There is a wonderful saying by the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that reads, "L'Italia senza Sicilia non lascia immagine nello spirito: qui e' la chiave di tutto" - roughly translated it means 'Italy without Sicily leaves no lasting impression on the soul, here are the keys to it all.' (from the diary 'Italian Journey')
While this is true of the island as a whole, it is particularly true of the people themselves, whose entertaining, lively, frustrating, volatile and welcoming nature help make it what it is - one of the most wonderful places in the entire country. Sicilians have developed as something of a breed apart from other Italians largely because of their geographical isolation. The four kilometre distance across the Messina Straits from the mainland has created a remarkably independent group of people that consider themselves Sicilians first and Italians second.
Funny and quirky facts about Sicilians in general you'll find here
The ball at the toe of the mainland's boot has also been literally kicked about by Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Arab and Normans who all occupied it over the centuries.And they've all left their mark in the food, the architecture, the language, in culture, art and theatre.
Sicily remains far more traditional than northern Italy. There is a much stronger parent, familial and peer influence in Sicily. Family events are incredibly important and the mother remains the central key to everything. The family unit also remains intact for a far longer time as children don't tend to leave home until they marry and even when they do they will return to the parental home frequently (very often daily).
Intertwined with this is the expectation that men and women will conform to traditional roles and behaviours. Women are often tooted and whistled at and equal opportunities are still being developed. Harassment is unfortunately still commonplace and foreign women should dress modestly and be wary of any male advances to lessen the risk. But don’t let this put you off.
While there are a decreasing number of church goers in Sicily, religious festivals are still the highlights on the annual calendar. Religious events are heralded with incredible gusto and a distinct recognition for traditions and ceremony.
Visitors to Sicily will often comment on the local disregard for schedules or timetables. Buses, trains, shops and public offices may or may not appear, arrive, depart or open when they are scheduled but no one seems to mind too much. And those that come here soon learn to throw their plans out of the window and just go with the flow in the Sicilian way. The same goes for standing in line. There is a distinct disinterest in doing so and if you stand back you'll simply be stepped around, so the best recourse is just to join in the fray.
The other thing visitors always notice is the food. Like the language and culture, Sicilian cuisine has been influenced by all its occupying forces and today the blend of wonderful pizzas, pastries, olive oil, desserts, ice-drinks like granita and fine coffee are truly gob-smacking. Those that make it here are guaranteed to eat very well and often. Meal times and food are treated respectfully with long lunches and plentiful dinners. And if you’re very fortunate you might be invited to share one of these meals with a local family.
One of the main misnomers that have developed about Sicily is a notion that fear of the Mafia pervades throughout society. Tourists should rest assured that a friendly, chatty good will is by far the pervading force in Sicily, and not a population too afraid to look at each other or get out and about.
Today Sicily is one of the most populated islands in the Mediterranean, even if much of the population has dispersed around the world due to economic difficulties. There are huge Sicilian communities in the USA and Australia. Sicilians have made their mark on American cinema with the movies 'The Leopard', 'Stromboli', and 'The Godfather', bringing to life the story of the Mafia.
In many ways the world has become increasingly familiar with the Sicilian culture and way of life, making us all the richer for it.