All posts tagged habit


Published April 10, 2013 by Tony


Standard of living and lifestyle have influenced and still influence the way how people spend their weekend. If we take as a reference two medium families, one from Naples and another from New York, both formed by working parents, with one or more adult children, probably in a month the Neapolitan parents spend one Saturday or Sunday to dine out, while the New Yorker parents spend three. For New Yorkers the Saturday “evening dining out” was, until recently, an obligation, especially for couples with both engaged in work. Due to the popular demand, in order to go to a restaurant or pizzeria in New York, a Saturday evening reservation even was necessary. Where the New Yorker didn’t go out to dinner, as an alternative there always was a dinner party hosted by some friends at their home or in a pub. A lifestyle difficult to eradicate, even in view of the fact that wives were not inclined to spend weekend at home, between cooking and dishes.
Aside from this substantial cultural difference, there was another of economic nature, because an average Neapolitan family certainly did not have the same economic opportunity of the overseas peers.
Although a normal dinner in a normal restaurant in the Neapolitan hinterland costs less than the one in a similar restaurant in New York, the average Neapolitan family culturally is more “conservative” and traditionalist, with wives, who, although involved in work, have not lost their  “housewives” identity, preferring to stay at home during the weekend.  In Naples, there has never been a “dining party” culture, and instead of Saturday dining out, if anything, the custom of a Sunday lunch away from home has always been more in vogue. But occasionally and not as a weekly habit. The Neapolitan wife has always been very attached to the house and the children and  weekend is just a chance to spend more time at home with family, and attend to all those household chores that she has not been able to do during the week.
Our habits have not changed much over the years. The economic situation has led, if anything, to renounce to some Sunday lunch at the restaurant and be thriftier in foodstuffs purchase.

Americans, instead, after a hard week spent at work, look forward to weekends, planning in advance for them.  For many weekend means going out with friends or relatives, outdoor activities or watching a game in a stadium.
In the past, one of the largest changes in American eating habits was the increasing reliance on food eaten away from home (FAFH). FAFH increased from 33% of total food expenditures in 1970 to 47% by 2003. Most of this is at table service and fast food restaurants.
Much of the growth is attributed to the rising value of household time, especially as induced by more female labor force participation, and rising household incomes.
As a 2009 Zagat Survey showed, eating out was a way of life for many Americans, with 50% of all meals prepared outside the home. In short, restaurants became the family kitchen for the busy two-career families. According to Zagat Survey CEO Tim Zagat, “Americans are still eating out in restaurants, they are just making smarter choices.”

Recently, the economic downturn, occasional jobs and financial turmoil in America have made it difficult for people to find enough money to afford their “dining out” habit.
Lately, Americans are making family dinner more often than dine out, a trend that slowly took root before the recession. Mostly, they’re cooking with and eating a narrow range of foods — and relying, to some extent, on prepared, frozen, and canned items to feed their families quickly and economically. “It’s very boring. That’s the sad truth,” says Harry Balzer, chief food industry analyst for the NPD Group, a national market research company. “For the most part, we’re looking for what’s the eaesiest way out of this, what’s the cheapest way out of this.” Balzer said, the number of restaurant meals an American family eats — dine-in or takeout — has been flat, at just under 200 a year, correlating to plateaus of both women in the workforce and household incomes.

Even the New York Times supported the thesis of the “end of the dinner party” because people do not have more money, time and wish to do so.  Someone else says that beyond the crisis there is a lack of good manners and savoir faire, with people no longer able to have a conversation and that’s why lately “finger food” and “standing up” are preferred to dinner party.



Published January 22, 2011 by Tony


Neapolitans mentality is not easy to understand.

To do that it could be necessary to retrace carefully many ages of history that the south, and Naples in particular, went through. History, experiences, culture, philosophy, coincidences and chance events as background worked together to forge folks or a race, I could say, unique and special.
It’s a matter of fact that as years go by fashion and culture are influenced and change adapting slowly but, in the Neapolitan people some atavistic characteristic endure in the time, being so strong and deeply rooted that could be considered a genetic factor even. Gesture, distrust, cunning and adaptability are the main example of those characteristics that evidently, evolution or development provided no improvement or repression in the time.
Surely, some cliché is now outdated and to forget like the false rumor that Neapolitans are, in general, goof-off. An old good story says: (literal translation)

There were four Neapolitans called: Everyone, Someone, Each and None,

Once an important piece of work needed to be done.

Everybody was sure that Someone would have done it.

Each could do it but in the end None did it.

So, Each  blamed Someone because Nobody had done just what Each should have to carry out.

Nowadays, because the high unemployment rate a lot of young people go away just to find a job and it’s irrelevant and provocative to argue such a thesis.

Everywhere, work isn’t a thing most people like specially if we refer to unrewarding or hard ones – usual and popular in  the past here – and it’s peculiar that in Neapolitan dialect many still use the term “toil” to mean “going to work”.

Under this point of view we may consider the famous phrase that the actor Eduardo De Filippo says in the comedy  “Natale in casa Cupiello” (Christmas at Cupiello’s home) :

<Cuncè, che brutto suonno me sò fatto stanotte. Me sò sunnate che lavoravo…..>

(Concetta, what a bad dream I had tonight. I dreamed I was working….)

Naples is a “training for life”,  an “university of life” where we all are performers or actors and the fun thing is that we don’t realize that even. The uniqueness marking Neapolitanism  is in the frail border separating fact and fiction, fun and dignity. Sometimes this border overlaps making difficult the identification and giving back comedy and tragedy. The well-known “macchietta” (“odd character”) is a forerunner,  an old theatrical tradition with sketches where the robust and colorful dialect becomes humorous through ribald and double senses.

In Naples anything becomes difficult but possible at the same time.

Do you remember the film “Il Giudizio Universale” (“The last Judgment”) of Vittorio De Sica?

In spite of the universality of its moral, it’s not a case that the film was produced by a Neapolitan and filmed in Naples. People are sure that the Last Judgment is arriving so, any bad cynic and sinful person is worried to expiate – at once – the one’s own sins in a sort of competition but, as soon as they hears that it is not true their usual life then go back as nothing happened!

Just a way to highlight the innate opportunism and adaptability of we Neapolitans.

< A famma fà scì ‘o lupo do’ bosco> (Hunger let wolf came out) is a way of saying meaning that the deprivations sharpen the wits… and for Neapolitans this is a rule. For example, there is no work or way to earn money – bizarre and absurd – that Neapolitans don’t have carried out o tried to put into practice.

Simme ngegnuso e fantasiuse” (we are ingenious and imaginative) under this point of view.

Another distinctive element to leap out at the foreigner is our gesticulation, sometimes incessant. Probably, this is a characteristic of many Mediterranean people but, for Neapolitans it acquires a symbolic meaning and not a mimicry only.  In some case, the hands gesticulation acquire such a form to come close to the art.  Practically, “reading” the movements of the hands we can understand the sense of the talk between two fellow citizens.  Evidently, our ancestors – for lack of knowledge and willingness – had to concentrate and summarize soon and good their dialogues. As others populations created dialogue patterns and expressions  – based on drawings paintings and symbolism – in Naples, possibly, gesture and aphorisms (we can call Neapolitanism) improved in the time.  Even the dialect is subject in the time to this simplification and adaptation and still going on. In the era of the SMS and with the input of some modern comedian (macchietta) also the dialect is changing according to new terms and social class. “Napule è…”  “Naples is…”  this too, making reference to the homonym Pino Daniele song whose lyric – among others phrases – says

Napule è mille culure………  (Naples is a thousand colors)
Napule è nu sole amaro…… (Naples is a bitter sun)
Napule è ‘na carta sporca … (Naples is a dirty paper)
nisciuno se ne importa e ognuno aspetta a’ ciorta….. (nobody care and everybody wait and hope)

Naples, where the ancient lives with the modern and probably, it’s this aspect too to hit the tourist.

All along, the presence of important and famous artists coming from anywhere in the world is the proof.

I read that the German philosopher Gadamer is popping over Naples from long and during the first visit in 1972, after a long walk in the old town, he said:  <I never saw so much humanity!>

Naples is loved or detested without middle ways.

Unluckily, we are an on-going mix of good and bad things that in the end give no possibility to reach a conclusion. Neapolitans are friendly informal frank and generous but till a certain extent because expedience always is at the gate. A Neapolitan can be very open and sincere but can be reticent and conspiratorial as a Sicilian.

<L’occasione fa l’uomo ladro> (Opportunity makes the thief), this is because we all take precautions, always.

However, for better or for worse, in the end a good lunch and some good time can’t be lacking. It could be said: “….scurdammece ‘o passato, simme ‘e Napulè paisa!” (forget the past, fellows we are from Naples!) as a famous song says.

I think that this sort of superficiality and kindness sometimes have the purpose to ease the situation as a safeguard. Then it comes into play the trick and the wisdom of the Neapolitans that in the time, because the adversity, often turn nasty into rudeness and abuse. Aside from the organized crime (Camorra) that is not object of this talk, I would like that any fellow citizen will realize that even a simple paper chucked away in the street becomes a disaffection and insult towards the city and  fellow citizen. We should change starting from the minor faults while – alas! – the wisdom is by now in the old proverb only. It is not easy because the deep rooted atavistic behavior I mentioned above and it needs a strong determination that must involve anybody starting from local institutions, school, security forces, upper class, clergy and storekeepers.

I finish this piecemeal chat with a beautiful Alessandro Siani sentence, a new fashionable comic:

“Naples is a not-sent postcard remained at the bottom of the boots (Italy), scrunched up, dusty and a little bit helpless but, alive. A living city waiting for a mayor that picks up it, clean out and lovingly send it all over the world.”