The Art of the Outburst: Communication Italian-Style

The Art of the Outburst: Communication Italian-Style
One of my favorite movie moments is in the 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck, when Nicholas Cage tells Cher he loves her, and she slaps him and barks, “Snap out of it!”

It reminds me of the no-holds-barred passion I grew up with.

Like Moonstruck, about an Italian-American bookkeeper (Cher) who is supposed to marry an older guy, but then falls for his brother (Cage), my childhood on the Jersey Shore was full of first-generation emigrants from southern Italy — those folks who brought to America great things like pizza, sfogliatelle (ricotta-filled puff pastry) and my personal favorite: high-volume emotional outbursts.

A corner market in Naples’ Spanish Quarter overflows with produce.
A corner market in Naples’ Spanish Quarter overflows with produce.

It’s a behavior style I never see at home in Los Angeles. Here, if a guy says “I love you” right after he meets you, the gal smiles sweetly and suggests medication.

That’s why it was so refreshing to go to the source of the noisy passion I was weaned on: Naples, Italy.

It was all so familiar from the moment I hit the street. There they were: lookalikes of those broad, expressive faces and hands flying through the air that entertained me as a kid.

At the caffè, I order a cappuccino and BAM! Even before my milk is steamed, the show begins with shouts of “No, NO!” from the caffè owner. He waves his arms in protest against a pleading gentleman in a suit. Signore Suit simply wants to leave something behind the counter: a live, wriggling eel. The eel, after all, is in a bag; he’d just bought it from the fish cart outside.

Thick, open-palmed “No” hands debate pinched “per favore (please)” fingers. Nothing like my quiet L.A. Starbucks, where hands only move to click laptops and cell phones.

And I definitely know I’m not in Los Angeles when I get to the playground and there are no mommies calmly offering their children choices: “Kyle you can either get in the car immediately or have a time-out.” No, here in the piazza exasperated mammas yell, “Aldo, vieni quà (come here)!” Aldo keeps kicking his soccer ball until Mamma grabs him by the collar and drags him to the bus.

Even the trattoria cook is a lookalike of those broad, expressive faces that entertained me as a kid.
Even the trattoria cook is a lookalike of those broad, expressive faces that entertained me as a kid.

Later, at the trattoria, our waiter, Marco, stands at my table and bellows: “Spaghetti, gnocchi!” He’s not angry, just passionate about pasta. This is no Beverly Hills lunch spot, where waiters whisper specials like “Pan-seared ahi tuna over papaya coulis,” as if it were a rare disease.

Outside, I join a crowd gathered for a puppet show starring Pulcinella, a classical character of Neapolitan puppet theater. We watch the rascal clown declare his love for a wide-eyed signorina puppet. Pulcinella goes in for a kiss, she grabs a baseball bat and whacks poor “Puch” mercilessly.

It’s the cartoon version of Cher’s “Snap out of it” slap in Moonstruck. As we all laugh, a teenager on a Vespa bursts through the crowd to speed down an alley. Startled, all of us grown-ups lift our arms: “AY!”

I catch my reflection in a bakery window. That’s me: hands raised, mouth open, with all the other five-foot-tall (1.52 m), olive-skinned ladies. I’ve become a member of the chorus in the land of my ancestors. It feels fantástico.

If You Go

Italian Tourism Board



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