13 April 2011

Let Me Pay!

Small town etiquette.

One of the pleasures of life in Italy is the coffee. Those who follow this blog know I am passionate about caffé, and my struggles with getting a decent tazza in the USA.

Having a caffé at an Italian bar is more than just the drink, but also the interactions with the barista and other patrons. I also quickly realized that there is a slightly different interaction here in Lucanella as to who pays for the coffee.

In Ascoli Piceno the person who said “prendiamo un caffé” was the person who expected to pay. At less than a euro for a caffé this was as much a symbolic offering as a courtesy. Here in Lucanella I have discovered a different take on who buys the caffé.

The first few times we were in a bar with local friends and tried to buy a caffé we got the “you must be kidding” look from the barista. It can create a brutta figura to let a guest buy their own caffé. We also had several experiences where we would enter the bar and there would be another patron already present who we didn’t yet know. When we finished we would learn that the person who just left had already paid for our caffé.

We have since determined that the custom is that if you are in the bar and others come in after you for a caffé, you buy for everyone. This can be tricky, as in any small town everyone knows each other; though they may not all like each other. Politics and family histories can go way way back. Our dilemma is often that we enjoy having a pastry with our morning caffé but it can be a brutta figura to order a caffé and cornetto when someone else is paying.

Such is life in small town Italy. We learn new things day by day – piano, piano.


Anonymous said...

We also learned this lesson. When we go home to Itri we often have a routine that we follow with family there - certain times of the day we visit certain places for caffe. Always we have caffe' the same Sports bar every morning and later in the day it is another bar. For some odd reason one chilly evening we stopped for cappucino at a different place in order to talk to friends. The espresso was HORRID and COLD!!!! Ugh! Well the next morning we were back to our routine with one special twist - I mentioned to the barista serving me how glorious it was to see steaming espresso and how delightful it tasted! That settled that - I was no longer allowed to ever pay for my own caffe'! I became his guest!

Patricia said...

Ah...the subtleties of life in a small Italian town. It must take a lifetime to learn it all! Great post. We struggle with this every time we visit cousins. Once we thought we had figured out a work around...arranging with a trattoria owner to host a small dinner for our family and at the end paying for it with our credit card. The charge never appeared on our bill and I know my cousin had made his "own" arrangements.

Bryan said...

Valentinoswife & Patricia - There is nothing like the experiences of small town Italy.

Keith said...

Great post! I never knew about this custom, and it explains a lot! Will remember next to have plenty of cash on hand when I go and get coffee. I can only imagine with my luck that half the town would come in :)

Bryan said...

Keith - We are fortunate that if we don't have enough cash on hand that since we know all of the baristi in town that our credit is good enough to buy for whoever we wish.

liz said...

Ah, the smell of caffe and the clinking sound of the cups and saucers when you walk into the bar is none other. You are making me miss Italy so bad right now.

Love the new look of the blog...

Nel said...

The blog is very good!

Bryan said...

Liz - The sound of cups and plates as you walk down a city street is always music to my ears. I'm glad you like the blog changes.

Nel - Thanks for the look!