It’s been about twenty years now since I came to Italy, and I’ve since realized that the fights I thought were made for the movies were actually a real phenomenon that the movies were simply depicting. The arguments that Italians get into with each other are intense—so much so that even as a bystander they make my heart pound. The part that freaks me out the most, though, is that they’ll suddenly make up and be on great terms no matter how bad the fight was. Was I the crazy one to be secretly worrying about them the whole time?
That said, fights between Italians and Japanese go a bit differently. I can’t remember the kinds of fights I’ve gotten into with Italians, but based on what I’ve heard from my Japanese friends who have had me listen to them recount their experiences, the worst part is that the Italian person goes and says something so extreme that the Japanese person is certain there can be no reconciling afterwards—crosses a line the Japanese person never thought they would cross—and then the Italian person comes back later and wants to make up. The Japanese person is left bewildered.
For the Japanese, getting into a fight spells the end of the relationship—so we typically go to great lengths to resolve the situation before it gets that far. But it seems that Westerners, far from avoiding fights, have a kind of unspoken rule that they’re going to provoke each other in order to get everything out, clear the air, and then make up. Add to the particular characteristics of Italians in general, and you’ll find them getting into arguments to test just how different their opinions are—and in what ways. For them, the fact that they disagree is a given.
The other day, an Italian-style fight hit particularly close to home when an argument broke out among my neighbors. I had just returned from a morning jog when I had the misfortune of running into Neighbor A. Neighbor B had called them up complaining, woke them up over the intercom, and the situation had ended with Neighbor A in the middle of moving the car that was the subject of the dispute—in their pajamas, no less. Just as Neighbor A (in their pajamas) cornered me to start complaining, the wife of Neighbor B appeared—also in her pajamas—and the whole thing came to a head. I quickly made my escape and hid away in my house.
Even after the pajama party—or pajama battle, rather—had ended, they picked a new arena and picked up the fight again in our neighbors-only group chat, and things only got more vehement from there. If it were me, there’s no way I could duke it out over chat like that. My body would be shaking so much from the anger that I wouldn’t be able to type properly.
The chat fight escalated as all the neighbors got dragged into it, until someone finally said something that turned it all around: “Hey, we’ve all been good neighbors so far, so let’s stop fighting and make up. The weather’s gotten nice, we can all have a barbeque or something, forget about it, and be friends again.” (Maybe the Italians have a better sense of timing when playing their trump card, but if it were me, I’m pretty sure I would have said something like that a lot sooner.) The replies flooded in: “I went too far, sorry.” “I’ve got some great wine to bring to the barbeque!” and so on. All of a sudden, there was a happy ending. The only one who stayed levelheaded through it all was me.
I wonder when I’ll finally get used to Italian-style fights… maybe I should try one sometime!