I happened on a blog yesterday by a woman living in Italy whose highest number of comments on a given day over the year had been to an entry about dish-washing – who does or does not do it in Italy, Naples in particular. A heated forum-like discussion ensued on the cultural ins and outs of this daily task.
For an American women, the trophy husband is one who does things like wash the dishes, the highest status symbol of all. I have overheard women brag back and forth about all the housework done by their man. The whole issue can uselessly take on mythic proportions. The Italian professional two-career couples I know take an alternative approach – they simply outsource the whole question. No one lives with less than three mornings a week of domestic help and many (with children) have full-time live-in help. It is just a regular part of the monthly budget and accepted by both parties as a given, like the heating bill. You may do without other things – like immense SUVs and every kitchen appliance ever invented -- but not without someone to wash that fresh cicoria, make a sugo for dinner, clean up and scrub out the pots the next morning.
I think it comes down to the self-reliance thing we inherited from our cattle-raising, conquering the West days. We just have to do it ourselves and feel very uncomfortable delegating our intimate lives to others. We would feel like we had somehow let ourselves down by admitting that we really can’t (or at least really don’t want to) do it all ourselves and this creates a terrible inner turmoil. Italians have none of this. Being from a culture with more of a group orientation, they very naturally depend on others who in turn depend on them. We are used to ultimately depending on ourselves alone, so we had better be prepared.