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Italian Culture

Australia is a nation of immigrants originating from every corner of the globe. Each immigrant lands with a suitcase full of personal possessions of apparel, tools, souvenirs, and an invisible cultural baggage made of beliefs, customs, traditions and preferences. These undeclared cultural goods have contributed to the transformation and advancement of Australia as much as the immigrants’ declared possessions, skills and labours.

CULTURE can be defined as the integrated system of socially acquired values, beliefs and rules of conduct that delimit the range of accepted behaviour in any given society. Cultural differences distinguish nations and societies one from others and also the diverse ethnic groups living within one nation. Failure to understand, accept and respect cultural diversities between ethnic groups, particularly by the dominant group, can spark divisions that may degenerate into social conflict.

After the inauspicious beginnings of convictism, the genocide of the Aborigines, and the racist White Australia Policy, in the 1970s, Australia embraced the enlightened policy of Multiculturalism. Cultural pluralism has greatly benefited our nation; it has promoted social harmony and assisted in the progressive elimination of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination, to the level that, nowadays, Australia is often cited as a model to the world. Italians have been present in Australia since Convict times, but mass migration from Italy to Australia occurred only in the post-war decades of 1950s and 60s.

Most Italian migrants came from the poorest villages of the poorest regions of Italy; they came as labourers, inadequately prepared and without competence in the English language. In spite of these shortcomings, their contributions to the building and advancement of Australia have been invaluable. Now many of those nation – builders have reached old age; some of them are living in retirement homes. Nurses and Carers know that old people revert to the mother tongue and to old habits and beliefs. Often a simple greeting, a kind enquiry on wishes and needs, or even a single word in Italian can brighten a patient’s day. I believe that persons serving in Retirement homes should be provided with and trained to use a short list of few sentences with greetings, requests and assurances in the language of the major ethnic groups, eg Italian, German, Greek, Polish, and also extend into other minorities.

As to culture, the fundamental institution of Italian society is the family, with Father as Capofamiglia, (Head of the family) entitled to special respect and obedience. As to Mothers, Italian males tend to remain attached to Mamma well into adulthood. Because of this protracted dependency they are called mammoni. The extended family is considered normal in Italian society.

Food is a very important part of the Italian culture, together with companionship and conversation. The sharing of food is the sharing of joy. It has been claimed that Italian migrants have changed the way Australians eat well and drink wine with their meals, but always with moderation. Words such as pasta, risotto, minestrone, pizza, salami, prosciutto, gelato, espresso, cappuccino, caffe-latte etc, have entered the Australian vocabulary as have words such as opera, concerto, bel canto and the numerous musical terms such as allegro, lento, forte, fortissimo, piano, pianissimo, adagio etc. Food and music are essential components
of a nation’s life and culture.

Very important to elderly Italians are also church and religion. Elderly Italians love to celebrate major religious festivities and like to hang images of Madonnas and Saints on their walls. Italians believe in Saints and in miracles. To some such beliefs and practices may appear superstitious but they are culturally and emotionally important and must be respected. Therefore the need for elderly Italians to hear the mother tongue, to smell traditional food, to hear traditional music, to have sacred pictures hanging on the wall and to see large groups of family members during visiting hours are essential factors to be considered by aged care personnel.

(Graziano N Ceron.)