By Rachel Orland
In every country, food and dining create unique cultural experiences, which are especially prevalent in Italian culture. The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of Italy is pasta. However, Italian dining goes beyond heaping dishes of pasta and asking for obscene amounts of parmesan. There are norms and expectations so deeply rooted in the culture that some locals may not even know the origins or reasons behind them. These can be incredibly intimidating from a tourist perspective. Think of every time you have smirked, gawked or laughed at someone who did something odd at restaurants in your hometown. Going out to restaurants in Italy has opened my eyes to the stress of international dining and showed me the importance of patience and understanding. Here are the aspects of Italian dining that tripped me up like a night out in heels on a cobblestone street (#iykyk).
The wait time. Americans will call days in advance to avoid long waits and even pay to ensure promptness. Italian dining prioritizes the prolonged experience. Running in and out of a restaurant after downing one entree and a super sized soda is nearly a sin here. I went to the so-called “fast food” restaurant, Chicken Taste, for lunch one day after class and made the mistake of thinking the service would be fast. After waiting twenty minutes for a burger and fries, I realized I spent the whole time wondering how much longer it would take to get my food instead of talking with my friends. Of course, Italian customs of relaxed and extended lunches and an American context of a 30-minute lunch break would not mesh well. To enjoy an Italian lunch, I needed to understand Italian dining: enjoying the break and not stressing about the wait. The burger was hot, savory and fresh, which explained the wait.
Although diners are expected to sit back and relax until the dishes come, it is free reign to dig in once they hit the table, regardless of who has or has not been served. My friends and I saw raised eyebrows during our first dinners as we waited for everyone to be served before eating. We had no idea that it was customary to eat as soon as you were served. Although it is considered rude in the U.S., we now have no problem digging in as soon as the steaming bowls of pasta and ravioli are set down in front of us.
The last difference to note is the middle child of dining. The part everyone forgets about until they are forced to remember: the bill. Italian dinners are always so decadent, I have no problem forking out 15 to 25 euros for the courses of fresh bruschetta and warm, comforting pasta. Rather than having the flow of a dinner conversation interrupted with “here’s your check, no rush” or “are you ready for that check now?”, Italian restaurants wait for you to ask for the check or go up to pay at the desk. Additionally, the servers’ wages are high enough to not require tips. However, they are still accepted and appreciated if you want to show your sincere gratitude.
These differences may seem small and insignificant, but noticing unique aspects of a culture gives you a greater appreciation. Learning the intricacies of dining shows willingness to understand the center of Italian culture: food.
Editors: Grace Tipps, Aly O'Shea, Taylor Glissman
Photographer: Jessie Klinger