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Back In The Old Country

August 22, 2021

Many of us have heard the term “back in the old country” when applied by our immigrant parents or grandparents in an attempt to regale us with stories that usually contained morals. “Back in the old country, I had to walk ten miles to school through heavy snow.” This is one of my personal favorites. It was often laid upon me to say, “You really have it good so you shouldn’t complain!” I later employed the same good stuff when speaking to my own son who had to walk a half a block to school but still wanted a ride. I would say (with a twinge of guilt), “When I was a kid I had to walk two miles to school.” The moral imperative was the same.

There are some truisms in such statements. Yes, my father did indeed walk many miles to school, often through deep snows in both Europe and Wyoming. And yes, I did have to walk two miles to school when I was a child in Southern California. However, the “Back in the old country” approach does make the speaker just a bit suspect in both cases. Why? Because the “old country mentality” should give way inevitably to a “new country mentality.” Aside from accuracy, the “back in the old country” approach does serve to color our pasts with a touch of rose colored bravado. We all do it.

But what happens when the “old country” itself is changed more than once? Interesting to say the least. As I grew up in Southern California, I had a steady diet of “old country” philosophy and such statements as, “Eat, there are children starving in Europe!” Later in life, I moved to Europe and hence America became my “old country.” As sort of a reverse immigrant, I would often start sentences with, “Back in America….” But then I noticed that in Europe parents often said to their children at dinner, “Eat, there are children starving in Africa!” While my “old country” had changed, the driving motivation behind my “old country philosophy” had not budged.

After 12 years living in the South Tirol of Northern Italy, I returned to the “old country” and started referencing the new old country as Italy. My sentences would often start with, “Back in Italy….” One morning, I stared into my coffee cup and asked the simple question, “Where exactly is my old country?” The answer, it seemed, was really not that simple for it turned out that my “old country” was not a place but rather a state of mind.

As a two time immigrant, I have a new perspective: There is no old country, new country or anything of the sort. There is just life and I have and will continue to enjoy mine wherever I find myself. But the echos remain: “back in the old country…. laggiù nel vecchio paese…. zurück in der alten Heimat….”

By the way, the image above is the symbol of the South Tirol. Old country? New country? Ich weiß wirklich nicht!

Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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6 Comments
  1. Nowadays, we become old, we could almost say “Back in the young country” or “In my younger days”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes and I wish more Americans would try having one. I think we are even worse now than we were during the Nixon Administration when it was America, Love It or Leave because we each have such siloed views of that means. Right, Patriot?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Instead of citing country of origin I just use the generic “when I wez a boy”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had to eat school lunch every day – no packed lunches – because, “back when we were growing up? You didn’t get a hot meal – you will eat what they serve, we support the hot meal program” – – Dad built a roundabout at the end of our lane for a full sized bus to comedown and turn around easily and we were driven or walked, or carried up to the end of the lane to catch the bus if the country roads were plowed clear of drifts, but our lane had drifted back shut – Because my parents remembered the walk to school or just to catch the bus – 1 mile, 2 miles, etc. Then I became a parent – mother of a child that was in his teens, and we lived in town, 2 blocks from school – small town, wasn’t worried about his safety, etc., Here comes grandma, ‘he shouldn’t have to walk, it’s cold out” and he would get up early, to go to school when she did, so she felt good about him not walking…me? I was bustin’ my butt working long hours to afford the place we lived in that was close enough to school that he had freedom to attend school, after school activities etc., whether I was able to come pick him up/take him too, just right then… It’s all relative, overall – – 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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