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Dialect Proverbs
Wives and oxen… Chi ce nzore nte la stréde
véve a buqquire
Chi ce nzore fore stréde
véve allu vuquele,
Chi ce nzore fore paése
véve a ffiasche

Those who marry within the neighborhood
drink wine from a glass
[which is transparent]
Those who marry someone from another district
drink from a tankard
[which is almost completely closed, so very little can be seen; one marries in obscurity]
Those who marry out of town
drink from the flask [which is completely closed, nothing can be seen, one marries in the dark]
(Gargano)
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

Translation: the success of a marriage is inversely proportional to the distance between the house of the bride’s house and that of the groom. It’s a safe bet if the bride was born and has grown up in the neighborhood, it’s a little more risky if she’s from your town but not your part of town, but it’s highly unlikely to work out if she’s not from the same town. This is the Apulian version of the famous proverb “mogli e buoi dei paesi tuoi (wives and oxen from your own towns)”, an extreme variation (nowadays we might say “radicalized”): indeed, for the Gargano proverb it’s not enough that the bride should be from the same town, but should also be a part of the same social network, even the same neighborhood as the groom.

The other proverb, “Mugghiére e mule ànn’a èsse de li paise tue” (“Wives and mules must be from your own town”), where the mules have the same function as the oxen we previously mentioned, is not quite so radical, but is in common usage and governed by the same logic. It doesn’t demand the girl next door but expects at least someone from nearby.

The tendency to contract a marriage within the same social or ethnic group, or what is called “endogamy”, could not fail to find itself among the list of Apulian proverbs: it is to be found in all civilizations, in all times, and has solid motivations, both economic and socioanthropological. In an agricultural society – like that in which proverbs flourish – endogamy assures the achievement of two fundamental objectives: the strengthening of the workforce and the acquisition of land (or at least the conservation of the land already in possession) within the neighborhood. It was so common – and not only in Puglia – that there is evidence of towns in which, in the past, all the marriages were celebrated between fellow-villagers (even when they were in other countries, for example in Alvernia in the 18th century, or in La Mancia at the beginning of the 19th). The requisite about the neighborhood was so strong that it even undermined the taboo of incest: in the mountain area near Como, in the request for a marriage dispensation between blood relatives, up to a century ago there was the formula “this contract is valid for relatives, friends and neighbors”.

Proverbs, as we have often seen, on one hand reflect the “popular sentiment”– in this case the xenophobic stereotype – and on the other support and add to the formal rules, with the same– if not greater – moral weight. And they act in an explicit way, coercing indirectly, or by means of indirect suggestion, almost subliminal. Just think of the proverbs that, to tempt the men to choose the girl next door, celebrate the features that are typical of that area. Since we are in Puglia, “brunette tira l’affètte” encourages you to prefer brunettes over blondes, “A corte pe mmarite, a lònghe pe li ffiche” (the short woman to satisfy the husband, the tall one to pick the figs) induces men to choose the height-challenged woman, “la megghiére perfètte: panze, cule e ppètte” (the perfect wife: belly, bottom and breast) celebrates the shapeliness of the female body. And the stereotype of the woman of the South has black hair, obvious curves, and is on the short side. Literally an invitation to the wedding for the young men of the area.

Another thing. The engine behind these proverbs is economic, but not only that: these sayings spread like wildfire and last so long because they back up the xenophobic prejudices that every narrow-minded and conservative society fuels, solicited by the fear of what is different, that fear that even today – even though we have come a long way from the rural culture, and have had much experience of migration – we know so well.

The proverb that we started off with takes to its extreme a prejudice that, under the skin and sometimes on the surface, is still present in our society. It may well be that one of our readers who has contracted a “mixed marriage” (in the diluted sense of “spouses who come from different areas of Italy”, with particular reference to North – South – islands) has had to cope, amongst close relatives, with the dubious expressions on people’s faces and more or less subtle maneuvers of discouragement at the moment of the an-nouncement of the coming event.

I don’t know how many of you have been through it. I know I have.

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