December 19, 2006

The Cappucino Mystery

The end of our lunch arrived along with the waiter, “quanti caffé?” he asked. Julie responded, “Two, one regular and one with milk.” then sighed and whispered across the table, ”I know that I should have just an espresso after lunch, but I am American and I am going to have milk in my coffee whenever I want to.” Ahh Haa – a Cultural Moment!

Italians will tell you that medical science has proven milk to be dangerous when served with or after a meal– it will curdle and impeded the digestive process. Maybe it has to do with Mediterranean genes, but we do not seem to have this difficulty – or worse, we just never noticed it. All those school lunches washed down with red cartons of milk. I now shudder at the thought.

There is something else going on, culturally. As Julie noted above, it is a question of the individual’s right to choice. A strong American cultural value, which makes it very difficult for us to really, intimately accepts all those unwritten Italian “food laws”.

There is a time of day, week and year, a place and an atmosphere in which certain foods are eaten. There are certain breakfast foods, certain mid morning snack foods, certain lunch foods, certain supper foods, and certain seasonal foods. Ice cream in the late afternoon, or after supper from April through October. Cappuccino for breakfast or even as a late morning snack. Always move forward from antipasto to course 1 to course 2 to salad to fruit to coffee. The difference being that all this is instinctive for Italians; it comes naturally as just the way things are. They even order Chinese food as first courses (shrimp fried rice) and second courses (sweet and sour pork). There is no choice involved, no desire to break free and be adventurous, rebel and have that cappuccino after lunch or a second helping of pasta after your meat.

We Americans feel very confined in this regimented world. It does not come naturally to follow rules that invade our personal sphere. We eat what we want to eat, when we want to eat it and in any order we want to eat it. It is our right to personal self-expression. You eat what you want and I eat what I eat. I express myself and my personal place in the world by what I choose to eat.

Personally,” I’ll have an espresso, please”, because sometimes rules develop over centuries out of common sense and good taste.

More on unwritten rules and Italian creativity tomorrow.

A domani. E

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