Italian students pick up an American tradition—and do it Italian-style.
White corsages glow in the continuous flash of cameras under the blue and white balloon arch. As portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Bob Marley look down from the walls, boys adjust their ties and girls head to the bathroom to fix their hair, imagining a tiara crowning their heads. Side by side with their dates, the high school students hesitantly walk a red carpet toward a banner that reads “Prom.”
This, however, is no American prom.
Unencumbered by chaperones and teachers, the students shamelessly sip wine and chatter in Italian under the starry-eyed night that blankets the rolling hills of the Marche. This is Urbino’s version of prom and the students’ first taste of such an event.
But after weeks of planning, after crowning a king and queen, after “liking” and “tagging” hundreds of photos on Facebook the next morning, the Italian students realized that their dip into American culture had only made them appreciate their own all the more. Fabio Monceri, a student and a member of the prom planning committee, says, “When you open the door to a foreign tradition, you find that your culture is of more value than you originally thought.”
It should come as no surprise that Italian students would adopt an American tradition. The local movie theatre shows “Superman” and “The Hangover,” and in Urbino’s main piazza, students whistle the theme song to “The OC.” So it seemed natural when Carolina Marchetti, a student on the committee who had lived in the U.S. for a year and attended a prom there, suggested holding one in Urbino.
“I really loved that American spirit of the prom, and I wanted to bring it here to Italy and show a little bit of America to my friends,” Marchetti says.
In the Italian tradition, graduating students attend a dinner with their class, called the Cena Dei Cento Giorni (100 Days Dinner), 100 days before the final exams. Local discotheques also sponsor casual graduation parties. But this year the students of Liceo Raffaello and Liceo Laurana decided that they wanted a new tradition, one that was more elegant and included all of the students from their five-year-long high school program. Monceri explains that they chose the American prom because it seemed to be a symbol of all their hard work, friendships, and academic achievements throughout the year.
“Here there are [graduation] parties organized by the discos but the problem is that there is not a real moment like the prom, there isn’t even the emotion that the idea of a prom can give: looking for the dress, wanting to go with a date,” Monceri says.
The planners included all of the typical prom practices in their event: a formal dress code, dates, corsages, and even a American-style theme—“Night Under the Starry Skies.” Along with Marchetti’s first-hand experience, the planning committee relied on cues from American TV shows and movies, like “American Pie” and “Gossip Girl.” Monceri says, “The movie culture influenced us a lot mainly because the movies we watch come from America. The teen shows that we watch represent this event, and the way we see the prom is the way they show it to us.” A jury of three boys and three girls from each school was selected to elect the prom king and queen. The group even planned to start the event on “American time”—around 9 p.m.—instead of the usual Italian start time of 11 p.m.
But in the end it was an Italian affair.
“Finding a dress that resembled what Americans would consider a prom gown turned out to be quite a task,” says Francesca Carducci, an American who teaches languages at the University of Urbino and mother of one of the students who attended the prom. “There just hasn’t been a market for prom dresses because they aren’t part of Italian tradition.”
Boys with typical Italian teen haircuts—buzzed sides and floppy long hair on top—jumped up and down to Electro and Progressive House music as the DJ slid into the next track to keep the night alive at 3 a.m.—well past an American prom’s ending time. The students devoured every type of Italian pizza possible. Pocket-sized Fiats lined up outside, chaperones and teachers were nowhere to be seen, and free wine flowed into glasses.
The differences were not lost on the Italians. “Of course we see a lot of American movies and we wanted to play the American at least for one night,” says Cinzia Campogiani, a student and a member of the planning committee. “But at the same time we realized that Italy has much to offer that the United States cannot give us.”
At the end of the evening, remnants of blue and white balloons scattered across the floor, and the students, in the Italian way, crawled on to buses as the sun came up. “As you say in America,” says Marchetti, the event was “the perfect cherry on top.” A new tradition is born.