Italian nonni (grandparents) and old people are the best. They never let their old age get the best of them: they’re always going on walks, shopping or my personal favorite, having a heated conversation on a public bench. In fact, Italian nonni are so cute that they’ve even earned themselves their own hashtag on instagram: #notmynonni, dedicated to pictures of cute old italians doing things candidly.
I too have developed a fondness for the nonni of Italy, especially for the bisnonna (great-grandmother) of one of the Italian families for whom I babysit. I didn’t anticipate that by the end of the first week working for them, I’d meet both the immediate and extended family. On the very first day, I walked into their apartment and was greeted by a room full of friendly chaos, which is really the only way you can describe an Italian household. There was the bisnonna sitting on the couch, dressed to the nines with pearls and all, holding a biscotti in one hand begging for her little 9 month old nipote (grandson) to give her his manina (little hand). Meanwhile, the nonna (grandmother) and mamma were arguing in the kitchen. As soon as I entered, the mamma and nonna stopped their bickering and proceeded with their intrinsic italian hospitality by offering me coffee, water and cookies. I’ve learned that it’s no use to deny hospitable offers from Italians, so I took a glass of water to avoid making a scene.
Not soon after, the mamma and nonna left with the baby and the 4 year-old son and it was just the bisnonna, the 7 year granddaughter that I was babysitting and I. We attempted to read a book together in English, which proved to be difficult, because every other page the bisnonna would interject by asking the little girl if she’s offered me something to eat. Eventually, the annoyed little girl snapped back in rapid-fire Italian saying that she did offer and that I didn’t want anything. The bisnonna then replied with the most elegantly sassy response I’ve ever heard, which roughly translates to: “No one doesn’t want a cookie. She’s not eating because you didn’t put the cookies in front of her. If she has good manners, she’ll take only one. If she has bad manners, she won’t eat any or eat too many.”
Apparently, it’s as simple as that. The bisnonna could judge if I was well-mannered or not based on my cookie eating habits. I don’t know why that particular moment struck me so much. I think it’s because it reminded me of my nonni and the way I was raised with a certain blunt and endearing pushiness that comes best from an older relative. Nonni always know best; they are to be feared, loved and respected. . The bisnonna, along with all of the other nonni I’ve met always have this striking gumption about them that probably comes from years of having heated conversations on public benches. I have this theory that the Italian nonni are actually the heart and soul of Italy. In a generation of young people that are dissatisfied with the grim outlook of Italy’s economy, it seems like the only ones left holding up the “real” traditions are the cute little old people. And since that’s the case, I feel lucky to have a little nonna of my own #notmynonni #blessed.