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Our New Italians

Date: August 13, 2011 - categories: , - 2 Comments

Vu compra walks the beach italians enjoy a rest

A Sri-lankan vu cumprà walks the beach; Italian vacationers enjoy a rest

Italians relax under umbrellas on sandy Adriatic beaches in the hot summer months. Under blistering sun, Moroccans, Tunisians, Indians, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Senegalese, Bangladeshi – to name a few of the immigrant vendors – trudge for hours in the sand, toting their wares, hoping to make a sale.

Often bent under heavy loads, they weave in and out of the rows of seaside umbrellas which shade lounging Italians who read, chat on their cellphones, doze on beach chairs.

Called the “vu compra’ ” (“do you want to buy?” – in Neapolitan dialect) by Italians, these “New Italians” sell everything from bijoux to micro-fiber beach towels to “designer” sunglasses to ersatz Vuitton handbags to their skills: braiding hair in tight tiny twist braids (the Senegalese specialty), painting on intricate tattoes. Most of the vendors are men, but not all.

At an Adriatic beach recently, friends and I chatted with a couple of these “New Italians”, two entrepreneurial Indians from Calcutta (one sold me bijoux as we talked) who work the Italian beaches from late May to late September, then head home to their shops in Calcutta til late spring when they return to Italy.

Vu cumpra from calcutta wears his bijoux

Vu cumprà from Calcutta wears his bijoux to lighten his load

They wear their bijoux to lighten the load: necklaces and chains in profusion drape their necks, bracelets overlap right up to their elbows and they can’t bend their fingers due to all the rings.

A Tunisian walked past with beach towels over his shoulder and a Moroccan vendor came up the beach, beeping a bicycle horn and calling out “Coco! coco!”. Of all the vu compràs, his goods weigh the heaviest: a large bucket of coconut slices in cool water. A bone-thin Senegalese girl carried a large piece of cardboard covered with photos of all the variations she offers on hair-braiding while nearby, a Sri-lankan sold a “designer” leather jacket to an Italian lounging in a beach chair.

Not all of the immigrants are vendors: an ebullient Tunisian math professor, married to an Italian and about to become a father, parked cars at our seaside restaurant.

Martina, the only Italian at ristorante Silvio

Martina, the only Italian at Ristorante Silvio


We talked with Mourad – “or you can call me ‘Mario’ or ‘Mariuccio’, even ‘Mariottino’, as my Italian friends do” – about his participation in the Tunisian protests in early spring. Then later that afternoon, I met another Tunisian, Marison, a shy economic student who scooped ice cream in the local gelateria, along with a smiling Peruvian, Pamela.

At one seafood restaurant, Romanian Vlad served our pasta with shellfish with a wide smile. At another, the Iranian owner, Mansur (who was a cook here ten years ago and then bought the restaurant) smiles as he introduces the only Italian on his restaurant staff of thirty, Martina, “who learned to make tiramisu from a Romanian and fettuccine from an Indian!”

Martina told us with a cheerful grin, “I’M the foreigner here!” Cajuon from Bangladesh grills all the eggplants, pepper and other vegetables. Saber from Tunis waits tables with class along with Adina, from Romania, who works at the Italian seaside in the summer and continues her university education in the winter in Romania. Romanian Mari does the same, although her cousin and uncle are now here year round.

What would we do without our “New Italians”?

Read more about the wondrous Adriatic coast.
Read about a favorite Sirolo spot

2 Comments

  • Jean Mauro says:

    Hi, Ann,

    Your description suggests that the vu compra` are quaint and picturesque. My wife and I have been vacationing annually in Venice for some 27 years, and we have a totally different picture of the vu compra`. In Venice, they are all dark black (primarily Senagalese, as I understand it), and are a plague on the landscape. They block the rails of the bridges, constrict the calle by spreading sheets full of their Chinese knock-off junk, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. There is a local statute against them, but, in true Italian style, enforcement is whimsical. The vu compra` have lookouts who warn them by cell phone if the police are in the area. When the vigili do appear, the vu compra` dash off, knocking down tourists in the process so as to slow the pursuit. The Venetians would gladly ship them all down to southern beaches.

    Regarding the term “vu compra`,” the understanding in Venice is that the term derives not from Neopolitan, but from what they say when a potential customer walks by.

  • sari says:

    New Italians. Sorry, Anne (if you are still in Italy) but most of these sellers are not “new Italians”, they come for the summer and then go home. They have no interest in settling here. Like you, I found them interesting when they first arrived on streets and beaches and met several interesting people among them. But it has gotten out of hand. You can’t sit on a beach without someone coming up and trying to sell you something. You can’t sit at a café without someone putting a dancing cat on your table or sticking flowers you don’t want under your nose. The “hew Italians” are people like my Filipino housecleaner who is here with his wife, with three children inschool and dreaming of buying an apartment. These are the “new Italians” the others are just peddlers, for the most part unwanted.

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