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First-hand Accounts

When respondents give accounts of their own lives by speaking from first-hand experience, their responses are likely to be rich with detail and meaning. Description of second-hand events, generalizations and discussion of topics that do not have a connection to the respondent's direct experience, on the other hand, result in "thin" data.

First-hand versus Second-hand Accounts

A First-Hand Account

Interviewer: Do you think that there will be an Italian family and Italian culture in the future?

Marie: I think that it will be difficult to maintain an Italian culture. People intermarry. There are many immigrants from all over. Nobody comes from Italy any more. They live better than we do. They don't want to come here. People may go to Italian restaurants but Italian cuisine in the home is dying out. I notice with my grandchildren. I put tomatoes in jars [very typical Italian tradition]. My grandchildren ask me, "Why do you do this?" They want store bought tomato sauce. We used to say, if we do it ourselves, there will be no preservatives...We preserved in oil. But now, who has high cholesterol, and who has this and that... I used to preserve peaches. It was a lot of work. Now I'm the only one, who eats them. My grandchildren don't like things with too much sugar. I made peach and plum jam. I had them in storage for five years. I just finished the peach jam because I took it to my sister-in-law's place. She makes cookies with it. I still have the plum jam. I will not make it any more. I stood there for hours stirring. Italians do too much. Just too much. When I first came here I was overwhelmed. They preserved everything. Peppers,... everything. Every season is devoted to something. The summer, there are fruits and vegetables, and tomatoes for preserving. The fall is devoted to wine production. Salami is made in the winter months. There is just no end.

Interviewer: Did you engage in most of these activities?

Marie: Yes, I did. I used to make homemade salami until a few years ago but nobody eats it any more. A few years ago we made ten salami. I still have some left. I can't eat it because I have high cholesterol. My children and grandchildren don't want to gain weight, so they won't eat it. They watch what they eat.

Interviewer: What do your daughters do for a living? Do they follow these traditions?

Marie: No, they don't really follow those types of traditions. I have stopped doing a lot of those things myself. Ann, my oldest daughter, works in a bank two days a week. Allison stays home. She has young children. Allison's children go home for lunch. I can't really help her out (with childcare). I have things to do around here. But she tells me not to worry, that I have worked all my life. I have worked since I was 13 years old…

Italian Interview #10

A Second-Hand Account

Interviewer: Do your children follow traditional Italian customs?

Marco: Yes, both my son and my daughter do. My daughter perhaps more so because she came to Canada as an adult. She cooks Italian food every day, and is very traditional. She does everything the Italian way. My son's family doesn't do as much, but it is still very important to him.

Italian Interview #1


The first passage is a highly detailed, personal, first-hand account that indicates why traditional Italian cooking and preserving food may be declining in Canada. The second passage lacks detail. We learn from Marco that being "very traditional" is associated with cooking Italian food, but we do not learn the specifics of what Marco means by "the Italian way." Marco is unable to speak from personal experience about cooking. As a result, we do not gain insight into why his son's family "doesn't do as much" even though Italian customs are "very important to him." In contrast, Marie gives a vivid picture of the hard work required of women to maintain traditional Italian food-ways, why the food is becoming less preferred and why she and her daughters are less able to do the work.

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