March 13, 2007

Ravioli with computer

I am back from a week up north -- a combination of family and fun, too much of both to be caught online!

On Sunday, we passed through Verona for lunch with my PMIL at a lovely restaurant* near the casa di Giulietta where we enjoyed exquisite homemade pastas to start, fish dishes on next, some local white wine and espresso to round it off. The place was full of Veronese families on Sunday outings, a post-baptism festa downstairs (a boy judging from the blue ribbons lining the stairs) and a few tourists – two American women with a small child.

“Oh no” I thought as they settled in at the table next to ours, but the three-year-old made no fuss or noise, nor did he whine, run around or roll about under the table as his mother and friend dined on pasta and fagioli and pumpkin ravioli respectively, salads and sweets. I peeked over my PMIL’s shoulders and saw the reason why: he was on his knees with his elbows on the table and eyes transfixed on a small Sony computer. He was in another world, that of the screen. He didn’t even drink the glass of milk his mother had ordered and ate only a pack of gummy bears, groping for the bag and distractedly popping them one by one into his mouth.

Mega reverse cultural moment! I didn’t like this American cultural assimilation process. The boy was learning that meals are not necessarily a time and place for social interaction. He did not have to deal with other people, converse, listen, be bored and watch the walls, fidget and be reprimanded for doing so. Instead it was OK for him to be off in another virtual world instead of participating in the one around him. I have never seen an Italian mother allow a child that luxury at the table.

Lunch with the family in a public place is a painfully slow and tiresome experience for small children where they learn the importance of interdependence -- their inevitable and irrevocable roles in the family. When they get older, they cannot opt out of family dinner by grazing through the kitchen on their way out the door or holing up in their rooms with a nuked burrito. Family meals must be reckoned with and even enjoyed, even in adolescence. Meals in the company of others, at the table is still a cultural imperative, for Italians, not for the little blond three-year-old passing through Verona. He will choose to be a part of family meals or not, as he wishes, at his choice, as he did in Verona where his mother taught him that it is OK not to participate, if it is not to his convenience and desire.

a domani,

*Ristorante Greppia
Vicolo Samaritana, 3
tel+39 045 8004577

closed on Mondays


Valerie said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly on this one. I'm not American (Canadian), but I see the same thing and I get a pang of fear of what the world will be like in the future, with nobody being able to interact with one another. There is already some evidence in India, of a higher suicide rate among young people who have not learned to interact socially, due to computers. We are social animals, genetically encoded to be so. If we aren't able to interact with others, it affects us psychologically. I'm usually pretty liberal in my thinking, but if I ruled the world the parents that you observed would be charged with being unfit parents. The Italians really do get this right.

KC said...

I ate at Greppia when I was in Verona and it was wonderful, one of the best meals I ever had in Italy, not including what I cook in my own kitchen, of course! ;)