Italian Worm Cheese and Culture Shock

We have a saying in Italian. Non c’è niente di nuovo sotto il sole. (There is nothing new under the sun.) And yes, I know it’s from the Bible. But I also know that King Solomon, who wrote that, didn’t live in a foreign land. Otherwise, I wonder if he might not have changed it to: “There is something new under the sun. Every day, and in countless ways!” 

We were in the deep south, at my father-in-law’s home. A dear man, but eccentric, and prone to grumpiness. Having lived alone many years, he had the tendency to mutter under his breath a lot. Mario says he was mostly cursing. He didn’t like the priests or the saints, and seemed to blame them for most of his ills.

And while I know he loved me, I think I was at times a trial to him. Always cleaning and moving his things. Even throwing away his prized pair of rusty scissors! How was I to know he treasured those totally rusted shears? We bought him a new pair, but I’m sure they never seemed as good…

The truth about culture shock

Moving to a foreign nation usually causes culture shock, and often great distress. Italy was such a place to me.

“What affects men sharply about a foreign nation is not so much finding or not finding familiar things. It is rather not finding them in the familiar place.”

G.K. Chesterton

Take our legal documents, for instance.

It wasn’t so much the wait; that happens in every nation. But a month of waiting for one simple ID card? Unthinkable!

Or the laundry.

Everyone, everywhere does laundry. But only on a specific day of the week? Unheard of! “Why do they change their clothes so often,” the neighbors questioned, none too discretely. “What a shameful waste of water!” Didn’t they realize, I wondered, that five people make a lot of laundry?

And then there were the tablecloths!

One never, ever sits down to a meal without the standard cloth covering. Even if it’s the same (dirty) cloth all week long! But my plastic tablecloth? “Slovenly,” that’s what they said. “Hey,” I figured, “At least it saves on water!” But they never seemed to notice that small act of conservation…

Papà had peculiar eating habits, as well. Which at long last explained some things about my husband! I sometimes wonder, with their love of hot pepper and using bread as spoons, it they’re not part Arab!

And finally, there was his love of meat.

That really took me off-guard. Perhaps it was from living through two world wars and eating half-cooked potatoes to stave off hunger that did it. Meat was proof of well-being, and one mustn’t ever waste even a bit of it. All (or most) of the innards. Cow’s stomach and tongue, pig’s feet, livers, gizzards, lamb’s brain.

Even rabbit eyes! Yep, Papà ate the eyes. I’ll save you all the nasty details. But he did love to tease our kids with them!

Let me tell you Solomon: Everything was new under this Mediterranean sun.

From the super strong espresso, to specific laundry days. Unheard of government bureaucracy and bottles of seven-day deodorant!

But it was the worm cheese that did me in!

The cheese with the Italian jumping worms! Now I was a country girl, raised on the farm. Went fishing and played with snakes. But those worms nearly scared the wits out of me!

Casu marzu

Cheese in the cabinet? Somewhat odd. But with worms jumping out? It had really gone bad! “Throw it out!” I shrieked. “Get it out of here right away!” But Hubby insisted we keep it. “Just in case.” We didn’t want a repeat episode of The Scissors…

“Come on dear,” I told him. “Get real. Even your father could never want cheese with worms in it! He’ll thank us for getting rid of it!”

“Throw it out?” Papà bellowed when we showed it to him. “The worms are the best part. Yum, have a taste!” We didn’t stay to watch. But I guess it was part of his war-years frugality. Any and all food must be eaten. Especially such rare and precious protein! Surely those worms were chock full of it!

Some of the things under this new Italian sun really took a lot of getting used to!

But determined to make this new land home, I learned to look past the strangeness and unpleasantness. (Grateful, of course, that I wasn’t forced to eat everything!)

And you know, Solomon was right. Nothing is new. It’s already been seen or done somewhere, by someone. But if we accept them, all the new things under our own sun – no matter where we are – can teach us a lot, broaden our horizons, and help us grow!

Because there’s a positive side to most anything – if we but look for it!


About Worm Cheese:

Called Casu Marzu, worm cheese is a true Sardinian delicacy. So if you get to Sardinia, you might want to try some! Although to me it doesn’t even look appetizing. And watch out, the larvae in it can jump up to six inches! And the ammoniated flavor is so strong it scorches the tongue a bit, leaving an aftertaste that lasts for hours. Which I’m sure is true. I had a bad aftertaste without even eating any! 🙂  Oh, and a final word of warning: casu marzu is no longer allowed in some areas.

Image credits: Cheese wheels | Sliced cheese | Casu marzu by Shardan, CC BY-SA 2.5.

Published by Signora Sheila

Blogger, missionary, Bible student. Join my spiritual journey at mycammino.com and find Inspiration, Peace & Joy for the Journey!

10 thoughts on “Italian Worm Cheese and Culture Shock

  1. I did eat chocolate covered ants once–they tasted like Nestle’s Crunch! Have eaten octopus and eel too. But worm cheese?! That would do me in. Don’t think I could bring myself to try even try it! (Thank you for a fun read, Sheila!)

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    1. Well, you’re braver than I, Nancy! I don’t think I could eat ants. I have done octopus, which I didn’t care for. Too rubbery, but I love most other seafood, and even the land snails I tried were good. Haven’t tried eel, and don’t really care too. But I was not brave enough to eat worm cheese!! I’ll leave it for those who love it, LOL!

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  2. Haha! We have traveled a bit (India Nepal and Brazil) but have not met up with cheese that had guests. Nepali cheese is so hard that the worms would die if starvation. I did try and gave up after 30 minutes. They could use that stuff for bullets! Thanks for my daily dose of wisdom and humor.

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    1. Ha, bullet cheesr! That’s a good one!! culture shock after moving to another nation can be really tough though. I found that a sense of humor helped a great deal. In such circumstances we have two choices. We can either laugh or cry. It’s better to laugh!! 😊

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  3. With six kids who played soccer, I could no more wait till “wash day” than I could fly. My house would have smelled like a gym bag. But the worm cheese thing was a hoot–it’s amazing what some see as a delicacy and how others see it as gross. It does take getting used to things we are unfamiliar with. But giving things–and people–a chance can be life-changing. Thanks for this insightful post, my friend.

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    1. I know, wash day seemed ridiculous to me! And I do agree with you that giving new things a chance can bring change and teach us priceless lessons. But that cheese was too much for me!!

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  4. Interesting Sandy! I’d forgotten that years ago they used to have wash day in the USA. I guess modern machines are what changed all that, and that’s one change I gladly embrace!! In looking back, the worm cheese was fun. At the time it was just horrifying!! I was brave enough to try snails – but not worms!! Not those or any others! Thankfully, Italians won’t usually try to force you to eat things you simply don’t like!!

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  5. Wow, that’s a lot of laundry. I’ve been washing wool blankets to put them away for summer. But there are only 2 of us!! We are major cheese lovers too Linda, but we couldn’t even bear the thought of eating that stuff!! Besides Italy has so many really yummy cheeses!!

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