I'm used to this reaction by now, and find it far less troubling than the response Jen reported that she received from a group of retired Venetians last summer at the beach on Lido when, in the course of a pleasant conversation, she told them her husband was half-Sicilian.
"Ah," one of them replied in Italian, half-seriously, "he's a mulatto."
Of course the Venetians themselves have their own reputation around Italy, and aren't entirely free from the taint of avarice themselves, nor even of tight-fistedness. A Venetian friend recently told me that when referring to such a person, Venetians say that he has a "gransi in scarsea", or "a crab in his pocket."
I assume in Italian the phrase would be "granchio in tascha," but my 20-something friend had heard it only in Venetian.
In fact, I've met no Venetian to whom I could apply this phrase, nor, for that matter, any family or friends from Genova. It does perfectly describe certain of my immediate relatives in California, but that's another topic altogether, and much better avoided.