Halloween Across Cultures

“Do you celebrate Halloween? What will you do?”

Not everyone in Italy celebrates Halloween, but with the holiday approaching I still bring up the subject in my ESL lessons.

Still, I didn’t expect it when the sweet, obedient 12-year-old girl I tutor responded, “I’m having some friends over for trick-or-treat and if they don’t give us candy we’ll throw eggs at their house!”

Seeing my look of complete surprise she explained, “You know, the trick part of ‘trick or treat’.”

Halloween is not an Italian holiday and has only recently been introduced into the culture by chain stores and Hollywood. It would be nearly impossible for an Italian here to know that no one follows through on the “trick” part; that even if someone wanted to there’s really no need because most neighborhoods participate whole-heartedly.

Transferring the nuances of different cultures is a hard task – one that’s even more difficult when it’s done through movies, urban legends or Reddit instead of through human interactions and open explanations. Living and teaching abroad, it’s often left up to me to mediate ideas and misconceptions between cultures.

This means explaining Italian holidays, food and attitudes to my relatives and friends and explaining to my students how we celebrate Halloween. It means explaining that though Italian restaurants in Italy don’t have red-checkered tablecloths, Italian restaurants in America often do; describing that we have other restaurants besides just McDonalds and constantly reiterating the size of the United States. (It helps to explain that New York City to L.A. is a five-hour flight and NYC to Milan is an eight-hour flight, using time to show how big the US really is.)

My Italian friends are sure that the police use Tasers on everyone, and their go-to joke is saying that even American citizens walk around tasing people. While I know that they are teasing me, the fact is that our police can legally use more force than those in Italy. The differences exist. Like I briefly discussed in my People of Italy post, the stereotypes always come from somewhere.

They’re born from what we see on T.V., what we hear from others, what we imagine or see during brief visits. Stereotypes are formed by our emotions and biases and though they can be as unreliable as both, there’s no denying their existence.

Buzzfeed recently featured a story about a teenager’s American-themed party in Poland. They partied with red solo cups, trucker hats and flannel while Pocahontas played in the background. And really, I think, it wasn’t so far off. I’m just jealous they were able to find red solo cups in Poland – I can’t find them anywhere in Italy!

There’s no escaping the mix of cultures that our world is experiencing, but we can try to limit the confusion. Traveling is about realizing the truths of the various stereotypes and correcting them when false.

So though Halloween is still considered a wholly American holiday and is only sparsely celebrated in Italy, my mixed-culture home will be hosting an American-style Halloween party, complete with Italians, costumes and a lack of red solo cups.

Happy Halloween!

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