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If You Grew Up Italian, You Will Understand These 10 Things

If You Grew Up Italian, You Will Understand These 10 Things

Being Italian is like sitting at the cool kid’s table in the cafeteria. Everyone wants to join. We love to eat. We love to drink. We’ve produced some of the world’s greatest painters, sculptors, and composers. Basically, we’re just all that is awesome. My memories of growing up Italian are a rich tapestry woven out of a lot of love, a lot of laughter, and a lot of lasagna. Here are 10 things you can only appreciate if you grew up Italian.

1. We always ask our guests one question before they’ve even taken off their coats: “Have you eaten?”

It’s a reflex. If we don’t have “something in the house” to offer, whether a pizza or a plate of cookies, we’re being inhospitable. Heaven forbid we make a bruta figura (bad impression).

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2. We panic when cleaning up after a party and discover there are no leftovers

This might sound counter intuitive to the non-Italian. In other cultures, no leftovers is a sign that you made delicious food. In the Italian mindset, no leftovers means the possibility that someone went home hungry because there wasn’t enough for seconds (or thirds). Leftovers means we’ve overcompensated and made sure that there would be more than enough, and everyone’s eaten their fill and gone home happy. When cooking for a party Italian-style, there’s one rule: If the serving plates are empty when it’s over, you’re not doing it right.

3. We consider Spaghetti-Os a banned substance

As a child, I saw all of my friends eating Spaghetti-Os. I thought this was something right out of the space food pantry at NASA. Spaghetti out of a can? How precisely did that work? So I asked my parents why we never bought it. My dad replied, “Only Americans eat that stuff.” In my household growing up, this phrase, roughly translated, meant “It’s not real food.” No further questions.

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4. We argue over “what to bring” to a friend’s house for dinner

Wine? Cookies? Cake? Something more substantial? They’re offering us their hospitality, so the least we can do is contribute to the table. If a friend says that nothing is needed, we err on the side of caution by bringing a homemade dish with wine to complement it!

5. We plan holiday meals at least a month in advance

I still have memories of sitting at the dining-room table with a Thanksgiving turkey hangover, and my grandmother would pull out her notepad and say: “Okay, let’s talk about Christmas.” Eisenhower put less thought into his D-Day tactics than Italians put into a holiday meal. If you can’t deal with that, leave the table. Oh, and speaking of food… (Because you know, it’s not like I’ve talked about food at all yet)…

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6. We turn Christmas Eve into a SeaWorld exhibition

If you’re not only Italian, but Italian and Catholic, you know exactly what I’m talking about: seven fish on Christmas Eve. We do this for three reasons. The first reason is that seven is a biblical number, representing the seven sacraments. Second, at one point in history Catholics had to abstain from eating meat on Christmas Eve. Finally, we’re just nuts for good food and tough challenges! This is usually the explanation I offer as the most plausible of the three.

7. We never need an excuse to open a bottle of wine

Case-in-point: my family still has a home video somewhere in which they’re opening a bottle of wine to toast my first bath. Everything is cause for celebration in an Italian family, and what’s a party without wine?

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8. We have an incredibly loose definition of the word appetizer

Have you ever seen that John Pinette routine about the Italian restaurant?
“Luigi, can we order?”
“No, first we gonna bring out some food.”
“Okay then, you’re not scarin’ me!” The game is on! Not that I want to give anyone the idea that Italians are preoccupied with food, or anything, because that would be crazy. When we talk about appetizers, it is food before the food but not necessarily a lighter, smaller dish.

9. We value the versatility of pastina

Pastina is basically the culinary version of that blouse in your closet that goes with everything. You can dress it up or dress it down. Sauce, butter, chicken, veggies—you name it, pastina works with it. We aren’t afraid of serving several types at one meal!

10. We can give everyone lessons on how to throw a party

When my grandmother passed away last month, we invited everyone who came to the burial out to lunch (at an Italian restaurant, because of course). Several courses and a few glasses of wine later, I forgot for a few minutes that we’d just buried my last grandparent, and that’s how Grandma would have wanted it. It’s not just about the food; it’s about the fellowship. Food is just the link that brings everyone around the table to share their lives together.

Featured photo credit: Spaghetti Dinner via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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