Americans have Bush, Italians have Berlusconi. Americans play football, Italians play futbol. While Americans work an eight-hour day, Italians receive a long break for lunch to spend time with family and friends. Italy and America have two cultures that could not be farther apart. it’s been said Americans eat to live but Italians live to eat.
Eating, just like everything else in Italy, is an art form. There is a certain grace, style and attitude when it comes to food in the beautiful boot-shaped country.
A finely crafted meal in Rome, just like the Bernini sculptures in Piazza Navona, must be savored. Yet there is a style in which one is supposed to relish a meal by the very traditional Italian standards √¢?” an etiquette that is clear if you’ve spent time in Italy.
There are some basics to know about Italian cooking and the philosophies Italians use when they eat before we delve into etiquette.
Italians can be particular about what they eat and how many times they eat a particular dish. For Italians, less is more. Contrary to popular belief, in Italy, the portions are smaller. The bowls and plates are filled with just the right amount to fill any stomach properly.
These small facts aid in learning about Italian etiquette, trattoria style.
A trattoria is a traditional place, unlike an American restaurant. You should always acknowledge the server first with “Buona sera.” Relax, spread out and put your elbows on the table. In Italy it is actually frowned upon when you do not have your elbows up on the table (they take it as meaning you are afraid of the food). Another great thing to know about trattorias or any restaurant in Italy: you will not have to give a tip, that is already included in the bill.
Second, when you order the food, there are rules that if broken will annoy any waiter or waitress (Italian or not). Just because you might not be able to speak the language does give you, a tourist, carte blanche to be rude. Always remember to say “thank you,” “please” and “may I.”
An additional part of Italian etiquette is patience. Italians take their time to eat. They do not rush their meals. They want to be able to enjoy the other person’s company and the food. Italian Professor Annalisa Sacca from St. John’s University explained why this is so: “Italians have a tendency to be very gregarious. We have piazzas to sit and talk, Americans have main streets to walk. So the concept of life is different. In Italy we control time, here time controls us. In a way, it is sad.”
Thirdly, a big part of the Italian meal is conversation. Being able to share the joy of eating good food with good friends is just as important as the meal. Professor Sacca said, “This is why Italians stay so long at the table, not to fill themselves with food but with words.”
Many Italians find it completely acceptable to spend time at the table discussing sex, politics and the Vatican. For some Americans, these topics are considered taboo for table talk.
Overall, Italian etiquette is the key ingredient to any successful meal. A meal becomes a spiritual moment that transcends all the bad feelings you might have had during the day. For this reason and more, is why we should all eat the Italian way at least once in our lives.