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Rick Steves’ Europe: Italian Boys - Macho or Mammone?


As we’ve had to postpone our travels because of the pandemic, I believe a weekly dose of travel dreaming can be good medicine. Here’s one of my favorite memories from Italy — a reminder of the fun that awaits us at the other end of this crisis.

While Italian men are hopelessly macho, Italian women are strong in response. It’s a social dance that is fascinating to observe, as I did one evening in Venice. I was dining with my Venetian friend Piero.

Antonella, the daughter of Alessandro the barber, waves to Piero and me as her dog drags her down the lane. We’re just finishing up our meal at Bepi’s Trattoria, but I invite her over. Pouring her a glass of Bepi’s licorice liqueur, I say, “Please, Antonella, help me. We are talking about Italian living, but Piero is giving me only the macho side.”

“What is macho? There are no macho men in Venice,” she says, grabbing a seat. Antonella is a businesswoman used to dealing with Italian men. She’s small and tough, more savvy than sweet, with a thick head of long black hair. When she talks, her direct eyes and busy hands give an intensity to her words. “They are mama’s boys. We call this mammone.”

Piero, as if he’s heard the complaint a thousand times, cries, “Ahhh, mammone.” Pulling an imaginary umbilical cord from his belly and petting it rather than cutting it, he says, “It is true. I cannot cut the cordone ombelicale. I love my mama. And she loves me even more.”

Antonella sips her liqueur. “The Italian boys, 95 percent stay at home until they find a wife to be their new mother,” she says. “At 30, 35 years old they are still with their mothers. Even if they move out, they come home for the cooking and laundry. This is not macho . . . this is ridiculous. ”


“And . . . ” she continues, lighting a cigarette, “they want a wife exactly like their mother. If they find a woman like me, independent, with some money, perhaps beautiful, this is a problem.”

Piero nods like a scolded puppy. “Yes, this is true.”

Antonella says, “If I make my hair special and wear strong makeup, they will take me to dinner and take me to bed. But they will not look at me to make a family. They want to be sure their wife won’t leave them. A woman like me . . . it is too risky.”

We pay and promise Bepi we’ll be back soon. Antonella unties her dog and, together, the three of us walk through the quiet and romantic lanes of Venice.


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