As those of you who know me may remember, I’m not one for illnesses. Sure I’ve had my fair share. I had an operation for a small hernia when I was about 8, had Spillaine’s Syndrome at about 35 and an op for a cartilage tear about 6 years ago. But that’s about it, really. Yes, I do get aches and pains but, really, you don’t want to know, so I won’t tell you. I don’t take aspirin or any other drugs as I reckon that one drug (smoking) is enough – oh yes, and alcohol.
There were people in the UK that, on hearing a cheery ‘How are you?’ would assail one with their existing or recent ailment, sometimes going into excruciating detail. There were, of course, those people who, recognising my general dislike of illness would say something like ‘Not good, but I know you don’t really want the details’, which, I considered, very considerate of them.
And I am aware that, in the UK, you get groups of people who feed off recounting their illnesses to each other, feeding their own desire for tragedy and drama, vying with each other as who has the worst, most life-threatening, unusual, unlikely to be recognised by a doctor, incurable disease, etc., etc.
And, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t have sympathy.
When John first told me that he had cancer, I really felt for him, P and the family. And, bless him, even when he gave me details of the treatment or the illness, it felt like actually he wasn’t telling me the whole truth, just enough to give me the general idea.
We were never a family for illness. My parents got Christian Science when I was about 12. And, I guess, some of it rubbed off. Not necessarily the religious aspect, but the idea that you can control much of how you feel – providing you don’t succumb to allowing drugs of any sort which immediately take control of you.
So, with the exception of my one grandmother, who was somewhat like a wicked welsh witch, we didn’t go in for telling anyone about illness. Actually, we didn’t go in for telling anyone about feelings or much else, really. Not really a ‘touchy-feely’ family.
However, on to the point. Which is, of course, Italians and the difference in culture. I remember explaining to many classes when I was teaching English here, here and here, I used to say that, in general, when we ask ‘How are you?’ the correct answer is ‘Fine, thanks’, ‘Not bad, thanks’, ‘Can’t complain, thanks’ or, at worst, ‘OK, thanks’.’ And, if you look at English teaching books, they never reply with ‘Well, I’ve had this terrible cold’ or ‘I’ve never felt so bad’.
Of course, there’s a reason for this.’ We are, as people here will tell you, cold, with that predictable ‘stiff upper lip’. We have such sayings as ‘don’t wash your dirty linen in public’. I.e. DON’T tell anyone how you are (really), how you feel (really). You can complain about certain things, like work, the traffic, the weather, providing that you end on a light note or, even better, some sort of joke – just to allow the other person to laugh.
But Italians. They’re different. They are ill (a lot). And they’ll tell you they’re ill.’ They’ll tell you they’re ill even if you don’t ask!
L, at work, who was one of my English students, did get it though. I once said ‘How are you?’ one morning and he stopped mid sentence whilst telling me how bad he was and remembered the English classes and actually said ‘that’s not the answer you want, is it?’ It made me laugh but he was right.
And the worst Italians are the men. Of whatever age, they become like small children when they have any sort of pain. It’s like no one has ever had it so bad. I know, I know, one day I’ll be ill and then I’ll be wanting sympathy and people to listen. But until then, please don’t tell me, unless it really is life-threatening or contagious (particularly if it’s contagious :-P)!
Disclaimer: for Italian men who read this – I know you’re not ALL like that, so I didn’t mean you, actually. For Italian women or women married to Italians – you know I’m right!
On a final note, ‘Hi’ to my best friend. I wrote a whole post about you, but a) I was a bit drunk when I did it and b) I accidentally overwrote it when I saved a version of the file I keep my posts in over the top of the one with your post. Ah well, you know who you are and how I feel and anyway, you’d have only complained about it.