Thursday, May 20, 2010



I was a teenager when I first arrived in the States. I arrived from
Italy where, as the poor relative of a wealthy family, I was told the
facts of life. Marriage was not about romance. It was an alliance of
mutual benefits. Since I was penniless, my sole assets were good looks
and health. The latter was of prime importance, since my major
contribution was to ensure the continuation of an old family line. (I
never signed on to that one on the dotted line since I was a rebel since
birth. I did, however, apply the concept later on in my life to the
breeding of top competition horses.)

Formal education for a "young lady" was not required, I was assured.
Instead I was taught to talk about art and music in multiple languages,
appear not too intelligent, and eat modestly when in company. Of the
utmost importance was virginity. How else could I guarantee not to
function as a cuckoo's nest? In those days, in the Italy I inhabited,
potential in-laws were allowed to study you in detail, whereas the
potential suitor was limited to a mere ogle, but any type of touch was
out of the question, as was time alone before an official engagement.
These suitors often had titles, but resembled in no way Michelangelo's
statue of David, which I in turn used to ogle, discretely, wondering.

With that preparatory introduction into life's facts, I arrived in the
U.S. There, in a small town, I was to attend an American high school for
six months out of the year. What I found were bobby socks, strange ways
of dressing, chewing gum and blowing huge bubbles, and a culture of
Romance; from going wild while dancing jitterbugs, to the grindingly
slow cheek-to-cheek dancing in the dark. Allowed were open appraisals of
a girl's curves, followed by whistles (behavior reserved for lower
classes in Italy, and mostly applied to tourists from Northern
countries). Rampant was an activity called 'Necking". This was carried
out mostly in the backseats of some parents' car, movie theaters, in
parking lots, or along riversides. Everything was allowed: touching,
'French' kissing, except………IT. Nice girls were virgins here too on their
wedding night. In America, if this was not the case, an American friend
told me, you simply assure him he is the second, i.e. slip-ups can
happen. In Italy by contrast, I was told there were surgical procedure
to put things back into order.

Any type of nudity was out of the question. No bikinis, as heavily
guarded virgins in Italy were allowed to wear, no nude pictures in
magazines. The kind of openly pornographic material I was used to seeing
on newspaper stands in Paris were, I believe, here were punishable by
U.S. law. I felt like an alien who had landed on Planet U.S.A. Of
course, instead of peer pressure, I had family pressure. Juvenile
American sexual behaviors were strictly off limits to me. Nor was I
tempted. Came prom night. Several young men, among them the high school
tennis star asked me out, but I was obliged to go with a young man,
intelligent, nice and nerdy, simply because he was my cousin's closest
friend. The evening was awkward, with much blushing and little dialogue.
When finally he walked me back up a hill to our house, and in front of
our entrance bent over and out of nowhere shot his tongue toward my
mouth, like a sleepy lizard catching a fly, my instinctive reaction was
to whack him across the face, which in turn sent him flying to his
parents stationed in their car at the bottom of the hill waiting for his

That same evening my cousin told me, he, the prom date, only did what
was expected of him. So did I. Of course now, 2010, Grandma Sonia knows
that date was somebody's most beloved son and hope for the future, who
had finally gotten up the courage in the chiaroscuro of our house
entrance. In retrospect I'd say, we merely remained, each of us, on our
own side of the cultural divide.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your post! Fun comparison about the differing attitudes towards sex in Europe and the US. Having lived in Europe, I'm always amazed by how accepting they are about pornography, pictures, television nudity, etc., and yet it was interesting how you presented the dichotomy of your family/cultural expectations.