‘Culture Shock’ is this month’s topic for the Dolce Vita Bloggers group. I was born in Italia, grew up in an Italian family in an italian/multicultural neighbourhood and have been travelling to Italia my whole life. There isn’t much culture shock going on for me to write about.
However……because in my ‘real job’, I work as a health care professional, there are a few malattie…illness related things that just drive me pazza! Repeat after me ….. illnesses are caused by viruses! Le malattie sono causate dai virus (pronounced VEE•roos).
A unique category of illnesses exists exclusively in Italia, caused by wind, cold, sweat and wet hair! The thing they all have in common is sudden changes in temperature or extreme temperature fluctuations. Anyone who is from an Italian family will instantly relate to all of these. My title Aria Pericolosa! means ‘dangerous air’. We now know malaria is caused by mosquitoes, but in the past this was not known. The word mal aria actually means ‘bad air’! These health beliefs are generally left over or adapted from times when we did not know the cause of disease.
Colpo d’aria means literally a smack, strike or big hit of air. An example of this is going from outside on a hot day into a shopping mall blasted with air conditioning. Someone who has cold symptoms or a sore back, headache, earache or even indigestion might say ‘ho preso un colpo d’aria’. Italians are somewhat distrustful of air conditioning, using it only when really necessary- in sharp contrast to the North American obsession with it. Severe back spasm is often called ‘colpo della strega’- Strike of the witch.
Un colpo d’aria can also come from ‘la corrente’ which is an air current or a draft. Walking or sitting in a corrente is thought to cause illness. A draft caused by 2 open windows or doors directly opposite each other is considered bad luck in Feng Shui, because the good Chi goes in one window and out the other, however… winds and drafts do not carry disease! I’ve had many meals in a place as hot as a sauna because they refused to open both windows or doors at the same time-only one or the other! Mannaggia!
La cervicale is another classic condition related to colpo d’aria. This is a stiff neck cause by the neck being exposed to cold. And you thought everyone wore scarves just to be fashionable!
Running around sudato -with a sweaty body is also thought to cause illness. I suppose hot and sweaty are 2 temperature fluctuations! This is especially applicable to bambini, running around playing, and also wearing sweaty clothes. You may here ‘è sudato!’ exclaimed on the playground by many an Italian Mamma. Italian bambini are always provided with multiple changes of clothes for when they get sweaty, even at the beach! They wear canottiere, undershirts made of wool in winter and cotton in summer to absorb sudore. These are sometimes referred to as a ‘maglietta della salute’/health shirts. Being sudato then sitting in a corrente—you are doomed to illness!
Let’s not forget capelli bagnati! Going outside with wet hair is thought to cause illness, even pneumonia….even death! I always air dry my hair, as it takes too long to blowdry. I compare this to drying the dishes. Why dry the dishes when nature will dry them on their own? If I leave the house with wet hair in Italia, I inevitably will get asked the obvious ‘ma c’hai i capelli bagnati?’ Being in a corrente while sweaty with wet hair and senza giacca -without a jacket….you might as well call the funeral home!
Swimming within 3 hours after eating is thought to cause cramps and this will cause you to drown. In Italia, the main meal is usually pranzo, around 1pm. Yes, even on the beach it is often a full on meal and not just a panino. This means the meal is heavier while at the beach, but it certainly doesn’t take 3 hours to digest the food. I am ready for my next gelato by this time. Noon until 3 pm is also the hottest time of the day, so it is not such a bad thing to be in the shade under an ombrellone at this time, it is the reasoning that drives me nuts. One of my colleagues is from India, and she tells me her family says the same thing, so this one m ay not beexclusive to italia. Perhaps it was originally related to eating questionable food before refrigeration was available? Still, I have yet to hear about someone drowning because they went swimming on a full stomach!
I could go on and on, but I need to go back out and enjoy the Pugliese sunshine. All of these malattie might lead you to believe Italia is a uniquely immunocompromised country, but Italians are generally in very good health! I try to explain that these ailments exist exclusively in Italia, but I give up! None of these are harmful, but they can get annoying, especially to a health care professional. Remember….. Le malattie sono causate dai virus! You can still follow Nonna Mari’s advice and ‘metti la giacca!’
Note-I will be Chiuso per Ferie without a computer, so may not be able to link this post to the other ‘Culture Shock’ posts until I get home. If the links do not work, check back later.
FYI ‘Aria pericolosa‘ can also refer to the lingering smell that keeps on giving after a smelly fart!
Ciao, Cristina….e metti la giacca!