The Italian mother-in-law does not enjoy a good reputation. In this column I describe the reasons why, and whether her notoriety is justified.
Showman from Lajatico
A man is found unconscious on the floor of Edinburgh Cathedral, I read in the newspaper. He is without a wallet and ID on him. They may have been stolen from him. At the hospital, the man regains consciousness, but he can’t remember anything. He has completely lost his memory.
A month later, Scottish police finds out his identity. The man is 52 years old, married with four children, who has mysteriously disappeared from Lajatico, in Tuscany. That, by the way, is the municipality where the tenor Andrea Bocelli lives.
Best Italian tradition
His worried family go to see him right away, but he doesn’t recognize them. He doesn’t even speak or understand Italian. Later the man is brought back to Italy. In the police car at the airport, an officer asks him to move into the back seat. The man does so dutifully, proving that he does understand Italian. As the police investigate further, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. They put the screws on him. In the end, he admits that he staged his disappearance and his memory impairment.
The man stands simply in the best Italian tradition of the commedia dell’arte! Just like Dario Fo, the famous playwright. A rival to Berlusconi! But why all this comedy? Was he bored in Lajatico? Did he have a fight over the fence with Andrea Bocelli? No, the reason is that he couldn’t stand his mother-in-law any longer. He felt himself succumbing to the pressure of the mother-in-law. She was always there, and always knew better.
If the jokes are to be believed, mothers-in-law are a burden all over the world, but Italian mothers-in-law are even a degree worse. It is primarily a battle between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The object of suffering: the son and husband. The classic double role of the Italian husband, who without much backbone does not take sides, and thus actually chooses his mother.
A knack for spoiling
The bad mother in law image is of all times. Juvenal, the famous Roman poet, wrote aptly albeit somewhat on the cruddy side: “Abandon all hope of peace as long as your mother-in-law is alive.” A modern version -equally crude- reads: “Suocera cieca, nuora fortunata”, which I freely translate as “mother-in-law blind, daughter-in-law devined”.
Compared to her peers from other countries, the Italian mother-in-law has a knack for spoiling her child’s relationship. She has the iron-clad conviction that no one knows better than she what her offspring needs. I recently saw in a store in Northern Italy a bottle of liqueur with a black label and a skull on it. Name of this liqueur which has an alcohol content of 70? Latte di Suocera, mother-in-law’s milk. It seems to have been produced since 1895 in a town near Vicenza. The liqueur is used to prepare flambéed cocktails. Needless to say, the Italian mother in law is very beloved.
Even the Supreme Court of Italy is a bit wary of the role of the mother-in-law. This court rules in final instance on usually important cases, such as mafia, corruption and therefore on the Italian mother-in-law. For example, ten years ago the court ruled that the spouse who leaves the marital home is not liable for the divorce if he or she acts out of desperation over the presence of an intrusive mother-in-law. In fact, in Italy, the judge can place the blame for the divorce on one of the partners. This can have financial consequences.
Italian mother-in-law ruling
If a wife cheats on the husband, for example, and he can prove that the cheating caused the divorce, the judge can exempt the husband from paying alimony. The Supreme Court also ruled that if you are a married couple in crisis and living with one of the mothers-in-law, it is legitimate to send her away. The other day a family law attorney told me that 40 percent of divorces are caused by the mother-in-law’s intrusiveness.
RELATED: The Italian mother-in-law may be a burden, but Italian family life has its advantages. Read about the white mill families.
I am not familiar with the problem. I’m not an Italian man, that helps. But I have an a-typical Italian mother in law in the first place. Although she lives in the apartment complex next to ours, she is very reserved. On the other hand, my wife’s mother is always on call to babysit, adjust clothes and prepare three-course meals.
I can heartily recommend her to the ‘Showman’ from Lajatico.
(I previously published this article in Dutch in a lifestyle magazine.)