neither one has ever been to Italy before. in fact, PJ has never been to Europe before.
they came with an open mind. they wanted to learn about and enjoy the Italian culture and mores.
and they have done so. for example, they have become more demonstrable in their conversations. they are using their hands and arms more to make a point. they have, after nine days in Italy, begun calling the currency Euros and not dollars. they have learned to accept the fact that elevators do not exist in many buildings and that walking up several flights of stairs is commonplace. they have learned how to order gelato with some Italian flourish.
having praised them for what they have observed, learned and adjusted to, I must relate that there is one part of Italian customs and tradition that PJ and Tom are having great difficulty adjusting to. that area is dining.
this is very unfortunate because eating is a huge part of the Italian culture. it is really important. Italians value their food very much. they honor the culinary experience. they take the time to really enjoy and absorb the eating experience. it is considered an art form. it is viewed as more than nourishment. it is viewed as life.
the traditional main meal for Italians is made up of eight courses. the first one is the aperitivo or appetizer course. the second is the antipasto or starter course. the third is the primo course, which is often pasta. the next course is usually the meat or fish dish. that is followed by the contorno course which is usually vegetable based. followed by the insalata or salad course. then the formaggi and frutta course — cheeses and fruit. then finally, that is followed by the dolce or desert course. eight courses, served sequentially. some examples follow.
in addition, the Italians eat their main meal in the late evening, usually around 9 pm.
finally, there are certain ways to eat certain food groups. for example, pasta is eaten with a fork, which is twisted to roll up the pasta to create a circle of pasta to be put in one’s mouth.
all of this eating experience is usually accompanied by a bottle or two of a wonderful compatible wine.
what are PJ and Tom doing at dinner?
first of all, they are going to dinner at 6 pm — a full three hours before the typical Italian is sitting down to eat. this evening for example, we were at a small, but highly recommended restaurant in Pienxa, which is in the heart of Tuscany.
we were so early that we were not only the first ones to come to the restaurant, but also the only ones to come to the restaurant at that hour.
second, they are ordering one course. sometimes two. not eight!
third, they are asking for food that is not on the Italian menus. tonight, for example, PJ asked the waiter if they had apple sauce. the waiter gave a blank look, not knowing how to respond to such a question.
fourth, they are using American methods to eat their food, rather than adjusting to the Italian ways. for example, when PJ gets his order of pasta, he immediately picks up his knife and proceeds to carve the pasta up into little bite size chunks. no one in Italy carves up their pasta with a knife. you can imagine the looks from the other tables in the restaurant.
but, hey, I want to make sure I put these comments into the proper perspective. as I mentioned in the beginning, both PJ and Tom are really adjusting to, taking in, absorbing and enjoying the Italian culture, mores and ways of doing things. giving credit where credit is due, they are ordering and drinking the Italian wine.
however, in this one area — namely, eating — they are having a difficult time. eating is just one of many cultural and social issues. it happens to take place three times every day, and is a very important part of Italian culture.
when PJ and Tom return to the United States you are not going to recognize them. they are going to reflect their three weeks in Italy in many ways. for example, they will address you with buongiorno in the morning. they will kiss every woman they meet. first with a kiss on the right cheek and then one on the left cheek. they will speak earnestly and with animation. they will be dressed elegantly and in style, probably in tight fitting Italian suits with polished shoes to match. they will be wearing Italian designer dark glasses. they will complement every beautiful woman that walks by.
but, unless something radically changes in the next 10 days, they are going to eat the way they always have.