January 23, 2007

time is a noun

I am so excited; I have truly entered the internet community of Time magazine cover fame. Thanks to all of you who have left comments – little warm fuzzies, I love them.

So today I am going to comment on a comment -- clearly a “cultural moment” one. It goes like this
“….they don’t show up for a party or they come 2 hours late with two uninvited extras and you only have enough chairs for the invitees. Ahhhhh well. Allora.”

What is going on? Any observation that starts with “they don’t….” is usually a sign that a cultural moment is coming on – anger, frustration, confusion, homesickness etc. It is true. Italians do (sometimes) show up late (two hours is excessive) and bring along uninvited guests. Why do they do that? Or better yet, why don’t we? We don’t because we have a time thing. We come from the most rigid, linear time orientation of any culture in the world -- one where time is a noun (i.e. money). Where time can be bought, saved or used. We can put it in a box. It exists as a tangible partner in every moment of our day and demands respect.

Our time orientation comes through in how we prepare a meal for guests. Everything has to be ready at the same time, served on the same plate, in precise, measure amounts. Therefore, it is very important that everyone arrive on time so as to not destroy the orchestrated triumph of meal timing. A meal has to start -- at a certain time -- and end -- very quickly -- so that we can get on to “doing” other things, even if that is just sitting around and talking.

In a culture where time is more of a verb than a noun, the rhythm of a meal is active. In an Italian meal, everything does not have to be ready at the same time; in fact there are different courses. To allow for latecomers, the first course is not prepared until everyone has arrived, then it is just a 10 minute pasta boil away. The amounts of food are flexible too. If you find a couple of extra mouths at the table you just throw in a couple of additional etti and stretch the sauce, no problem. The emphasis is on the company, the meal will happen quite naturally when everyone is ready – con calma! In any case, there is nothing else to do afterwards but linger over the table. Eating (whenever) in company (whomever that may include) is the point of the evening.

Just make sure to keep some cheap folding chairs on hand.

Oops – I have gone over my self-imposed 400 word limit for the day.

A domani,

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