Italian Customs by Shannon Bullen

The second meal I ever had in Italy was at a place directly under my apartment. It was very convenient and my new flatmates and I were attempting to shovel some food into our mouths before our first real tour of Florence. I was incredibly jet-lagged and exhausted not being able to sleep the night before. Looking at the menu I went for the first thing I saw: Margherita Pizza. I had been looking forward to this very meal. When the waiter came up to us I ordered the pizza in Italian and then also ordered an espresso. He asked if I wanted it now or after the pizza. I thought now was good, and I needed it before the tour so I ordered it for now. The waiter was not ok with that answer. “Well, if you can’t finish your meal you know why,” he said while taking my menu and then walked away. I was shocked. I did not know I could stir up so much trouble ordering coffee. We all looked at each other and I realized my mouth was open. Is that a thing? Are there certain times you should order coffee and not? Who knew of these coffee rules? The answer is yes. There are quite a few rules to drinking coffee and how to order it in Italy and I was incredibly unaware. Once I got the espresso I sipped it slowly at least knowing I was not supposed to drink it all at once. I finished it and the pizzas came out. They looked amazing. The fresh mozzarella placed delicately on the tomato sauce with bits of basil. I was starved. I took my fork and knife and started slicing the pizza. Earlier I had observed that they do not slice the pizza for you and no one uses their hands to eat it. I got through half of the pizza and I started slowing down. I pushed that aside and kept trying to eat, but I could not finish it. Determined to prove the waiter wrong, my friend who had eaten more than me switched plates when he was not looking. I did not want him to be right, but he was. I could not finish my pizza because I had had the espresso. Laughing at this ridiculous situation of switching pizzas just because I could not stomach the embarrassment this coffee caused me we all realized we were going to be late for the tour. We attempted to get our waiters attention until we finally had to flag someone else down. We asked for the check and they disappeared and we asked two other waiters in the meantime for our check because it was taking so long. Finally, we paid and ran to our meeting spot. Here is what I learned later that day. Espresso or un café is a drink that can be ordered at any time during the day, but usually after meals or as a snack. A cappuccino should not be ordered after 12. This is because of the amount of milk in the coffee. It was described to me as a grandmother thing. Grandmothers always told their grandkids not to drink too much milk in the afternoon because it will cause digestion issues. Most coffee is had standing up at a bar and not sitting down. Sitting down is usually followed by an extra charge. I also found out that when you go to a restaurant you should carve out at least an hour and a half to eat because everything is just slowed down. It is all about taking your time and letting yourself digest your meal. These digestion rules were so new to me, but I actually have started believing in them. Not just because I was not able to eat my pizza, but also because I lost so much weight in the first few weeks here. I was eating the same amount, less processed foods, but I was no longer inhaling my food. Whenever I am finished eating I feel content and not stuffed, I enjoy my food, and I am energized usually from ending my meal with an espresso and not starting with it. 

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