LYDIA'S BLOG: More diversity

Feb 29, 2012

(Note: See the other “Diversity” blog here: http://lydiaislost.blogspot.com/)

Yet another thing I didn’t expect to find drastically different: restaurant eating experiences.

From not realizing drinks and food are ordered at the same time to forgetting tipping isn’t customary here, I’ve made my fair share of first-timer mistakes. I think we all have. But I’m learning, in more ways than one.

I can now make it through ordering and consuming meals with minimal and recoverable stumbles.

But a skill I didn’t expect to gain at Italian eateries? Patience.

My family can attest to this: I am the most impatient restaurant goer you’ll ever encounter. Or rather, I was. Growing up (and even as a legal “grown-up”), I had a hard time waiting around at restaurants. I could wait for the server to take our order, I could wait for the drinks and food to be served, and I could certainly wait for dessert. However, once my plates were empty, I was ready to go. I would sit on the edge of my chair and tap my foot impatiently.

“Are you done yet? Can we go now?”

“Hold on, Lyd! I’m not done eating, and I haven’t even asked for the bill.” My mother and father would take turns hissing at me.

“But I’m dooooone,” I’d obnoxiously whine.

Although I’m proud to say I’m largely over my whining days, the patience never came with age.

Well mother, father and sisters, you’ll be proud to know the patience came in Italy.

Second only to their lack of tipping, the one of the most notable differences is bill-delivery. In the US, a waiter/waitress often arrives at your table to clear your plates and conveniently leave your bill (having already asked about dessert before you finished your meal). This worked out great for me since it often took “we haven’t gotten the bill yet,” off my parents list of reasons we should remain at the dinner table. In the states, a bill has a very clear message: “Thank you for dining with us. Now please pay and exit as soon as possible so other patrons can use this table. Have a nice night.” Sitting for too much longer begins to feel like you’ve overstayed your welcome.

In Italy, you don’t get a bill until you ask. Servers seem perfectly content floating by your table checking if you need after-dinner wine, some coffee or a dessert. Even when I’ve refused all of the above, they simply smile and move along.

In Assisi, Amy and I sat and talked for more than an hour after dinner before I even glanced at the time. I never feel rushed out of a restaurant. It’s a nice change that has taught me to relax, digest and chat.

It’s not until I am exhausted or have exhausted all talking topics that I ask “Posso avere il conto per favore?” Sometimes I even wait for my dinner companion to ask.

Editor’s note: Former Grand Haven Tribune intern Lydia Coutré is spending a semester in Italy. She is a junior at Kent State University, studying journalism. Her blogs during her stay in Italy will be posted here and at http://lydiaislost.blogspot.com. All photos by Lydia Coutré.

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