Big, Fat Slobs

Dear Blog Readers,

In this blog I have allowed myself to be a little fast and free with my stereo-types about Italians – fretful Mammas who spoil their sons, spoiled sons who stay home until they are 40 with their Mammas who iron their undies, crazy cursing drivers, butt-pinching men, big breasted women who serve their philandering husbands …etc.  So, I suppose it is only fair that I tell you about some Italian stereotypes of Americans.  I am sorry to say but most Italians think Americans are big, fat, junk-food eating slobs.

I repeatedly tell Italians that Americans are not all big and fat and that they should travel to the United States, visit the country and come back and tell me what they think.  Italian friends come back and this is what they tell me.  “Everything is big in America, the people are fat, the cars are huge, the highways are wide and the parking lots are endless.  When you order food at a restaurant the portion for one person can feed a family and when you buy a soda they give you something “jumbo” or “king-size” that you cannot possibly finish.”

One Italian friend explained to me her horror at going to some discount foot store like Costco that sells food in huge amounts, and seeing obese people driving around large corridors on motorized carts, filling them up with huge containers of junk food.

Italians are particularly impressed by the size of American cars.  I tell them that many of my Mamma friends in America drive cars that are bigger than my Roman kitchen.  Italians drive Fiats, Smart Cars, and even Mini-cars.  Yes, there are some SUVs in Rome, but only the richest and snobbiest people drive them.  And Romans have tiny kitchens that are miles from their dining rooms.  I miss this big American kitchens where there is room for a table and you can sit and eat in the kitchen.  Not possible in my tiny Roman kitchen.

My friend Monica picking up the kids at school in Rome in her little Fiat. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Italians tell me that they cannot believe that Americans are constantly eating or drinking.  They are amazed that Americans drink in their cars, that American Mammas have special coffee holders on the back of their strollers, that kids snack during class.  (By the way, they don’t eat or drink while driving, but for Italians talking on cell phones and texting while driving is considered perfectly normal). Italians have pointed out to me that Americans carry food and eat while they walk, something rarely seen on Italian streets.  Italians are disgusted by the American junk food habits and are repelled by doritos, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and twinkies.  On the whole, Italian food is much healthier, although there is a national weakness for Nutella. My poor sister-in-law had a heart attack when we took her son to McDonalds.  At 10-year’s old he had never been to McDonald’s before. He survived and is still thin.

Sometimes healthy Italian eating habits make life harder on a working Mamma.  I remember when I first moved to Rome my mother-in-law was dismayed that I would do a week’s food shopping at the supermarket.  She thought I should make daily trips to the fruit stand, baker and butcher.  What working Mamma has time for that? She also told me “we do not use frozen foods”.  She bought me a machine for making fresh-squeezed orange juice for my children every morning (is there any working Mamma ready to get up a half-hour early to fresh squeeze the orange juice for the family? Not me.).  She also told me, “there is no need to buy butter, we don’t use it. “  It is true, she doesn’t use butter, just olive oil.  Some habits die hard.  I’ve been in Italy almost 20 years and I still load up at the supermarket, and I definitely still use butter and frozen peas.

Snacking is not an Italian habit.  You don’t see Italians eating on the street or in their car. Italians eat during meal-times, during which they tend to have a primo (pasta course) and secondo (meat course) along with a contorno (vegetable) followed by a fruit and an espresso.  No wonder they don’t need to snack.  Breakfast is the only small, brief meal.  Coffee is taken in the form of an espresso or cappuccino thrown back quickly while standing at the coffee bar (see Coffee Italian Style).  Italians do have an official snack time which is the “merenda” which comes around 5pm.  The “merenda” helps tie one over until dinner which is between 8-9pm.  Italians also do not eat much in the way of dessert after dinner, for example,  in our home we have followed my husband’s family tradition of a piece of fruit at the end of the meal.  If one wants a gelato, you get it at merenda time.

Speaking of gelato, Italians are astonished at the size of American ice cream servings.  I love American ice cream and could probably easily single-handedly polish off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or Haagen Daz.  If you get a couple of scoops in the US, they are big.  In Italy they are small.

Mente, Biscotto e Stracciatella — Three Flavors in a tiny Cup from our local gelateria. Photo by Trisha Thomas

While I am on the Italian stereo-types of Americans, I must say that many Italians see us as gun-toting cowboys who prefer to send our criminals to death row than keep them in prison.  When I try to explain that my state, Massachusetts, has relatively tight gun-control laws and no death penalty, they just respond, “well what about Texas, that is much bigger than your state.”

The Classic Cop — pot belly, coffee and a donut.

So…what can I say? Americans are not all gun-toting, fat slobs, Italians are not all mammas-boys and butt-squeezers, but there is a tidbit of truth in the stereo-types.

 

 

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

30 Comments

  1. Liz Cameron
    2012/04/03

    Great post. Indeed, there is more than a grain of truth in these stereotypes – in fact – you can supersize that grain of truth. I have had SUCH goings on with my Turkish relatives over just this issue and I can totally relate…during my first visit, I was constantly subjected to comments about my weight (and I was actually *under* my ideal weight at that time) and was told that I was obese – I ended up finding data that suggested that obesity was on the rise in Turkey, and left it on my sister-in-law’s beach chair (the scene of her obesity-calling activities)…not to be self-serving, but you can read about that whole incident here: http://wp.me/p1Jaxa-65 – I hope you will enjoy it.

    By the way – I am reminded of Gustavo’s saying “a man without a panza (big tummy?) is a man without sustanza (spelling atrocious – but means substance, I think?)” well, the Turks buy right into that one as well!!!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/03

      Liz, thanks for your excellent comment. Blog readers, do check out the post that Liz has done on weight questions and her experiences in Turkey, it is fascinating. Yes, there is an Italian expression, “uomo di pancia, uomo di sostanza”. Apparently, it is good for a man of a certain age to have a nice pot belly–shows that’s he’s got some wealth and power.

      Reply
  2. Paige Throckmorton
    2012/04/03

    Hi Trisha, I am glad you got the time to write about this, the pictures were the best part! Thank you again for the other morning. You should write about the american tourist next because that in it’s own right is very humorous.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/03

      Thank you Paige, it was great meeting you too!! I am so pleased you are enjoying my blog.

      Reply
  3. jolly joker
    2012/04/03

    This is quite interesting.
    According to some kind of old source (2009): in Italy there are 392 McDonald’s
    I don’t know where they are located but i am just guessing that they are in big cities.
    If the people who are disgusted by the American junk food, this is a big number for a small country (by size)
    Something’s wrong with that…

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/03

      392 Mcdonald’s!!! That is a lot. But I am sure it is accurate. There are definitely quite a few McDonald’s in Rome. There is even one at the much-beloved Roman piazza, Piazza di Spagna. There was a lot of outrage among Romans when it was opened there and they insisted that the McDonald’s have an Italian style coffee bar at the front, but it is definitely a McDonald’s, and I do not think the clients are all tourists.

      Reply
  4. jwthomas
    2012/04/03

    Guess I better watch my diet! But I do remember a daughter who loved coffee, coffee, buzz, buzz!! But in truth the Italians have it right in terms of when, where, and what to eat.. Michele Obama thanks you for your support.

    L/D

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/03

      Yes, I definitely love my Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz ice cream. I was talking about stereo-types in this post, and I hope I have not offended some of my blog readers. I did not actually dig up the comparative statistics on obesity in the US and Italy, but I have heard it is on the rise in Italy. I am all in favor of Michelle Obama’s campaign against obesity and I think the best way is simple, healthy eating and exercise — I am not a big believer in diets.

      Reply
  5. Gwen Thomas
    2012/04/03

    I think this too is also very much tied to race and class issues in the US. I just finished reading “Closing the Food Gap – Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty” by Mark Winne a national food policy expert. In his book he talks about America’s “dangerous dietary split: from patrons of food pantries, bodegas and convenience stores (include fast food here) to the more comfortable classes who increasingly seek out organic and local products.” He points out how we have developed “urban deserts” where the poor and lower classes have no access to even a supermarket and end up relying on fast food chain vultures who in many ways prey upon lower income families.

    I am not saying that this is only a problem of the poor/lower classes but access to healthier food is limited to those who can afford it. Even middle class folks like us struggle to afford the healthier farmers markets or organic locally produced foods. And of course fast food is ever present. Fast food has filled a niche in this country to those who have little access to proper food sources and also for the fast paced life styles of the middle class, simplifying lives of mothers and families who are racing to keep too many pieces of family life afloat.

    Then you can throw in the issue of diabetes into it…According to the CDC in a 2003 study, 1 in 3 children born in the US in 2000 will become diabetic unless drastic dietary changes are made and nearly half of AFrican-American and Hispanic children are likely to develop diabetes. According to the Surgeon General, they are concerned that this generation of kids may be the first to have a shorter life span than their parents. It is all pretty staggering!

    These are huge public health and social justice issues facing our country. So yes, the Italian stereotypes are right. One must be careful however, not to blame the victim by pointing fingers. The issues are so intertwined with economic, political, health, education, and social justice issues that they become difficult to unravel to get to the root of the problem.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/03

      Gwen, thank you for your excellent comment. We should all read that book. I think you are absolutely right that it is an income/class question in the US, and that is sad. I don’t believe that is part of it in Italy. In Italy it is easier to get access to farmer’s fresh fruits and vegetables and not at outrageous prices, and cheap fast-food is harder to find (although as someone commented above there are reportedly now 392 Mcdonald’s in Italy).
      As far as diabetes is concerned, as you know, given that my son has type one diabetes, I am well aware of the necessity of maintaining a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. Although type one diabetes does not come from over-eating or obesity, that is type 2. It is a shame that type 2 diabetes is on such a dramatic rise in the states. I would not wish diabetes on anyone and if Michelle Obama and others are trying to raise awareness on the issue, I am all for it.

      Reply
  6. AdriBarr
    2012/04/03

    Hello Trish,

    Well, indeed Americans are fat. The statistics bear it out. But all one needs to do is look around. Funny, but when I first saw your post and saw the obese people, I thought – wow – those Italians look just like Americans. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the truth. And the fellow on the cruising cart is an ever more present phenomenon here. It is really a tragedy. My niece married a Spaniard (who she met at language school in Rome!); I asked him what he thought of America – he replied “The people are so fat.” What can I say?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/04

      Thanks for your comment Adri. I have been worried that I may have offended some of my blog readers. I know the title was provocative but as you say the statistics do back up the stereo-type. There are more obese people in the U.S. than any other country in the world. I happen to be very nationalistic and am first to sing the praises of my country — I am proud of the diversity of our population, our creativity and energy, and willingness to change, to name a few things– but I also think we need to be realistic and face the fact that obesity is a problem that we need to face and solve– and when it comes to eating habits, Italians have good ones.

      Reply
  7. Alan
    2012/04/03

    . . and not just the sizes – the utter crap that is in the stuff is mind-boggling. From Bisphenol A and its feminising effects – to MacDonalds, finally agreeing to stop using ‘red slime’ (basically the sweepings from the floors of slaughter houses) tainted with amonia – to Coca Cola recently removing a long known carcinogenic ingredient from Coke, the list of crimes is endless. It isn’t just the US with these practices, either, it’s just that the greed for squeezing the last cent in profit from the punters (or Muppets as Goldman Sachs likes to call them) is more visible in the US.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/04

      Alan, you are absolutely right some items that are sold as food seem to have little to do with food. In Italy there is a new movement called KM 0, meaning kilomter zero and it urges people to eat food produced within a kilometer of their home. Obviously that is not possible for city-dwellers like me, but it is an interesting and healthy idea.

      Reply
  8. Barbara Landi
    2012/04/03

    Gli italiani hanno ragione; American eating habits are terrible. I have several female friends who spend time in Europe and the US; they put on 20lbs while in the US, and drop the weight when back in Europe. Europeans walk. There is no “passegiata” in the US.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/04

      Thank you for your comment Barbara. I agree, walking is so important. We Americans often do a lot of sports, but then get in the car to go down the street to get some milk or go to the bank machine.

      Reply
  9. Allegra
    2012/04/03

    Trish!! You forgot to mention kids’ birthday parties!! What’s with the absurdly uncomfortable outfits those poor Italian kids wear on THEIR big day? In London -and I guess in US is the same- the fanciest kid is dressed in a Superhero outfits and all the others wear football tshirts or fairies outfits. When we are holidaying in Italy, I dread to be invited by a Mamma Friend to their kids’ party.. My dilemma: Can I bear the humiliation to bring them along in their favourite SpongeBob tshirts, or aml I going to beg them, threaten them, force them to wear those prune-toned, itchy outfits that Granma gives them??…….. Follow you all the time, find it so relaxing as a bedtime reading!! Lots of ❤

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/04

      Thank you Allegra, I am thrilled to have you following my blog, and I am sure you have so much insight being an Italian Mamma of three living in London. You see two different cultures up close regularly.

      Reply
  10. Catherine Thomas
    2012/04/04

    The sad thing is Americans have Big cars because they are big. So many could not even fit into the little cars in Rome!!! Look at the pictures and tell me that the two women could fit into the little white car…REALLY??? Love reading your blog… helps me to not miss Rome sooo much!!!

    Reply
  11. Gretchen Bloom
    2012/04/15

    Trisha… AARRGGHH… these photos are SCAREY!! How can ANY Americans, much less more than 50%, look like these photos? What happened to us?? When we go to the US in the summer, we veer away, where possible, from those locations where obesity dominates.. like MN! What choice? That is where I come from! Sorry to see those photos.. but OUCH.. better to face up to the truth! GB (A former overweight bulimic-anorexic! who was saved by Africa)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/04/16

      Perhaps I was too harsh and aggressive with this post. I didn’t put in any statistics but there are plenty of them available that back up what the pictures show. It is a national problem that we have to face and do something about. Go Michelle Obama!

      Reply
  12. Kathy
    2013/01/28

    Very late response but I’ve only just read this post.

    I had an experience recently buying jeans in an Italian store (Piazza Italia) which is a chain store similar to Gap – correct me if I’m wrong here, Trisha.

    I am a fairly average US size 8 – not obese by any means in my country Australia or the USA – but by Italian standards I am morbidly obese needing to be shoe-horned out of the house in a forklift. How do I know that? Well, according to Piazza Italia I am. My jean size is an Italian 46 and while searching for a particular colour in that size, I was haughtily told by the sales assistant that a 46 is ‘extra large’ and ‘we don’t stock many of them because no one wears that size’. Yowza – what a smackdown! And here was me having a skinny day that day. I left the store feeling slightly less than the size of the Russian Federation.

    However, she was right. A quick check up and down the Via Toledo shopping strip in Naples confirmed to me that there are very very few chunky butts, wobbly thighs or muffin tops on women. How on earth do they do it? Do they eat once a day? Live on coffee? I am at a loss. I pound the treadmill for an hour a day and eat rabbit food to stay my size 8 but Italian women seem to make it look effortless.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/01/28

      Hi Kathy — What is it with store clerks in Italy who feel they need to make you feel awful. I hate that! There is no concept here that “the customer is always right”, or that they should try to make you feel good so that you will buy something. I have gotten snide comments so many times that I try to avoid talking to clerks at all times when I go into stores. I wrote about one sales clerk making me feel that I had the flatest chest in the world years ago– here’s the link to the post http://www.mozzarellamamma.com/2011/boobilicious-busting-out-in-italy/
      As far as Italian women staying skinny — I think it is just their fairly rigid dietary habits — small breakfast — coffee and cornetto, normal lunch and normal dinner. No desserts, no snacking. Italians usually eat a piece of fruit at the end of dinner. They will eat an ice cream (mini little gelato) in the afternoon in the summer. Also, I don’t know about Australia, but portions that one gets at restaurants in Italy are a lot smaller than what you get in the states. Usually when you go to a restaurant you eat everything you are served and if you ask to take something home, the waiter will have a heart attack.
      It is interesting — I hardly ever hear of Italian women friends going on diets, but when I was in the US, my friends were always on diets. It is really a big cultural difference.

      Reply
  13. Stefano
    2014/06/21

    I’m Italian and I’ve been in the USA once….it’s absolutely not a stereotype, before visiting the USA I never seen so many obese people in my life.
    On the contrary I’d like to know why Americans have invented the story about butt pinching, in Italy it would be considered a sexual harassment, if a man have such behaviour would be labelled as a rapist and sentenced by a court….. probably butt pinching is an unsane habit among your Italian-Americans.

    Reply
    • shannon esposito
      2015/01/16

      Stefano, You might want to educate yourself about the latest statistics regarding weight. In the 2014 stats it released that in children, Greece, Slovania, New Zealand, and OMG…Italy, are all more overweight than American children…Secondly, you have been to the USA once you claim, so I am assuming that you were not in all 50 states at once! United States is vastly larger than Italy- so you cannot say that one location you visited is like every where else. We have many areas where the majority are very fit…I happen to love Europe and Italy, I lived in Italy 1981-83…and I will also tell you that the stereotype about Italian men staring and pinching young ladies was true in my case. I think it is because I was American, and they wrongly think that we are all easy-Also a stereotype that is not true. They are going by television shows for this. Just look at Berlusconi television to see that we Americans may think the same of Italian ladies. Lastly, I am a 54 year old female who is five foot three inches tall, and one hundred three pounds-underweight all my life…so sorry I just get annoyed by all the ridiculous notions out there…..Please visit more of the U.S.A….Would love to see you!

      Reply
    • shannon esposito
      2015/01/16

      Trisha, Just had to comment on Stefano’s comments: He might want to educate himself about the latest statistics regarding weight. In the 2014 stats it released that in children, Greece, Slovania, New Zealand, and OMG…Italy, are all more overweight than American children…Secondly, you have been to the USA once you claim, so I am assuming that you were not in all 50 states at once! United States is vastly larger than Italy- so you cannot say that one location you visited is like every where else. We have many areas where the majority are very fit…I happen to love Europe and Italy, I lived in Italy 1981-83…and I will also tell you that the stereotype about Italian men staring and pinching young ladies was true in my case. I think it is because I was American, and they wrongly think that we are all easy-Also a stereotype that is not true. They are going by television shows for this. Just look at Berlesconi television to see that we Americans may think the same of Italian ladies. Lastly, I am a 54 year old female who is five foot three inches tall, and one hundred three pounds-underweight all my life…so sorry I just get annoyed by all the ridiculous notions out there…..Please visit more of the U.S.A….Would love to see you!

      Reply
      • Trisha Thomas
        Trisha Thomas
        2015/01/16

        Thank you Shannon for your comment. I agree that the US is a very big country and it is wrong to make judgements on just seeing a small part of it.

        Reply
  14. Valeria
    2015/05/10

    Late to the party, but as an American who has battled weight despite following recommended diet and calorie counts (until I gave up gluten and rice whereupon I started dropping weight at about 5x the rate I had gained it, while actually eating more calories). I have always avoided eating at anyplace with a drive through, swim 3-4 x a week, and have a dog who requires multiple daily walks. Yet I was overweight until I dropped the wheat and rice. I’m still losing weight and eliminating most processed foods, but this is a luxury in time and cooking skills that many people don’t have, as well as being horribly expensive.
    To label people as fat SLOBS without knowing them is pretty (as we say in the South) tacky. I agree that bad food is commonplace in the US, and huge portions are ubiquitous. However, I’m awfully tired of scorn being heaped on Americans by American expats. Yes, we get it, you are utterably more cool than those of us who live and work in the US, but the sneering? Tacky.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2015/05/12

      Valeria, I apologize if I offended you with this post. I certainly don’t feel that as an expat I am more cool than anyone in the US. For starters, I am just not cool in general. On top of that, all my family is still in the US and I am very attached to my country and proud to be an American. You are correct that in using the title “Big, Fat Slobs” I was being tacky and also disrespectful. I am sorry about that. Because I often make fun of the Italians and use all the stereo-types in the book to describe them, I was trying to share some of the stereo-types of how Italians see Americans. Perhaps I did not do it very gracefully. Again, I am sorry. You make some very good points and I hope my blog readers will see your comment.

      Reply
  15. Pam
    2016/06/05

    Great blog post. Your Italian friends are 100% correct — Americans ARE obese, with disgusting food consumption habits. Those “coffee” drinks you see people sucking down all day long are nothing but calorie bombs. Every day we’re another day closer to that depressing world depicted in “WALL-E” where people are gross looking immobile blobs of fat that are glued to screens on their transporters while they suck their food through a straw. When will this country wake the F up?

    Reply

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