I Zingari (the gypsies)
Sunday, November 21st, 2010
I really don’t know if zingari is a bad term for gypsies or not. I do know that recently I have seen a lot of references to the “Roma”, especially with the French movement to deport their gypsy population. What is polite, what is reasonable and what is politically correct is hard for me to sort out from the US.
I first ran across gypsies in Rome. They regularly beg on the streets and in fact I don’t recall anyone other than gypsies pursuing this economic activity. So that’s not so bad, who are they hurting – give or not, it’s up to you. They also clearly engage in thievery. I’m not sure what they do in the dead of night but I have three times personally experienced pickpocketing attempts. All three times they were quite young, maybe 12 to 14. The first time was near the coliseum (the REAL coliseum). Several of them approached Frank, from Germany, one of the students in my Italian class. They carried pieces of cardboard. Several of these little thieves pushed the cardboard rectangles edgewise against him such that the cardboard was parallel to the ground. They then proceeded to touch him all over looking for any valuables. He and the others of us yelled at them and made threatening gestures and they left without having stolen anything. I had the same experience in the central pedestrian area of Rome and also near the Duomo and Galleria in Milano. In each case I found that yelling at them threateningly and accompanying that with hostile gestures sent them scurrying. This behavior on my part elicited approving looks from other Italians nearby on the sidewalk.
It is not just personal experience that suggests that many at least of these zingari are not exactly upright citizens. I asked Dana, one of my regular readers, to ask about the gypsies on her recent month-long trip to Italy ( I am sooo envious). What she found is that they are often thought culpable for theft oriented crimes and that they often live in relatively primitive conditions in their camps. These camps are now under attack in Italy just as they are in France. Also Dana noted that one of the people that she knows in Italy is of Romanian decent and as a result has been subject to some level of discrimination. While this woman is not a gypsy, many if not most gypsies come from Romania, at least originally, and so the Romanians may hide their origins to avoid association with gypsies.
I also asked Massimiliano about i zingari on one of our weekly Skype calls. He was not fond of them and added an item of information that the gypsies are sometimes thought to kidnap very young Italian children. I’m a little dubious about this but there certainly have been stories reported in the Italian press. Since these kidnappings seem never to be for ransom I don’t understand the motivation. Thus my doubts.
Now the question in my mind, and one that I’ve not been able to get much information about even with the fantastic research possibilities of the web is what proportion of gypsies are primarily thieves. Clearly a significant number are. However, is this a case of the general ethnic population being tarred by the brush a few malefactors? Surely there are some of the population that go to work and earn an honest living. But, just like ethnic minorities in our county, it is easy for the bad eggs to get all the press and make life more difficult for all of the others. One of the photos that I found shows an entirely different face of the gypsies. Of course I am only going with the label on the photo but I do choose to believe that there are lots of gypsies moving in the right direction.
As usual I went to the web looking for photos to add to the post. Some of them you will have already seen by this point but I do urge you to click here to see a variety of photos of Italian gypsies. Many of these photos have substantially softened my view of them. They so seem to be a tight knit subculture sometimes clearly fighting against discrimination. It’s a tricky subject all in all and one that I would like to know more about.