I have images of him in my head, in his standard-issue East European shell suit trousers, toasting his friends with a bottle of Stolichnaya in one hand and a samovar full of beetroot soup in the other, dolefully singing “Kalinka my Love” together to celebrate the fact that they finally have the password to a valid Amazon account, and can order their suicidally depressing 8,000-page Russian novels online from someone else’s bank account.
Or is he a pedophile who downloaded photos of all my friends’ kids? and now knows where they live?
Of course we don’t need to be hacked to have our privacy invaded. Facebook does it for us. You keep saying “No Thanks” to Timeline and, next thing you know, you have it anyway.
Suddenly all your comments about your Mother-in-law’s fetish for sausages, and photos documenting the time you accidentally emptied an entire ice-cream cornet down your cleavage, are viewable by “public” instead of “friends only.” One of your contacts comments on a photo you’ve posted, so now all their friends can see it too.
You decide to politely click “like” on a random article you read online, about how to write a novel so bestselling it will leave Stephenie Meyer in the gutter, and mysteriously there’s an announcement to all your Facebook contacts that “The Sicilian Housewife likes The Twilight Saga” accompanied by a photo of a topless, oiled Taylor Lautner smouldering at the camera (or possibly having contact lens trouble, it’s hard to tell.) Not only this, but the author of the article is now one of your “friends” and can read everything you have ever put on Facebook.
Sicilians have a totally different way of doing privacy. An excellent way. Read on for instructions.
At first sight they don’t understand privacy. The Italian language has no word for it. In an Italian-English dictionary, you are offered words which mean intimacy, isolation, or solitude as a translation for privacy. The Italian solution to this linguistic shortfall is simply to use the English word, pronounced very badly with an Italian accent: praaaivasee.
It is a trendy buzz word in Sicily these days. This is probably because of La Legge Sulla Privacy, or ‘The Law About Privacy,’ which is what the Italians call their version of the Data Protection Act. Sicilians love this law because it gives them a universal, infallible excuse for laziness and incompetence. “No I can’t give you your blood test results because of the Legge sulla privacy.” “No I can’t give you any money out of your bank account because of the Legge sulla privacy.” “No I can’t move my car out of the way of your garage door because of the Legge sulla privacy.”
One of my neighbours, Mrs. Greenfingers, planted a row of luscious leafy plants along her railings last summer, which created a bit of dappled shade and reduced the x-ray view passers-by had into her living room by about ten percent. Everyone in the street praised her on this wonderful idea for obtaining a bit of privacy. Sorry, I mean praaaivasee.
My Mother-in-law (nowadays internationally famous under her alias The Godmother) liked it more than anyone. Every time she came to visit us, she would stop, bend over and peer through it, looking for a suitable hole through which to check whether the neighbour was at home. The Godmother wanted a good look at her privacy. Mrs. Greenfingers was usually in her garden, peering back out.
If not, The Godmother would push some leaves aside and shout out at the top of her voice until she emerged, and responded to The Godmother’s friendly greetings and enquiries into her private life. Indeed, the Godmother asked her for gardening advice on cultivating such a succulent screen, as she had decided she thought her newly installed privacy was so enviable they would like to have some praaaaivaseee of her own. Don’t run away with the idea my mother-in-law is a particularly prying person. Oh no, everybody peered through that plant screen, all the time.
Last time I was at The Godmother’s house, she carefully explained privacy to one of her neighbours. Since privacy is so trendy, she was certainly not going to pass up her chance to show off a bit.
“My daughter-in-law is English, and they think privacy is very important,” she boasted from her balcony, her tea-towel fluttering in the breeze. “They have a terrace outside for doing barbecues, but there’s a solid wall between them and the neighbours, so they can eat in privacy. That’s the new way of doing it,” she explained, switching into Sicilian conspiratorially. “Capisci?”
She pronounces capisci as capeesh, and it means “do you understand?” Sicilians only use this word at the end of a detailed explanation of something precious, a titbit of information for the select few. Getting “capeeshed” is a priviledge that, I am proud to say, The Godmother has bestowed on me several times.
The next day, The Godmother turned up unexpectedly at my house with a special kind of Sicilian sausage that is about three yards long and all coiled up into a spiral. If you’ve ever been on one of those up-the-jungle holidays in Thailand and tried to avoid malarial encephalitis by taking a rucksack full of moist mosquito coils with you, you’ll be able to visualise it quite well. You usually slap it onto a barbecue, but The Godmother did the other great Sicilian thing, frying it in orange juice.
Since the sausage tasted simply divine, the processed pork product of the gods, my husband decided to make the neighbours try some. Sicilians do this whenever they cook something that turns out particularly delicious. We happened to be up on the roof terrace: you know, that one with solid walls that gives us our wonderfully trendy privacy.
Hubby hammered on The Wall of Privacy till he established, with disappointment, that the immediate neighbours were out. Then he climbed up onto the wall, so he could peer past the immediate neighbours’ roof terrace, and into the terrace of the neighbours beyond them, Mr. and Mrs. Greenfingers, to find out if they were at home.
I should explain here that The Wall of Privacy has a slippery marble top, which slopes downwards towards the outer wall of the house. After springing up onto it, with his bum hovvering over a sheer drop of at least 30 feet, Hubby spotted Mr. Greenfingers and started telling him in Sicilian about sausages. Actually, he had to attract his attention by shouting rather loudly, at an estimated 700 decibels – another Sicilian cultural tradition. I’m pretty sure, by this time, they even knew about that sausage as far away as Catania and maybe even Naples.
Mr. Greenfingers was so excited about tasting the porcine ambrosia that Hubby grabbed some and climbed over The Wall of Privacy, the one that looks like a chute made for whooshing you off the terrace and down 30 feet to a splattery death, all the while holding the plate of sausage in the air like a silver service waiter. His legs flailed over the precipice, his buttocks dared to defy gravity, and finally he plopped to safety on the other side. He walked across the immediate neighbour’s roof terrace, commenting that their new barbecue looked nice, and handed some sausage to Mr. Greenfingers. Whilst he ate it on the spot and broke into poetic eulogies about The Godmother’s culinary talents, I was having a hyperventilation attack. I had almost been widowed.
While Hubby climbed back (my head was in my hands by now, I couldn’t look), The Godmother and Mr. Greenfingers engaged in a chat about the wonders of praaaaivaseee.
I think all this makes it abundantly clear that Sicilians just don’t comprehend privacy in the English sense of the word.
They know how to keep secrets, though. One of the harshest criticisms a Sicilian can make of anyone is “Da troppo confidenza!” This means, “He confides too much”, or “He is too open”. You’re supposed to keep your personal stuff personal, no blabbing. Capeesh?
I hardly know a single Sicilian who uses their real name on Facebook or their email address. They all invent an alias, so you can only identify them if they have revealed it to you. Their profile photo is a wacky image of a cat or some boobs or a big piece of cheese. They use Facebook to play games like Farmerama or pass on silly jokes and cartoons. They never write about their families or anything else personal.
The neighbours can peer through the plants or look at their new barbecue all they want. Online, they’re anonymous and untraceable.
Who cares if the neighbours have climbed into their garden and seen their barbecue? At least they know that no future employer will ever find out what they do when they’re drunk, no hacker will ever use their bank account to order the complete works of Tolstoy bound in de luxe leather, and no pedophile will ever see a photo of their kids in their swimming trunks.
In the modern world, isn’t that real privacy?
Veronica Di Grigoli is an author and translator and blogs about Sicily at The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife. Her new comedy novel of the same name is now available on Amazon.