HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’ – “Troppo Jewish” (Part 1)

This post is one of the four-part HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’ series, including: 

Note: A person who speaks the ‘Nones’ language is known as either a Noneso/a (singular male/female) or a Nonesi (plural)

As a baptized Episcopalian who grew up in predominantly Southern Baptist Kentucky with no Jewish family members, I can count on one hand all of my encounters with people of the Jewish faith. I’ve traveled and sojourned in mostly Hindu, Buddhist, or Catholic places, and other than an intense fascination with The Holocaust, I can speak of few legitimate connections to the world of Judaism.

Until now.

Star of David at a Catholic church in Orvieto (Umbria)
Star of David at a Catholic church in Orvieto (Umbria, Italy)

Enter Pepe. Jason’s tabla-playing compadre from Puglia (a region in southern Italy), who today lives in Rovereto (in Trentino). Pepe teaches percussion in schools throughout Trentino’s remote valleys, so he’s come to know the various idiosyncrasies of the valley’s inhabitants.

And Pepe does not hold back his opinions.

When Jason told Pepe about our lives in Val di Non, living among the NonesiPepe knew right away what we were talking about. The first thing out of his mouth was: “Sono troppo Jewish.” (They’re too Jewish.)

What did Pepe mean by this? He meant, “They’re tight with their money.”

Now, I realize that stereotypes can be reductionist and that there are usually many exceptions to them (an American who isn’t obese, for example). If I had created the Jewish stereotype, or if it were a seriously harmful one, then I certainly would not participate in perpetuating it (as a woman, there are plenty of stereotypes I would like to upend, so I am not insensitive to this issue).

But this wasn’t just some impression Jason and I had. Or some sloppy conclusion we put together on the fly. The Nonesi are considered even by their Italian counterparts to be—well…parsimonious. Even when we brought up Val di Non to a friend from Val Sugana (a neighboring valley), she chuckled and said, “La gente lì è un po’ tirchia.” (The people there are a bit stingy.)

In this case, Pepe’s view of the Nones people being stereotypically “Jewish” is strangely fitting (despite the fact that the Nonesi are mostly good, solid Catholics).

Typical 'Nones' garden (Tassulo, Val di Non)
Typical ‘Nones’ garden (Tassulo, Val di Non)

The Nonesi, themselves, will agree with you.

You won’t likely get them to admit that they love to gossip, but they will confess that to risparmiare (to save) is among their top virtues. They’re proud of it, pointing out every chance they get, to their buddies and colleagues: ‘Look at the bargain I got!’ ‘These potatoes were all free!’ ‘We got this wood from my uncles land…it cost us nothing!’

Even Jason’s cousin, Fernando, manages to comment on cost before anything else. We ask him where we can rent snowshoes, and he talks primarily of the place that costa meno (costs less). “Nice jacket,” you tell him. “Got it on sale,” he says. In discussing his family vacation in Germany, he offers a blunt, “We camped. The hotel cost too much.”

Fernando’s father (Elvino) is the same, often complaining how his wife “buys things”. Before we were aware of the troppo Jewish stereotype, we thought this was just Elvino being Elvino. Turns out, it was Elvino being Nones. He reminds us often, “Ma…i Nonesi sono tirchi.” (The Nones are stingy)

I can confirm it, too. I don’t think I had a single student who didn’t act shocked at the cost of private lessons (already greatly reduced from city prices), many requesting to pay less than my asking price.

It’s not as though I’m against saving money, or that I look down on those who do. Quite the contrary. I was raised to be as tightfisted as possible, and am quite frugal myself. So, no—I don’t judge the Nonesi for their penny-pinching ways. It’s their culture. It’s what makes sense to them. I get it (and in many ways, share the value).

Old Villa and Car in Val di Non
Old Villa and Car in Val di Non

Plus the Nonesi are quite generous in many other ways. Plenty of folks were giving and kind and helpful to us during our two years there. Our first week in the valley, before we knew to heat the house with the stuffa, Jason’s cousin Fernando showed up with a few boxes of wood for us. And other cousins gave us bowls for our apartment, worn bath towels, and an old down coat.

At the end of every English course I’d throw a party for my students, and they’d habitually leave goodies for me to take home. Plus, students often spread the word about my English teaching, making referrals left and right (though, looking back, this may have been because they were hoping I’d give them a discount…I kid).

I don’t think we would have survived our first two years without the helping hands of Jason’s family.

But between having to haggle over prices for my teaching & editing services, and the issues we had with landlords trying to squeeze a little more out of us, it all began to wear on us. The apples and mountain scenery may make Val di Non iconic, but its people’s reputation for being penurious brings it infamy — and you certainly cannot go to Val di Non expecting anything different.

[Read more about how the Nonesi likely came to be this way.]

Uncle Scrooge Bank, Andrei Niemimäki, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Scrooge McDuck comes to mind when I think of the Nones tendency to be ‘stingy’. (Uncle Scrooge Bank, author: Andrei Niemimäki, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0).

In the end, my exposure to the actual Jewish faith may be scant, but I can at least admit to knowing the Nones version of it (the religion remains an utter mystery to me).

Plus we could all learn a thing or two from the Nonesi. Because when the world falls to hell and a hand basket, when all the bees die off and entire cities are swallowed by the ocean and great waves of poverty and starvation hit all around, the Nonesi will be the ones sitting on their cool, tall mountain peaks.

And smiling all the way to the bank.

Again, to more about how the Nonesi came to be this way, check out HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’—Valley of Tears.

[Feature Image Credit: Star of David GGNC grave marker engraving, author: Broken Sphere, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.]

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