An Interview with Danielle

Back to the keyboard for this post! I thought I’d try something new, again. I wanted to interview someone who has an even bigger claim to third culture-ness than I do: my friend Danielle Russo.

Dani is an American expat living in Rome. She is married to a Colombian national, and they have two adorable children. Dani is the owner of a thriving tour company, When in Rome Tours and an overall superwoman (she often travels across the world ALL ALONE with her two kids in tow…that garners special mention of superwoman-hood in my book).

I met Danielle when we were both working for a translation agency in Rome ten years (!!) ago. We became fast friends, and have thankfully been able to stay in contact, notwithstanding the various moves and children that have popped up recently.

I wanted to get her perspective on combining three cultures, and what she thinks of her grand experiment. Her answers funny, poignant, and somewhat surprising. Here they are in full:

  • Do you think your kids feel more Italian, American, or Colombian?          I think my kids feel more American! Especially our oldest, Sofia because her schoolteachers and friend’s parents are always singling her out because she speaks English, so that seems to reinforce for her that she is special. That said, she knows the Italian national anthem by heart, but not the Star Spangled Banner.
  • What’s the best three language combination of a sentence that you’ve heard from them?                                                                                “Papi, Me Trajes los canuches per favore?”   (Rough translations: Papi, can you bring the straws here please?). “Straws” is cannucci in Italian, not canuches Spanish. It’s pitillos in spanish.                               Second to that is, “Mami my muneca is broccato.” (Rough translation: my doll is broken).                                                                               Third, “Sofia, what do you want Santa to bring you?”  “I have to ancora decidere.”
  • Are they able to converse with their relatives easily?                             In the US, yes. In Colombia, not so easily. It is the weakest of the three languages, and with a large family, lots of people always talking and yelling at the same time, they get shy and are afraid to speak.
  • Describe a typical family meal…what culture does it draw from?        Our meals are about 60% Italian, 20% Latin, and 20% international. We don’t mix and mingle at the same meal. But if we are having an Italian dinner, we generally do not do the primo, secondo, contorno, etc. But just one or two of the courses and basta.
  • What is the best part of being a part of three cultures? Is there a bad part?                                                                                                    The best part of it is feeling like we are a sovereign nation of our own. While outside the windows it is clearly Italy, in our house, our third culture reigns. We speak a combo of three languages, we aren’t afraid of drafts [a well-known Italian fear], and we just go with the flow. Holidays are always fun, as we honor American, Latin American, and now Italian traditions as well. In America, Santa fills the stockings on Christmas Eve, but here in Italy it is a haggard old (but good) witch [la Befana] who fills them a week later. My kids get two stockings! Lucky devils.                                                                                                  The down side? My three year old boy is just now beginning to speak. When he started preschool he was so frustrated because he couldn’t communicate that he would scream, hit, and even bite. We were called to the principal’s office before he even turned three! Yikes.                 For me as an adult? I feel like I don’t truly fit in anywhere anymore. I am American, but when I go back to the US, I notice that I have less and less in common with old friends, relatives, and paesani. Here in Italy, I don’t think I will ever assimilate 100%. And I wouldn’t want to.

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