ebook: Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio: Questions and answers about missionary service
in Italy (part 3)
Missions in Italy
2. Italian language, illegal drugs and insulated buildings
In this ebook, Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio,
Howard Culbertson answers questions he has been asked about missionary work in Italy.
Originally published by what is now called The Foundry for the Nazarene Missions International
mission book series, this book carried ISBN number 0-8341-0612-4. Some material
has been updated for this ebook edition.
- Where is it that they speak Latin? Isn't that in Italy?
- It was. Latin, originally spoken in and near Rome, was
extended with Roman rule over much of ancient Europe. But with the breakup of the Roman
Empire, Latin disintegrated into a dozen or so languages. These languages -- Italian, Spanish, and
French are the best known of them -- are today called "romance languages." Actually,
romantic would be a better term.
For a period of almost 1,000 years -- from the fall of the
Western Roman Empire to the Renaissance -- Latin continued to be spoken and written as the
common language of educated people. It was also the official language of the Roman Catholic
church. Because of its long period of use by the educated, Latin has been called "the mother and
nurse of modern European literature."
In Italy today there are over a dozen regional dialects and
languages used in addition to Italian. All of our church services are, however, conducted in
Italian. It is the official, universal language of Italy today.
- Can you give us an example of some Italian?
- Here's John 3:16: "Iddio ha tanto amato il
mondo, che ha dato il suo unigenito Figliuolo, affinchè chiunque crede in lui non perisca ma
abbia vita eterna."
- How would the Italians say "hello" and "goodbye"?
- One little word will say both things among close
friends: ciao (pronounced "chow"). Evangelical Christians in Italy will
often greet each other by saying "pace (peace). In more formal settings
"hello" is boon giorno (good morning)
and "good-bye" is arrivederci. (Remember the classic
song, "Arrivederci, Roma"?)
- Was it hard to learn Italian?
- Italian is supposedly one of the easiest languages in the world for English-speakers to learn.
However, we Americans usually do it so badly that Italians have become convinced that theirs is a
hard language for people from the USA.
Language learning always takes a long time and involves a
million mistakes. It helps in language learning to follow Paul's admonition to the Romans to "not
think more highly of yourself than ye ought." You're going to make mistakes and people are
going to laugh about them. How you react will determine if they're laughing at or
- Do your children speak Italian?
- Yes. Almost better than they speak English!
- How do Italians feel about the United States?
- They can pretty well be divided into two groups: those
that love the U.S. and those that have little use for it.
There are Italians who see the United States as such a
paradise that if they were given the choice between going to heaven and going to the U.S., some
of them might choose the U.S. On the other hand, it isn't unusual to run into anti-American
feelings. Some of this is due to jealousy over America's wealth and political and military power.
Some of it grows out of past ill-treatment of Italian immigrants to this country (lynchings, house
burnings, unfair trials, and racial slurs occurred at the beginning of the 20th century). But
whatever caused it and whatever keeps it alive, that resentment is there.
And I confess that at times, I have cried out in prayer, asking
that the Lord would somehow hide my American-ness behind His Cross so that people would see
only Him. There are so many who would be blinded by "Americanness." I want them to see me
just as a man, a sinner saved by grace who wants to share that with them.
Not infrequently we find ourselves being looked on with
contempt by Italians who say, "You rich American, what do you know about life? Why
don't you go back home and preach there? You've got enough problems in your own
- Is illegal drug use a problem in Italy?
- It is a new problem which has begun to surface only in
the late 1970s. In Italian culture, there is great respect for one's elders. Young people are
expected to submit their behavior to the scrutiny of older men and women of their clan. They
even continue to live at home under this strong parental control until they marry. The strong peer
pressure that has caused the drug culture to flourish in the United States is much, much less of
a factor in Italian life.
- What kind of medical care is available?
- Good. It does, however, vary in many ways from
standard medical care available in the U.S. Children, for instance, are not vaccinated against
whooping cough, measles, or mumps. Young girls are not vaccinated against rubella until after
puberty. And less preventive dental care and prenatal care is available in Italy than is provided in
One surprising fact to Americans about Italian hospitals is
the large number of visitors permitted in to see patients. During visiting hours, the wards will be
crowded with people, all chattering away, some of whom may even have brought food for the
patients. With family and friend relationships being as important as they are to the Italians,
however, the presence of these visitors is therapy for Italians in a way it would not be for
Since our daughter Rachele was born in Florence, we do have
some personal experience with Italian hospitals and patient care.
- We don't have any medical missionary work in Italy, do we?
- No. Most of the population is covered by a government
medical insurance program. The ratio of doctors and hospital beds to population runs about that
of the U.S. Life expectancy in Italy equals that of the U.S.A. So, we have felt it wise to pour our
missionary resources into ministries in Italy other than medical care.
- What is the weather like in Italy?
- It's a very temperate climate without the extremes
experienced by most of the U.S. Although Rome is as far north as New York City, it gets snow
only about once every seven years and the temperature is rarely below freezing in the winter. The
Mediterranean Sea, which surrounds Italy, apparently acts as a kind of reservoir of warmth
during the winter.
Summertime temperatures, on the other hand, rarely climb
above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The winters tend to be wet and the summers dry. In summer, much
of the peninsula receives so little rainfall that crops must be irrigated.
- How do Italians heat their homes?
- Most of them live in apartments with a central hot
water heating system fueled by oil or natural gas. Because of high fuel costs, these systems are
usually controlled by clocks and not by thermostats. In cold weather, the system will be on in the
mornings from six to eight o'clock and evenings from three o'clock until nine. Many homes in
southern Italy don't even have heat. And neither do some of our church buildings. Everybody
wears a lot of sweaters ... and even wool underwear.
- Is the energy crisis being felt in Italy?
- Yes. There's always been an energy shortage since Italy
has few natural resources. The Italians are traditionally conservation-minded. Air conditioning is
not very widely used. Very few people take a car to work. Houses rarely are heated above 62
degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.
Per capita energy consumption in Italy is only one-fourth
that of the U.S. That means that for every four kilowatts of electricity you use, the Italian family
can get by on one. For every four cubic feet of natural gas or for every four gallons of gasoline
your family burns, the Italian family will get by using only one.
- Do they use insulation in their buildings?
- Much of the construction is old -- up to 600 years -- masonry buildings that do not have any
insulation. However, the government has embarked on a program to encourage the construction
of energy-efficient buildings. High fuel prices have also encouraged people to start insulating
Part of the recent work we did on the Florence church/parsonage building
included making that building more energy-efficient and less costly to use. Eight to ten
inches of fiberglass insulation was put in the ceilings where there was none. Some double-glazed
windows were put in. Weather-stripping was installed on all windows and doors (there had been
none previously). Much of the building had never been caulked, so we used a score of tubes of
caulking to seal out the cold air. The insulation on pipes carrying the hot water for heating was
- Has the apartment boom hit Italy?
- I think it originated there. For hundreds of years, almost all housing in Italy has been
apartment-style. Even the farmers prefer to live in apartments in little villages and go out to their
farms every day. Italian homes tend to be smaller than American ones. A recent U.S. Census
report said that the average American home has five rooms. The average Italian home has
- I don't suppose they do much house moving in Italy, do they?
- I doubt that a single house mover exists anywhere in
Italy. All the construction is masonry with wood used only for ceiling joists and perhaps
roof beams. Most new buildings use very little structural wood. Roofs are all baked clay tiles.
The homes you see being moved around in the U.S. are of wood construction. To move Italy's
masonry buildings would require massive equipment. I doubt it would be cost-effective.
- Are they building a lot of shopping centers in Italy?
- The shopping center concept did not catch on on in Italy the way it did in the U.S. One
covered mall does exist in Naples and another in Milan. But both of these were built a hundred
years ago and contain a limited number of smaller shops. Most shops in Italy are small ones on
the first floor of apartment buildings. Large big-box stores are far less common in Italy than in the
USA. Most everyone shops in their own neighborhoods within walking distance of
their own home or at a central open-air market.
. . . [ continue reading ]
1. The Leaning Tower,&n
and Women's Lib |
3. Fiats, Florence, and Furloughs
| 4. The Military,
Missionaries, and the Mafia |
5. Marco Polo and
McDonald | 6. The
Cerratos,\ Alabaster Churches, and Work Crews
| 7. Communism,
Catholicism, and the Charismatics |
8. Sincerity, Self-support,
Sowing the Seed |
9. Books, Broadcasting, and the Bible College
| 10. Culture Shock
and Carpeting |
11. A Word from My Heart |
Fiats, Florence and furloughs
|Isn't Italy famous for its traffic jams? . . . Is Florence the city
with all the canals?. . . Aren't your travel expenses on home assignment (deputation) paid by the
general church? . . . . [ more
-- Howard Culbertson,
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