Funny, she doesn't look Italian

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/11/03 10:31 -04:00, original URI:

This all happened a few nights ago, on Halloween. After I left Microsoft for the day (discussed here).

I am talking with one of my neighbors as we watch some of the children moving door to door to get candy.

I have just come back from getting mail.

He is telling me about his weekend. He met a lady who he really got along well with.

He did have a question for me, something that had concerned him. A lot.

"She told me she is Italian, but she is really tall and blonde. I don't get it."

Apparently he used to live in Little Italy (he did not say in which city) and got to know a lot of Italians, none of them blonde.

This girl he met, he was wondering if she was lying, and if so why she would do that exactly?

I find myself dredging up memories about the Lombard Invasion. When I say dredging I wasn't talking about memories of being there or anything, just remembering conversations with someone I met on the Penn campus not quite two decades ago, when I recall being a bit surprised at her boyfriend, who was a blonde Italian.

I think I cover it well enough for sidewalk conversation, then suggest he look up The Lombard Invasion in Wikipedia or something, it will almost certainly have a fuller explanation.

In writing this post I looked and though there was no post with that title, searching for it finds Lombards at the top of the list with 100% relevance.

In retrospect I'm really glad that I had stopped to talk to him, I'd hate to think he was going to assume she was lying, and then said something embarrassing.

It seems to me like very little of European history was covered in school in this country -- almost everything I learned, I picked up later. Well maybe that isn't entirely true, I vaguely remember talking about Charlemagne and that was within a few hundred years of the event. But you know how you can tell the difference between stuff you have forgotten and stuff you never learned in the first place? I think this fits in the latter category, not the former.

Am I the only one who feels like the view of history in this country is skewed? I feel like I learned almost nothing about East Asia or India/South Asia, comparatively little about Russia or Europe, and the minimal amount on South America to show the connection between the way the new world was split up along lines similar to the modern day Spanish vs. Portuguese speaking populations.

And of course the strange view of the USA, too -- whivh would indicate none of the history is right!

Maybe all countries do this. We do seem to be a fairly ignorant bunch, though. Anyone else feel this way, anywhere in the world? And if so, what have you done to try to correct it?


This post brought to you by ʃ (U+0283, a.k.a. LATIN SMALL LETTER ESH)

# John Cowan on 3 Nov 2007 1:44 PM:

Foreign wars are God's way of teaching Americans foreign languages (or geography, or history).

# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Nov 2007 1:53 PM:

But do we learn anything from all of that, really?

On the other hand, someone pointed out to me that growing up in France he was taught how the French are the reason we won World War 2 and the fact that they folded was characterized as a brilliant part of that strategy, something that even he could never swallow after growing up with that. So maybe it happens in every country....

# LDB on 3 Nov 2007 7:00 PM:


I'm blond and I'm italian.

Sorry man, no way for you to learn ecpet for tons of hours of hard study.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Nov 2007 7:18 PM:

I'm not afraid of study, though much of the country seems to be....

# Zooba on 3 Nov 2007 8:26 PM:

We Australian's are still taught at schools that "white invaders" were responsible for the "genocide" and endless "stealing" of the natives, even though the race still exists (ie. not genocide) and no natives were provably taken as a result of racist policy (though there are numerous cases of children being removed from abusive/drunk/violent/rapist parents/families/communities, under the same conditions any child should be removed).

There isn't a huge amount more, Australia being a relatively young country and completely lacking history from more than a few hundred years ago. However, there is such a distinct bias throughout much of the education system (including museums, and particularly Australian history) designed to disrespect those who came before us, it's not surprising that we have such major history wars ( going on here...

# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 Nov 2007 10:04 PM:

Hi Zooba --

What about fictional accounts (e.g. Quigley Down Under) that try to portray some land barons as bring racists? Is that kind of thing really accurate?

# Zooba on 4 Nov 2007 2:01 AM:

I don't know about Quigley Down Under, I haven't seen it. I have no doubt that there were individuals who would rather simply have had Aboriginies shot (and I'm sure they still exist) and that these people actually carried this out. The main debated issue is whether the state governments did such things as a matter of racist policy (the Federal government was unable to due to the constitution at the time (

My experience has mostly been that any film purporting to represent a true story needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, the academics who should be critically reviewing such films tend to support the hypotheses of the films and often say that they didn't go far enough (as happened numerous times with Al Gore's "movie").

Gene on 5 Nov 2007 7:17 PM:

The problem (in the USA, at least) instead of history having a PERSONALITY, with People Doing Things, it's just dry memorization of disconnected dates and places. Dear god in heaven, save me from such idiots.

I learned nothing of European history in school other than "1066" and "WW I & WW II happened" and very little of American history other than the Revolutionary war. The civil war wasn't covered at all, and "Lewis & Clark" covered anything earlier.

This is why Americans are ignorant of world history as well as their own. Look at how many people think the founding fathers were christian, or think the Moon landings were fake.

James Burke is the only person to actually try to show that history was just lots of people bumbling about and mostly by accident affecting other people in very important ways.

Michael S. Kaplan on 5 Nov 2007 7:23 PM:

The moon landings weren't fake? :-)

Mina on 30 Mar 2008 5:40 PM:


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