This post is not for the faint of heart. Just a warning, read at your own risk!
Today my hubby had the day off, so we drove the kids to school and snuck away for a little espresso and cornetto (typical Italian breakfast).
We Took a leisurely stroll in the rain to a bar down the street. For my Americans, the bar does serve alcohol but mostly it serves caffe and pastry, especially in the mornings. There are always at least two bars in sight from wherever you stand in Italy. And everyone has their favorite one, usually based on the brand of coffee they use at the bar.
Today we walk in and it's very busy due to the rain - teenagers getting a little something before school, adults off to work downing an espresso and the little old ladies having cappuccino before grocery shopping. I was looking forward to a moment with Chris before we ourselves were heading off to an appointment.
Let me briefly explain the process at a bar. There are pretty strict rules to follow when you enter one. I read about them in a cultural indoctrination book and was taught them in cultural awareness training, but you can't appreciate them until you live them. Here is my version:
Rule 1: Starbucks is not a Caffe bar.
I know you can order a macchiato or mocha cappuccino or frappucino and you can order drinks in "venti" or "trenta" but Starbucks is not even close! The rules that follow will explain further, but when you don't understand, refer to rule number 1!
Rule 2: Pay first then order
This rule doesn't make sense, but at many bars the person at the register isn't a barista. So you pay, take your receipt to the "bar" and tell them what you want. Being new to Italy makes this difficult when you might want some sort of pastry and you don't know the Italian name for it! Or even how to order your coffee. But in time you learn. Best not to practice this at peak hours because you will be steamrolled by either the workers at the bar or the customers but at less busy times, like the afternoon when Italians take riposo is a great time to practice.
Rule 3: There is no line!
Italians don't wait in line for anything! The just push their way in front of you. If you think you are in line, you will never, ever get served. And once you understand this rule, everything in Italy makes more sense!
Rule 4: No cappuccini after lunch
In Italy, cappuccino is a breakfast caffe. It is enjoyed with a Cornetto which the rest of the world calls a croissant. It is usually filled with cream, chocolate or frutti di bosco (quite literally, "fruit of the forest" or "mixed berries"). No Italian would order a cappuccino after lunch unless the work the night shift and the evening is their morning.
Rule 5: You get what you get
I had been on vacation in Florence and went to the same bar there every morning. A friend of mine and I each got a cappuccino. Her's always had chocolate powder on top. Mine had a fancy cream design. We didn't order any differently. The guy at the bar made us what he wanted to make! If chocolate powder was handy, he'd dust the coffee before pouring the steamed milk foam into the cup. If not, he'd just pour a beautiful heart shape. Can you tell them that's not what you ordered? Sure! But you might not want to go back again. Italians drink their coffee so fast they probably don't even notice! Which brings us to...
Rule 6: No sitting
Ok, you can sit, but you'll pay for it. Literally you will pay! If you sit down then you actually don't pay up front. You are treated like you came into a restaurant and a server will take your order. And when you receive your bill, you will see the charge for "coperto". Coperto is a fee you pay at any restaurant. It's per person and can be spendy. Restaurants are usually 2-4 euro per person! Caffe bars are usually less, but when you are only paying 60 cents for a caffe, you're paying more for the seat you occupy than the caffe itself! Just stand and be quick about it. Drink up and move along. An Italian friend told me, "Italians are always in a hurry. To go where? I'm not sure. But it isn't to work!". No one is at the bar more than a minute or two after their caffe is poured. Drink and move along!
Rule 7: No tipping
Italians don't tip. At least not like Americans do. We tip for everything in America. In Italy, tipping is not required. If you feel you received extraordinary service you can leave a little something but not just because they did their job. A refreshing approach. Although I must say in a lot of places the service industry suffers because of it. They really need help in this area because although they are so friendly and welcoming, they aren't always the best at friendly customer service. I've seen good and bad and it's pretty 50-50!
Rule 8: Drink often!
It's so quick that you are in and out of the bar, and many Italians will stop in a bar 4-6 times a day! They may make espresso at home too. I think that this is how they stay thin or how they survive the late nights. I don't know but the enjoy caffe frequently!
Well those are the rules. Now back to my story :)
Again, very busy morning at the bar. Chris an I push ourselves to the register to order two caffe and two cornetto. As we were about to order, the man at the register grabs a used tissue from his pocket and sneezes big into it. Then he shoved it back in his pocket, gave the girl her change and served her her bottle of water and cups, caffe and cornetto! Eeewwww! Chris starts to freak out. I suggest we go to the next bar (as I mentioned before, there is always another bar half a block away) but a lady swooped in and took our order. She also got our cornetto while another gal set our little saucers down and prepared our caffe. (yay) But the whole time, we could not take our eyes of Sneezy! He continued to use that tissue until it couldn't hold anymore sneezes. Then he went to his bare hands!!! He didn't once go wash his hands. He was singing and sneezing all morning long. I was trying to distract my hubby with the YouTube video "Italy vs. Europe" (a must-see by the way) but alas, he could not take his eyes off Sneezy as he went to the kitchen and brought out trays of cornetti. Luckily we got out of there before Hubby got angry enough to punch him in the sneezer like he wanted to!
I just want to thank those lovely ladies for saving us today by stepping in and standing the gap between us and Sneezy Germ Man. They certainly deserved the breaking of Rule #7!
And my new Rule!
Rule 9: Please don't sneeze in my cornetto!!!