Let me guess, you have heard many bad things about Sicilians, and now you want to know what they are like before pulling into Palermo, don’t you? Spontaneously, questions arise like, “Are Sicilians like The Godfather movie? Are they Mafiosi? Being Italians, do they flirt with women anywhere and anytime? Fair enough! Although it’s almost impossible to describe all kind of people you may encounter in the town – as like any other city, we have “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” – I will tell you about the average Palermitano, pointing out the good and the bad points. Following are the main characteristics of the stereotypical Sicilians.
“We don’t speak English at all.”
It is a fact that Sicilian people don’t talk a word of English, as well as most Italians. In fact, according to research conducted by EF Education – the international organization specializing in language courses – Italians are the last in Europe to know the English language. That’s because of the inadequate school system, featuring the overuse of written exercises and too many teachers, who are not native English speakers. Therefore, it will be difficult to talk with Palermo people, especially with the ones of the old generation.
“We are aggressive drivers.”
Sicilians are arguably the worst drivers in Europe. Coping with them might be an exciting survival game. And the game gets more interesting in the twisting alleys, which dominate the ancient center, where bloodthirsty drivers seem to have gotten into the car just to kill you. Wildly unpredictable obese men putter about on Piaggio Vespas (naturally without the helmet), or Lapino, not really getting anywhere; they cruise around just to make your driving more exciting and eventful. The turbulent islander drivers don’t observe the rules of the road or the speed limits.
They park on the sidewalks, pass through the crossroads when the lights are red, don’t slow down at the pedestrian crossings, don’t indicate when turning, go against the traffic with motorcycles, and forth so. Also, road signs are nearly nonexistent; the crosswalks are discolored (even shortly after remakes), the roads are heavily damaged, and the few controls by the municipal police certainly do not make it a safe city. If you get a rental car, be aware that, in Palermo, you can never be too prudent.
“We always try to jump the queue.”
The worst enemy of a Palermitano? The queue. Whether they are in a bar, at a post office, or in an airport’s gate, the average Sicilian will try to jump the queue. It’s not rudeness, but pure instinct. Powerless to resist, if they see space among people in line to wait, they will dive into it at the speed of light. So if you are queuing up, don’t leave much space between you and the one in front of you. We are not rude, but hilariously impatient.
“We are uncivil and rough.”
Unfortunately, a good part of the Sicilian population is not public-spirited at all. In fact, the things that stick out more than the fat Islanders’ bellies, (learn more about Sicilian food and you will know why) are the mountains of trash that defy the laws of physics. They are a work of art that will attract the attention of the best art critics in the world soon. Ineffective rubbish collection service apart, the average Palermitano continuously throws garbage everywhere as he was paid for this. Incivility has deep roots in Palermo.
“We are proud of us.”
Palermitans talk proudly about Sicily with foreigners, depicting it as The Garden of Eden. Ask them about the island, and they will poetically describe the three wonders envied worldwide: the food, the sea, and the sun.
“We are shirkers.”
Sicilians are not famous for being hard workers. Economic crisis aside, the people in Sicily are not keen to labor, especially those who have a job in guaranteed-salary workplaces, like public offices and post offices. Palermitans strive for working less and earning more, making someone else to do the job that was supposed to be done by themselves. That’s the reason public services are extremely inadequate.
“We have a low education level.”
Sadly, the average Sicilian is not cultured. In fact, premature school-leaving (about 18% of the population between 18 and 24 years don’t go beyond high school), along with the bad example given by parents, make them ignorant, especially the ones among the so-called Popolino (underclass). Don’t let your jaw smash painfully against the ground when you see a 10-year-old illegally driving (without helmet of course!) boosted-horsepower mopeds around the city in school hours in pursuit of his first thrilling crime to commit.
Palermo is renowned for its hospitality all over the world. Sicilians always do their best to make other people feel comfortable and at ease. If you are lucky enough to be invited to the home of a Sicilian, you will be captivated by their kindness, warmth, and hospitality. At the exact moment you set foot into their place, they will begin to haul out tons of food, like they had to feed a coalition of lions. The word you will hear more will be “Mangia!” which it means “Eat!” They will pick you up and drop you home and spoil you at every instance in between.
“We greatly communicate with our bodies.”
Undoubtedly, you will hardly find yourself engaged in a conversation about geopolitics with a Palermitano due to their ignorance of English, but ask us information, and we will express ourselves better with our bodies than Charlie Chaplin in one of the best movies. Sicilians are extraordinarily gracious to tourists and always try to help them, despite the inability to speak English. They will be excited to talk to you, even when you signal that you don’t know a word of Italian.
“We have a great sense of humor.”
The Islanders are playful, hilarious, and humorous. At first, they are suspicious of strangers, but after some time, you will find yourself laughing like a horse. They are pleasant and outgoing people. Palermitans do love to turn everything into a joke; they always find the funny side of reality, involving at most the person one is talking to.
We are not ruthless killers with the lupara (traditional shotgun used by Cosa Nostra) within reach
I do hate disappointing you, but you won’t find any Sicilian wandering around with a gun ready to shoot someone. I know you’re thinking about The Godfather movie, but that is fiction, not reality. No Palermitan will hold a gun to your head or put a horse’s head in your bed or brutally kill you if you decline “an offer you can’t refuse.”
“We are gentlemen and talented suitors.”
Yes, women! Sicilians know how to treat the fairer sex. If you date a Sicilian man, you will gape at the renowned respectful gallantry. They do love to treat women like Princesses, overwhelming them with their kindness. If you are about to go to Palermo with your lovely princess, be careful! The island is full of Romeos ready to steal your girlfriend or wife. What about Sicilian women? Well, even clever suitors, like Sicilians men, struggle to conquer the girls. That’s why men had to improve their courting skills over the centuries. Most of the women are cautious, and it is not easy getting their hearts.
“We have a great sense of family and belonging.”
Palermitans do love their families. Their lives revolve around the family. They prioritize their Mamma and Papà over everything, often turning their feelings to possessiveness. The entire island would be a great laboratory for Oedipus and Electra complex scholars.
“We are brave and enterprising.”
The deepest fear of a Sicilian is not being afraid of anything! We have created the Mafia and have dauntlessly spread it all around the world, and at the same time, we are fighting against it without being afraid to get killed. For better or worse, Palermitans face every situation with bravery and resourcefulness. Ask an Islander to take Beelzebub’s pitchfork, and he will reply “E qual è il problema?” (And what’s the problem).