(or an Italian View of American Holiday Home Decorating)
Being devoted to exploring the diversity of different cultures, I thought that I would share this little story of cultural differences that caught me by surprise. I was in Chicago, IL several years back and had hooked up with my Italian friend (and fantastic pianist) Enzo Boccerro. It was a about a week before Christmas, so the shops and many of the houses were well decorated for the holiday season.
I met up with Enzo on the last night before he flew back to Italy; we had dinner but before we hit a blues club for some live music, Enzo asked me if I knew where he could get a cheap bag to transport some recent purchases on-board the airplane. Enzo had purchased some music software, some computer memory, and a few other odds & ends and just needed a “one use & OK to toss” sort of bag. So I took him to Walmart for a small cheap nylon duffel bag.
As we walked through Walmart to find the bag dept., we passed an impressive display of the most hideous Christmas decorations I have ever seen. There were strings of LED tracer ropes, 3-foot tall tracer candy canes, strobing wreaths, three sizes of Santa with accompanying elves, reindeer and sleigh. The most awful decorations were the 2-foot tall plastic figurines of the three wise men, assorted animals, Joseph, Mary and of course, baby Jesus in a cradle.
Enzo stopped in dismay. “Wooody,(the extra “o” in my name is the way that Enzo pronounced it) what is this?” I wound up having to explain the concept of the way Americans decorate the exterior of their houses, with lights & signage, and yes even cheap plastic figurines of Baby Jesus.
“Why does Baby Jesus have a hole in his ass?”
With a look of disbelief, Enzo picked up one of the plastic Wise Men, looked at it and put it down. Then he picked up the figurine of Mary, looked at it and put it down. Finally he looked at Plastic Baby Jesus and said, “Wooody, why does Baby Jesus have a hole in his ass? In fact, Mary and the Wise Men also have a hole in their ass? …what is this?” So now we have another explanation about putting small lights inside the figures so that they light up at night. Enzo looked at me like I was telling him the biggest lie of the century and having a big joke at his expense. When I assured him that I was telling the truth, and asked about Italian customs, he told me that of course Italians decorate the shops with lights, but homes are decorated more discretely with wreaths that do not strobe and red ribbons and candles.
“Stop the car, I just saw Plastic Baby Jesus IN ACTION!!”
Enzo purchased his bag and we took off, with me driving the car. We were on one of those major streets that only has occasional stoplights at other major streets, with suburbs on each side of us. Enzo was staring out the window, really noticing the house decorations for the first time. All of a sudden Enzo shouts, “Wooody, stop the car, I just saw Plastic Baby Jesus IN ACTION!!!” At Enzo’s insistence, I had to go about 1/2 mile and turn into the housing subdivision to look for Enzo’s Plastic Baby Jesus. We found it.
It appeared that the owner’s of this modest little home had spent the family fortune at Walmart and purchased every awful, distasteful, hideous exterior Christmas decoration that Walmart offers. The tracer-light candy canes were lined up so tightly on either side of the short driveway that it looked like an airport runway. The complete Santa scene was perched at an alarming angle on the roof. A complete mishmash of competing flashing lights and tracer strings encircled the house. The wreath on the door strobed, and best of all… There was the biblical manger scene beneath a Live Oak tree… complete with Plastic Baby Jesus. The look on Enzo’s face was priceless, as he now knew exactly how Americans decorate their homes for Christmas.
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