There we sat at the dinner table: one Brazilian, one Bolognese, and one American, laughing hysterically over one childhood pastime that united us—Nintendo’s Street Fighter, to be exact. As we reminisced about how at the age of five our thumbs had developed Carpel Tunnel from excessive joystick use, Michely started making Chun Lee war calls, and Federico took the “Ken stance” with his hands parted forward, ready to use his magic kung-fu powers on us. The original shock that Chuck Norris is thought of as a god in Italy has faded after hearing jokes like: “Chuck Norris is so strong he doesn’t do push-ups, he’s just pushing down the Earth,” and “The Bible used to be known as Chuck Norris and Friends.” I realized that even in different countries we were still connected by the same 90’s clichés of Nintendo, LA Gear light-up shoes, and the wonderful world of the Smurfs (aka “I Puffi” in Italian). No matter how far away we live there is always something or someone that connects us: Chun Lee was our sixth degree of separation.
The full extent of this culture clash was shown to me during this last holiday weekend.
When my mother imagined my first Italian Christmas, I think she fantasized things like: going to midnight mass conducted by the Pope, eating a feast full of Italian delicacies and syrupy grappa, and perhaps listening to a choir of young children singing Italian arias guided by Andrea Bocelli. I laugh to think that my real Christmas Eve in Italy was spent at a house full of Brazilians eating a table full of Japanese food, and a pot full of Stroganoff (which is apparently a Brazilian, not a German dish—at least according to all the Brazilians I’ve met). Instead of the typical background music of Jingle Bells and Santa Clause is Coming to Town, I was serenaded by a band playing Mas Que Nada and Agua De Beber. I was happy to tell my mom that I think I got the deluxe Christmas experience—Brazilian Christmas experience, that is.
But the holiday strangeness didn’t end there; December 26th was the festive holiday of Santo Stefano, the official saint of Bologna. Since neither I nor my Bolognese roommate, Federico, knew much about it, I decided to have a day out on the town. Surely if there was some sort of big festivity going on, I would find it. I left my apartment to find a bleak, cold, and empty city, which made me assume Santo Stefano actually indicates the first day of winter in Bologna. With only my camera to keep me busy, I was left dumbfounded to the actual significance of this holiday.
Then my luck changed, as I spotted a large crowd surrounding the church in Piazza Santo Stefano. At last I was about to find the answer to my cultural questions about this Bolognese holiday. However, instead of entering to behold a crowd of people listening to the somber sounds of monks chanting or a holy sermon, I was presented with four men in kilts playing Scottish bagpipes. Thinking that perhaps Scotland played some exciting role in the history of Bologna or Santo Stefano I ventured to ask my Bolognese roommate, only to find out, that in fact, they didn’t. Yes the world is a strange and flavorful melting pot.