Well, I can throw away my Kate Spade's (guide to) Manners, here in Italy, you definitely don't need it. After another gathering at Zia's (with all of Giancarlo's family) my observations and inquisitive nature got the better of me, and 3 days of non-stop rain left some valuable bonding time with the (soon-to-be) mother-in-law. So I dove into the topic at hand, and in all her Italian greatness, she explained to me the following:
*You must keep your hands and elbows on the table...
(the obvious, why?) because the Italians will think that you are getting fresh with the person next to you.
*You must talk. Even if your Italian is horrible, just talk...(and smile!)
(again the obvious, why?) If you don't talk, they think you are hiding something. Being shy in this country is unheard of, and Italians are not sure what to do with you if you are.
*You must tell Zia/Nonna if the food is good, or if it's not. It is perfectly acceptable to tell Zia that her meatloaf with rabbit, and who knows what else wasn't to your liking. Zia will know not to make it again, and she's not offended. The American in me is still pondering this one.
*It is also perfectly acceptable to talk with your mouth full. If you have something to say, why wait till you've finished Zia's random meatloaf to get your point across.. the Italians might be on another conversation topic by that point.
So here's to you, Italians. I will throw out my proper rules of dinner table manners, and chew with my mouth open, keep my elbows on table and speak my non-understandable Italian to you. Kate Spade, write a book on that!