Coming back from a long weekend recently in Sicily I was struck by a feeling I often have whenever I have travelled to Italy: a feeling of leaving home. That might sound strange considering I was born and bred in Brazil but something about Italy always reminds me of my home country.
Considering that the histories of both countries couldn’t be more different – while the Romans were conquering Europe and beyond, native Brazilians were living peacefully in tribes in the Amazon – I was curious as to what it is that makes Italy feel like such a familiar place. Arguably there is an Italian influence in the south of Brazil due to past immigration; however, being from Rio, I can’t really say the feeling comes from historical influence. Further, the sentiment of belonging is stronger in Italy than in Portugal, the latter a country with a far greater claim on Brazil.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that our fundamental similarities come down to the people. Italians, like Brazilians, live passionately – at every opportunity. Both have a true love of food, for instance (and lots of it – I can’t imagine either nationality being satisfied with tapas). And flirtation is not an act but rather a general state of affairs. The sexual tension in both countries is obvious for any woman receiving indiscreet glances on the streets of Rio or Rome.
That said, both countries share a similar degree of sexism, where a man’s role is often defined by overt masculinity. Then again, there is no Italian or Brazilian man that doesn’t bow down to the supreme power of one woman: his mother. And the contradiction of the “macho mama’s boy” is not the only paradox these two countries share. Both are Catholic superpowers yet no other country has such a penchant for temptation and sin (though perhaps that says something about the origins of Catholicism?).
Both Italians and Brazilians sing when they talk – loudly – and like exaggerated hand gestures. When it comes to politics, some representatives of both countries are borderline clowns and their political systems a joke. Those same systems gives both nations a casual attitude towards it all; in Portuguese we call this mindset “Rir para nao chorar” or “To laugh, not to cry” (which came in very useful in Brazil after a certain result in this year’s World Cup).
Italians and Brazilians have the “malandro” attitude, as we say in Brazil. A malandro is a rascal defined by a street smartness full of charm and daring. It’s an attitude I immediately identified in Sicily as a man gave me €50 less in change than I was due, all the while smiling and complimenting my eyes.
Even though all these thoughts are gross generalisations, I am comforted that a couple of hours away from London I can find a little bit of home – even if I do have to be careful about counting my change.
Gaia Lutz is a researcher for Monocle 24.