Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Venetian Sayings: "gransi in scarsea"

As I've been reminded more than once since moving to Italy, people from Genova (or Genoa) are infamous throughout the country for being tight-fisted, even miserly. I need only identify myself as half-Genovese to, say, a shopkeeper with whom I've been having a friendly talk and the odds instantly become about 1 in 4 that he'll remark upon this widespread reputation or, at the very least, with a knowing smile on his face, turn both hands upward, close them, and draw them in tight to his solar plexus in the standard gesture for stinginess.

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.


  1. I was witnessing the Italian regionalism in full swing when traveling with a Venetian friend in Sicily. She really saw the locals as foreigners, found their manners and customs funny and was evidently storing these peculiarities in her memory to relate to her friends and relatives when she's back in Veneto.

    And the languages in Italy are really different. Last month somewhere in Dorsoduro I was asking a Venetian lady how to reach a nearest vaporetto stop and halfway through her response I realized she is speaking pure Venetian to me, there was a lot of these xs, zs and almost no ls. I was nodding to signal my appreciation (if not understanding) but what really helped me was a gesture directing me to the left and then around the corner - the stop was just a minute walk from our campiello.

  2. Yes, the regionalism & differences in languages are an ongoing source of interest to me, also, Sasha. Our landlords, one a native Venetian, one a native of Friuli, always say how each can not understand the other when he or she is speaking his or her regional language--even though the geographical difference is not really that great. Of course I'm familiar with regional pride--or one might also sometimes call it "provincialism" perhaps--from the US, but that's a much much larger country.

    Of course, the odder thing is that I sometimes hear Venetians refer to a time when each sestiere was distinguished by distinctive speech patterns, if not languages, and Venetians will still insist, for example, that natives of Chioggia are instantly recognizable by the way they speak. A friend recently told me that because Chioggia was so exclusively a fishing village that the people got into the habit of drawing out their words in a way that allowed them to be better be heard across the water, from one boat to another.

  3. I have some films with Vittoria Risi, a girl from Pellestrina. Surely she has some local accent but there is not much talking in these movies. Peccato!