Scenes From an Italian Thanksgiving

Tyler D’Ambrose ‘21
Staff Editor

            It is late Saturday night as I sit at an airport bar in Durham. Two gin-and-tonics and a can of Copenhagen mint were sufficient to dull the stress that accumulated as a product of a long, tiring day of cancelled flights and TSA tomfoolery. After flipping through Hunter S. Thompson’s musings on the mundanity of political journalism, I now feel capable of elaborating on my Thanksgiving break.

            Italians are intriguing people. They talk loudly, and they have a unique tendency of waving their arms around as they speak. Their manners aren’t always on par with societal norms. In fact, approximately half of the food prepared for an evening is consumed by an Italian family before it reaches the dinner table. I say all this to convey the point that one may feel understandably out of his or her element when attending a sufficiently Italian dinner gathering. Such was the position that my Uncle Norman found himself in this past Thanksgiving.

            My uncle had the good fortune of marrying into an Italian family thirteen years ago. I say good fortune because the gourmet meals, strong family bonds, and lively political debates that accompany such an arrangement are more than sufficient to make up for the occasionally ill-mannered Italian-American lifestyle.  However, that is not to say that Italian familial gatherings are easy to be a part of.  Here it is worth noting for the uninformed audience the three unwritten rules of Italian dinners.

1.     You must try all of the food. This is the most iron-clad of the three rules. There are absolutely no exceptions to this rule. I should know. In junior high, while spending my Sunday morning running while covered in a garbage bag to cut weight for wrestling, I still had to sit and eat dinner with the family. I then spent the rest of the evening coming up with an explanation for my coaches as to why I was seven pounds over the weight limit.

2.     You must compliment Grandma’s cooking. This applies even if she did not actually make anything. The primary purpose of this rule is to show your great love and appreciation for the most highly regarded member of the Italian family. The secondary purpose of this rule is to stay in Grandma’s good graces, lest you suffer the consequences.[1]

3.     You will participate in the post-dinner, pre-dessert political discussion. This is an inevitability. If you sit at the table with your eyes down while silently sipping a drink, you will still be asked to give your opinion. Here it is vital that you give your honest take on current affairs. If honest, you will only draw the ire of one half of the dinner attendees. If dishonest, you are inviting a full-on barrage of politically incorrect insults for having the gall to give such a ludicrous response.

            My uncle, as one well-acclimated to Italian dinners, knows full well the veracity of Rule 3. To ease the inevitable pain, he (somewhat) wisely makes sure to down a few Moscow Mules before the discussion begins. But while this strategy is sometimes prudent, it has its own risks.  These risks fully materialized last Thursday. During our regular post-dinner, pre-dessert political discussion, the hot topic was on guns. As should be expected from a politically right-leaning family, many pro-gun sentiments were expressed. At first, my uncle seemed to concur. But as the Mules worked their way into his bloodstream, his answers became more grandiose. After ten minutes of a hideously slurred defense of the second amendment, it became apparent that Uncle Norman was not giving his honest political views. Rather, he was merely parroting the talking points from the two hours of Fox News we had just watched before dinner. He broke Rule 3, and consequently a verbal bombardment ensued with enough viciousness to put Bush’s “shock and awe” assault to shame.

            At this point I think it is best to leave out the specific details of the barrage inflicted upon my uncle. Needless to say, everyone felt at ease to give him a piece of their minds. Grandma’s verbal attacks were by far the most brutal. Even the kids got involved in the ordeal, undoubtedly filled with tremendous shame at their father’s ill-advised and disingenuous soliloquy.[2]

            Despite this unfortunate incident, my uncle showed tremendous resilience after taking his ear-beating. He poured himself another Mule and joined the family for the post-dessert, pre-second-dinner nap. As Italian Prophet Rocky Balboa once said, “Life’s not about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” And while Italians can sometimes be pretty vicious, there is one unwritten Rule that trumps them all: always love and cherish your family. I hope that my fellow law students got to spend some time this Thanksgiving with the people they love most. And if not, then at least be thankful that you weren’t my uncle.

[1] Diplomats at the Geneva Conventions briefly considered adding “Italian Grandma Ear-Beatings” to the list of prohibited war atrocities.

[2] The dog was also involved. While I was unable to hear back from a credible dog whisperer, I’m pretty sure that “woof woooof” translates to “I am deeply ashamed of your lack of genuine political insight.”