I am a big fan of realistic books on culture and travel. Someone said “language is one of the most immediate ways to get to know a culture.” If They are Roses – The Italian way with Words by author Linda Falcone, editor The Florentine Press, and illustrator Leo Cardini, is one I read recently and really enjoyed. It is an light hearted comedic narrative by Falcone’s own experiences of living and working in Florence, Italy. Falcone is a columnist at The Florentine, Tuscany’s English-language newspaper that was one of the media partners of Florence Culture and Heritage Week 2012.
Basically, the book is about common Italian words and phrases, Italian beliefs and cultural nuances, and how they are used in everyday life, all presented in very funny short stories form. It has 2-4 page stories on everything from food and apartments, to coworkers and deadlines. The chapter titled “Soccer and Stiles” describes an incident where Falcone goes to watch a soccer game. She writes, “Watch soccer. It will tell you a lot about historical resentment and modern day political antagonism. It will also tell you what kind of stuff a race is made of. Italians on the field go for grace, beauty, and calculated effort. They are not run-you-down, beat-you-up, leave-your-guts-on-the-field type of players.” So next time, when you are in another country, watch the national sport to gauge the nature of the people!
“If They are Roses describes a country where affection is abundant, jobs are scarce and wit is the daily bread of the common man” says Amazon description. The title story “If they are roses” is a beautiful romantic tale about how Falcone’s parents (American father and Italian mother) first met in Venice, how her mom had faith in her pursuer and ended up with the man she loved. The phrase has played a big role in the author’s own upbringing and she advises “When you mean ‘yes,’ say it. When you love someone, even weather talk is exciting. Saint Anthony hears prayers. Good priests give you the benefit of the doubt. The profession does not make the man. When you make a promise, keep it. And have faith-if they are in fact roses, sooner or later, you will see the garden grow.”
If you have never visited Italy and don’t have any Italian friends, you may not be able to catch all the humor in the mentality, temperament, and identity of Italians that the book outlines. This book is definitely one that will give you good insight into the culture (something you generally don’t pick up as a tourist). It is also useful if you are learning the Italian language and want to learn how the commonly used words and phrases are used in different settings (it doesn’t always makes sense when you learn a new language). And if you are an Italian or living in Italy, you will find the look at yourself quiet funny and entertaining.