during the summer because the chocolate might melt. Can you imagine a Hershey bar only being available when it wouldn’t melt?

7) Industry Has Done A Good Job Of Marketing Italian Wines And Food

In a country like Italy that, to put it mildly, isn’t known for its organizational abilities, some businesses and industries have done a great job of marketing their products to Americans. Tuscan wines are the foundation of tourism around Tuscany and that wasn’t by accident. Promoting tourism and trade to Americans is among the things Italy does really well. Eataly is also something that I was surprised was able to take hold. It’s a great store, but initially, I didn’t think there was a big enough market for it outside of NYC, but I was wrong.

8) There Is An Italian History Unavailable In The US

My belief is that Americans are drawn to the history of the Roman Empire because American history is so short, but also because you can still experience Italian history in the architecture, art and foods around the country. Visiting a 2,000 year old stadium in Rome really brings history to life. The guys dressed as gladiators don’t hurt either.

Italian culture and traditions - History

2,000 Year Old Stadium

9) The Beauty Of Italy Translates Well To American TV

There is no denying that in Italy, beauty is everywhere. Whether you prefer the mountains, the coast, the countryside or a more urban setting, Italy has it all, and I didn’t even mention the beauty of Italy’s Art and Architecture. This translates well to all visual mediums and TV is no exception. Of course I am biased, but when I see travel programs that go to other countries, half of them aren’t nearly as visually appealing to me. It’s not important to call out which ones because that is too subjective and I have no interest in a debate. The bottom line is when I go around Italy, I enjoy the beauty, so watching a show focusing on Rome, Venice, Tuscany or Sicily, I love it. The same can’t be said for large areas of this planet.

Happily Obsessed With Italian Culture And Traditions

If you are like me and are happily obsessed with Italian culture and traditions, please let me know if I missed anything important. Otherwise, you may find some of these posts interesting as well:

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