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Dialect Proverbs
If “you add a place at the table”… Ennusce che téiche
ca menge che méiche

[Bring something with you / and come eat with me]
(Bari area)
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

 Addò méngene le daue
méngene le tre

[Where two can eat / so can three]
(North of Puglia)

 

      It is the celebration of what I believe is a universal myth: the spontaneous generosity of spirit of the people. A theme which immediately brings to mind concepts of solidarity, mutual aid, “aggiungi un posto a tavolta” (add a place at the table), the Trasteverine musical. The table is poor but the heart is big. The message is consoling, and positive. In the society of survival the scarcity of food resources at the family’s disposal transforms itself from being a negative conditioning in life into a positive resource: all you have to do is to change the point of view. If the invitation to the family dinner table is not a fashionable event – like it is in high society – but simply the charitable satisfaction of a basic need, the guest will make do with a hunk of bread, or a plate of vegetables; generosity can express itself fully and social life brightens.

      A breath of optimism that sweetens the vision of the world of age-old proverbs, where resignation and pessimism too often prevail.

      But proverbs are anchored to reality. And reality is not only rose-colored. Just the opposite. Sometimes it’s white and sometimes it’s black, and sometimes it’s black and white at the same time. It’s contradictory, it’s thesis and antithesis, hell and heaven (Berlusconi and Monti, Zapatero and Rajoy). So, too, are proverbs: some approve of certain behaviour as universal, others of its opposite. It’s not them that are contradictory: it’s our lives, it’s us, who face the same difficulties with different approaches, even opposing ones, depending on our vision of life, but also to suit our own convenience, and depending on our moods (the glass which is sometimes half-full and sometimes half-empty).

      What follows, therefore, is a proverb dealing with the same topic, but a lot less jubilant; almost disillusioned to the point of cynicism:

       Ennusce che téiche
       ca menge che méiche
       [Bring something with you / and come eat with me].

      It photographs a different humanity, seeped in selfishness, falsely convivial: I’ll invite you, we’ll eat together, but ennusce (from the Latin inducere ‘to bring’) che teiche “bring something with you”. While the previous proverb makes you think of open doors and welcoming smiles, this one brings to mind locked doors with strong bolts, strained, false smiles, and in general avarice, exclusion and diffidence towards others. The negative of the first photo.

      So, do the Apulians belong to type a (generous) or type b (tight-fisted and diffident)? The question is wrongly posited, because what is summed up in proverbs is at the same time a particular society, in a certain country, and society in general, with all its contradictions. Couples of similar proverbs can be found in all cultures, proof that they describe almost universal realities. Just to cite one example, from the opposite extreme of the Italian peninsula, from Alessandria, there is a proverb that matches the Bari one, even more cynical in its utmost social indifference. In fact it goes: Vig-ti cul fimarò, là l’è cà meia / Se-t vori mangè e beivi, va a l-ustereia (You see that chimney-pot, that is my house / If you want to eat and drink, go to the hostelry).

      An excess of negative stereotyping for the people of Piedmont: but the non-hospitality is the same, and double faced humanity is the same, too.

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