Gender Discrimination: Funny Things – Part II

I laughed out loud at the dinner table last week over something funny my Italian suocero said. Well, you may think the fact that I refer to him as my father-in-law and he calls me his nuora, when my impending marriage to his first-born is still (thank the heavens) seven months away, is amusing enough for a whole ‘nuther post. And, you’d be right. But, the oddities don’t end there.

The whole engagement period is just plain strano. First of all, Italians don’t really have this step in the dating process. They meet, they date, one of them says “let’s get married”, and they start planning. There is no real distinction between mia ragazza and mia fidanzata. While “fidanzata” seems like it would be the logical substitution for the English (or French) “fiance’,” both words in Italian really just mean girlfriend. There are six ways to say the word “the,” but not even one word to describe the person you are going to marry…say, tomorrow!

Che buffo!

But, speaking of discriminating words, let’s talk about the kids! Well, the nieces and nephews, that is. One of my English students has been telling me for the last month her “nephew” wants to take lessons. Imagine my surprise to discover a college-age lass eager to learn our mother-tongue with her boyfriend, no less. Realizing this is a common mistake Italians make, confusing the words for niece and nephew, and remembering I always have difficulty understanding the difference when they speak – I investigate! It seems there is no difference. Your table has a gender, but your niece or nephew – nah. Nipote, along for describing a niece or nephew, is also the word for granddaughter, grandson, and grandchild. Mamma mia! No wonder I stay so confused.

All of these little lingual quirks make for some pretty interesting mistakes. Luckily, to my knowledge at least, there isn’t an embarrassing blunder associated with these words, as opposed to say, FICO, click here for my mistake, or PENNE, click here for my other mistake, or even ANNI, last time you get to laugh at me!

But, it keeps me interesting, right? And, as they say tell me here all the time…piano, piano!

9 Responses
  1. Anonymous

    ok Cherrye, I gotta email you about the whole ragazza dating engagement thing because my Ale’s family is a little different and being that he is originally from Bari, still in the South, maybe Peppe would know What’s your email??


  2. Giulia

    Oh yeah, I used to always hate the fact that when two people started courting each other, it was automatically assumed that they would marry. As you said, there is never a real distinction between ragazza and fidanzata. Nowadays, they are slowly working towards that, I believe. I actually saw a “diamonds are forever” type commerical the other day with the actors portraying an engagement. I think that’s pretty cool, as that’s what I am used to seeing back home. It’s about time the Italians got into the swing of things. lol
    And yeah, you automatically become the “nuora”… as long as you are dating their son. Soutern Italy is more old fashioned, I think.

    P.S. I know you tagged me, and I am working on it. Just thought I’d let you know. 😉

  3. j

    It is my impression that Italians are more and more just giving up on the idea of formal marriage. Is that true? And might that have something to do with the blurred distinction between raggaza and fidanzata?

  4. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    In Italian class wanted to say “someone was swept out to sea” instead I said “someone was screwed (really the “f” word) out to sea.” sigh.

  5. cheeky

    I did the même.
    You will get it, in time. At least you can laugh at yourself. It’s sometimes hard to translate literally but the more you grasp the language the rest will come.
    I like the fact your “father in law” considers you his “daughter-in-law” already, it’s sweet.

  6. sognatrice

    Do you know how many times I’ve had to explain to people here who I am? I’ll say “mio suocero” only to have them say “ah, sei sposata?” Um, no, this is your system people…if you don’t even get it, how can I? Ugh.

    And to NYC/Car ragazza, hah! This is why I advocate never using the world scopare under any circumstances 😉

  7. Cherrye

    Ahhh…you guys “hear” me, huh? It is hard to figure out!

    Giulia you saw a Diamonds are Forever commercial? I bet Italian men are rolling their eyes as we type! Ha

    J – I am not sure, actually. I know of three people getting married within a few months of each other, and I don’t know that many people, but it is definitely possible. Maybe someone else here knows more about this than I do?? I’m sorry…

    NYC/Caribbean Ragazza – I made the same mistake-at dinner with my “suocero”…tragico!

    Cheeky – going to check out the meme…

    Delina – I agree with you. Although I never insisted, I am pretty sure Peppe knew it had to be like this. I mean, he is going to marry an American, we both have to compromise some, right??


    To add a little more to this “discussion” I was getting a hair cut the other day, where the girl knows I am getting married in November (and had said something about that fact earlier in our conversation). As I left she said, “Give this to your marito.” I was like, “uh, ok!” Strange stuff.

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