Thursday, November 22, 2007

Who me, a mafioso?

In 30 years that I lived in Canada, from about the age of 7 or 8 when I began to understand what it meant to be the son of Italian immigrants, I was constantly bombarded with jokes and puns on typical Italian things, such as pizza, spaghetti and the mafia. Having also THE most Italian-sounding name around, Mario, didn’t also help things much (the inevitable question would be: “Hmm, Mario, are you Italian? Bet your old man is a mafioso, eh”? or one of my favourites: “Bet you eat spaghetti every day, eh”?).

I used to get the jokes from ignorami all the way to the “intellectuals”. One just happened to be the head of the consular section at the U.S. Consulate-General in MontrĂ©al (this guy had hanging in his office a picture where he's shaking hands with the Shah of Iran, well before the U.S. hostage crisis there). Having worked with the odd diplomat here and there, many I must say are rather “cultured”, well-travelled, have a few degrees in their pockets and also speak several languages. I had had an in-house promotion one day at the Consulate and I was going to be working for this diplomat. I'll never forget on Monday morning as I showed up for my first day of work as he was going out for coffee. We crossed paths. He looked at me and said and with a big laugh said, “Here comes Mario the Mafioso. Now we can feel protected”! Unfortunately, I couldn’t very well tell him to piss-off as he was going to be my new boss, and so I had to simply chuckle at his wonderful pun.

But Italy’s image at home (and abroad) also doesn’t help matters much. On the one hand, the International Herald Tribune ran an editorial on November 21st by Yossi Alpher, the former special assistant to Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Here’s how Alpher describes Syria’s Assad: “Assad may resemble a Mafia chief, but unlike Abbas, he can deliver”. On the other hand, the November 10th edition of The Economist (which I’ve been subscribing to for the last 15 years or so), ran two articles on Italy, and both were rather negative. One was on the death of a Roman woman in a seedy neighbourhood of Rome at the hands of a gypsy punk. Flip the page and there’s an article on the arrest of a high-profile mafia boss in Sicily, Toto' Lo Piccolo. On page 69 of the same issue there’s instead an article on corruption in Bangladesh. The article starts off in the following manner: “The problem is that the mafia in Bangladesh were the political parties"...

Another article the other day mentioned the fact that Italian politicians aren’t seen in a very positive manner abroad (Bush seems to have a high esteem of Germany’s Merkel and France’s Sarkozy, but not of Italy’s Prodi). Some things concerning Italians, even after 18 years that I’ve left Canada, never seem to change…

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