Italians and Greeks have a lot of cultural norms in common with some twists and if you happen to be a mixture of Greek and Italian blood lines, that means you are dealing with both your Greek yiayia and Italian nonna – So, good luck.
They will undoubtedly both put their own flair on everything they do and ultimately you will find yourself in the middle of the battle of the grandmas.
Food–the Greek Yiayia vs the Italian nonna
Whether it’s your nonna or yiayia, your grandmas will do their utmost to influence your cultural identity.
They will both stuff you silly with food, only to sit and stare at you and ask you that one dreaded question after your meal, “What’s better: Italian food or Greek food?”
Just be aware that there is no winning answer here because they will just ask you the same question again the next time they feed you or at holiday meals and celebrations. Go with whatever cuisine you are eating at the moment just to be safe.
Also, both an Italian grandma and a Greek one will not understand if you tell them you are not hungry when offered food. The conversation will go something like this:
Grandma: “Are you hungry, honey? You want me to fix you something?”
Your response: “No, I’m fine, thanks. I’m really not hungry at the moment.”
Grandma: “Ok, I’ll just fix you some moussaka or lasagna (depending on the grandma).”
The main difference here is that if you happen to sleep over at your Italian nonna’s house on a school night, the following day you will find in your lunch bag a Tupperware filled with ricotta cheese and half a loaf of Italian, hard crust bread alongside another Tupperware filled to the brim with mostaccioli.
While your Greek yiayia will send you off to school with a Tupperware full of tzatziki and another (again, we are speaking of oversized portions) filled with pastichio.
Either way, your grandma has sent you to school with enough food to share with your entire classroom.
Both grandmas will want you to speak their language. This one is trickier than you might think and you never want to mix up your languages it front of your grandmas – it must be a sacrilegious act or something because your grandmas’ eyes will bug out and their jaws will hit the ground like a ton of bricks.
Here’s an example of the confusion you might encounter: The words may be the same sometimes in both languages, but they do not mean the same thing. In Greek “ti” means “what” and is “che” in Italian and also “ti” (as in the Greek “what”) in Italian is the pronoun for “you”, while “kai” in Greek means “and” plus it is pronounced the same as “che” which is, as previously stated, “what” in Italian. Yes, watch the wine at family shindigs to avoid any upset.
Both grandmas will want you to go to their church. There is nothing more fun for kids from Greek and Italian heritages growing up having to go to two churches.
There are so many differences between the Greek Orthodox church and the Catholic church, so it will not be hard for you to decide which you prefer.
Just keep it a secret and go to both because both cultures have such an enormous focus on their religions that neither side of the family will ever let you stop attending their church.
If you were baptized at birth as a Roman Catholic or when you were two-years-old as Greek Orthodox, or if you attend Greek school or Sunday school, you will certainly be well-versed on religion.
There are two main differences that the Greek yiayia and Italian nonna will battle it out over.
First, saying Grace before every meal when visiting your nonna versus constantly having to make the sign of the cross when you pass by Greek Orthodox churches that are named after family members or loved ones while visiting your yiayia in Greece.
The other one you must keep straight in your head at all times: Which way to make the sign of the cross? Greek Orthodox cross themselves from right to left, where as Roman Catholics first touch their left shoulder then right which something they started in the 15th or 16th century – creating just one more thing your Greek and Italian grandmas will battle over.