Wednesday, August 30, 2006

La Familia

My Italian friends had often commented on the affinità (affinity) between their culture and that of the Orient. Maybe for this reason, I had found acclimatisation in Italy simply intuitive. Since my husband's family is of European decent and bears an Italian cognome (last name) I had expected adaptation to the ways of La Familia to be easy. I was completely off the mark!

When we first arrived in BA, Guillermo's parents used to ring us more than a few times a day. If their son didn't pick up his cell phone, mine would ring almost immediately. I didn't think much of it since I thought it was because they were helping us in our search for an apartment.

Once we moved into our home, the apartment we are now living in, I was a little surprised that the calls kept coming in the same frequency. In addition, the three abuelos decided to join the party as they could then call a fixed line. We became captives in our home office.

We try hard to keep office hours although we don't have to step outside to go to work. However, this seems to be a concept only Guillermo and I understand within the family. Calls with "Querido/a, como están?" (Love, how are you two?), depending on which one of us pick up the phone, had to be fielded between business calls all day long.

I don't know, maybe it is common to take lengthy private calls during work hours in this country. I, who wasn't trained to have this sort of work ethics, just find it annoying because it is distracting and unprofessional. Of course, we didn't have the heart to tell the abuelos to cease up on the calls. However, after our bust-up with the parents, they have probably heard through the grapevine to now ration their calls to one every couple of days.

The calls from all fronts have eased to a level which Guillermo and I feel comfortable. We decided that we can't concern ourselves with whether this satisfies the family's need to be on the pulse with all the happenings in our lives. While we are very aware that we are the "odd" couple among the siblings, and I am especially strange among the daughters-in-law since I am not dependent on any of them, we simply don't care anymore.

The wives of Guillermo's brothers are from other provinces so my parents-in-law have conveniently stepped in as surrogate parents for these grown women who didn't leave home until they got married. Who could blame them for expecting the same with me? Sometimes, I almost feel sorry for them that this last daughter-in-law is a worldly, independent woman and a frequent user of Skype!

Another reason for my rebelliousness against this suffocating embrace is their self-centred mentality. The in-laws and abuelas (abuelo is a true gentleman with much empathy for me) often talk about their "suffering" daughter/ granddaughter, a grown woman over thirty years of age with her own family of two kids and husband. She and the boys have followed the husband to Mexico for a 12-month secondment. Poor her, she has to endure a well-subsidised expat life style in a Spanish speaking country! Believe it or not, tears are shed for her "hardship", no kidding.

My mother-in-law and the abuelas used to whinge to me shamelessly until my husband pointed out that I moved halfway across the world and have had to learn a new language for no great love of this chaotic country but their querido son/ grandson. Upon that, all we usually got back were blank faces. I dealt with blank faces fine, it was only when they had the gall to argue that it was "different" for them and their beloved that I had the look of thunder. Thank god the whinging has finally stopped because their querida mamamone (the Italian slang mamamone f/m is usually reserved for those mummy's boys but in this case a girl) is back for good very soon.

We've also realised that we would have to shut up about our future plans should they ever involve leaving this country. Upon hearing her querido grandson has started his Mandarin course, abuelita (paternal grandmother in our case) grasped in horror "You are going to China!" A tear was probably standing ready. No, we are not going to China! Aaarrrhhh!!!

In a family where the members feel distinctly uncomfortable or visibly upset whenever Guillermo and I talk, just casually, about plans to speak to our kids in English at home, there really is no room for anything other than the Argentine culture and language. And I, clearly just chopped liver, who, in their "unbiased" opinion, is so lucky to be living in the most beautiful country ever existed on earth, learning such an easy language; really, how dare I complain! Amen.

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