ItalyAnthropologists and other social scientists define human culture as learned behavior acquired by individuals as members of a social group. The concept of culture was first explicitly defined in 1871 by the British anthropologist Edward B. Tylor. He used the term to refer to “ that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Since then anthropologists have offered numerous refinements and variations on this definition, but all have agreed that culture is learned behavior in contrast to genetically endowed behavior.
From antiquity to modern times, Italy has played a central role in world culture. Italians have contributed some of the world’s most admired sculpture, architecture, painting, literature, and music, particularly opera. Although the nation was politically unified less than 150 years ago, the Italians do not consider themselves to be a “new” people, but see themselves instead as the descendants of the Ancient Romans. Moreover, regional differences persist because of natural geographical boundaries and the disparate cultural heritage that has come down from the Greeks, Etruscans, Arabs, Normans, and Lombards. Regional differences is evident in persistent local dialects, holidays, festivals, songs, and regional cuisine. Central to all Italian life is the tradition of family as the guiding force and focus of loyalty. Many Sunday’s are spent around the table with aunts, uncles and grandparents for a special dinner.
In Italy the social structure of the rural village was founded on the family, whose interests and needs determined an individual’s attitudes towards church, state, and school. Each family member was expected first of all to uphold family honor and to fulfill his or her parents particular duties and responsibilities. The father was the interpreter of all needs and interests and maintained his authority with strict discipline. The mother, although subordinate, had a voice in family decisions and meditated between the father and often numerous children. Here in the United States the Italian- Americans still have that strong sense of family, but now the women have more freedom and are looked at differently, and also the number of children one family acquires has gradually lessened to 2 to 3 children.
Home cooking is something Italians are especially noted for. The main meal, usually at midday, often begins with soup which may contain rice, pasta, or greens; followed by meat(chicken, veal , beef). A frequent constituent of the diet is pasta, or in the poorer homes of south polenta ( a sort of porridge made from maize). Although many Italians dishes later became American favorites, at the turn of the century Italians who insisted on eating macaroni and drinking wine were regarded as not yet American. Their traditional kitchen withstood Americanization, however, and the production of or import from Italy of olive oil, spaghetti, artichokes and salami provided an important part of the neighborhood economy. But in America the custom of eating for Italians is changed a bit. Here, we seem to have more abundance of food. We keep the same tradition of eating on Sundays at midday, but our diet consists of more fattening foods basically spending the whole day eating.
Survivals of national costume for women are skirts, pleated or with colored flounces; the low bodice with shoulder straps, always of attractive color (red, blue, or black) with tassels and embroidered patterns; the apron made of cotton and silk, wool, velvet or leather) ornamented with brightly colored designs or with silver or gold filigree. Handkerchiefs that are worn, depending on the color tells whether the wearer is married or not. The black cap is still worn in Sicily and Sardinia by the men and a type of velvet waistcoat and trousers. In American culture our dress is quite different. Americans have a more trendy dress that includes Italian designers names such as Gucci and Versaci.
Opera, a popular art from Italy, was popular with the immigrants as well, and unlike the music halls, it generated an appeal far beyond the Italian community. From the 1880’s, when the Metropolitan Opera House opened in New York with Cleofante Capanini as it’s first conductor and director, until today, the Italians have been prominent in opera in the United States and else where in the world.
The Italians are 99.6% Roman Catholic, although only about one -third of them attended mass regularly and only about one-tenth of them received the sacraments at Easter.
In conclusion, the Italian’s social structure of family, cuisine, native costume and dress, music, and religion all play a part in creating a specific culture that allows them to express their learned behaviors in a society as a whole.