I heard somewhere that when we travel and experience different cultures we learn not only about others, we also learn about ourselves. Last month, I went to Italy with some members of my family. Early on during the trip we began playing a game called, “Who Does It Best—The U.S. or Italy?” For instance, who does public restrooms best? The U.S. because restrooms are everywhere and they are FREE. Who does public transportation best? Italy—I live in Northeast Tarrant County where there is none! Who does pizza best? I’m not even going to answer that one—NO BRAINER!
One morning the question surfaced, “Who does breakfast best?” We decided that the U.S. wins this battle for several reasons. 1) Who eats salami and prosciutto for breakfast? Granted, the meats were delicious, but I would have preferred them later in the day—on a sandwich or a pizza. 2) Who wants green beans for breakfast? Again, LOVE GREEN BEANS, but not first thing in the morning! 3) Most importantly—coffee. The Italians like their coffee STRONG and usually offer an “American-style” for us weaker souls. Both are delicious. The problem I had was NOT with coffee, but rather the way it was served—always in a cup and saucer—always. Lovely idea, but where were the big American to-go cups, the 16 oz. Grande or, better yet, the 20 oz. Venti????? We had places to go, people to see!! We were on a schedule and didn’t have time to sit and savor—we wanted to get it and GO!! So, every morning at our hotel we had to park next to the coffee bar and make our 4-5 “quick trips” to get our coffee fix before scurrying out for a day of sightseeing. Who does morning coffee better?? Clearly, US!!!
Then I noticed that it wasn’t just the hotel; I didn’t see “to-go” cups anywhere. There was no such thing as fast-food either. If you wanted to grab a bite to eat or get a quick drink (other than bottled water) you HAD to sit down at one of the many sidewalk cafés. What was wrong with these people??
We were in Italy a total of nine days. I don’t know exactly when it struck me—probably about half way through the trip, sitting at a lovely sidewalk café—that perhaps these Italians are on to something. I began to notice that the Italian people approach meals—eating and drinking—differently than most of us Americans. Whereas, we often grab and gulp, they linger over every meal. I began to understand that for them, food and drink is not simply fuel for the body—“It’s lunchtime; I’m hungry so fill ‘er up!” Instead, they believe a meal should be savored, enjoyed—and preferably shared—regardless of how simple. It occurs to me that when we do that, when we slow down, when we take the time to linger over meal—whether it’s good ole chicken nuggets and a Coke or the most elegant osso bucco and a glass of pinot noir—we cannot help but feel grateful. Grateful for the food, grateful for the drink, grateful for moment, grateful for life– la bella vita!