Italia. The land of pizza, pasta, Vespas and of course romance. It’s also a place that has so many rules, even the locals get confused at times.
A friend of mine, who hails from that great Boot of the West, told me a story. He was visiting family in Milan and had some currency he needed to change. He went to the bank to do this and naturally negotiated in Italian.
However, when the teller asked for his ‘codice fiscale’, negotiations stopped; he’d never heard of such a thing. It is, in fact, a kind of tax file number/social security number every Italian resident now has.
My mate’s been living in Australia for some time now and the Italian government introduced this extra ID check in the meantime. So, when he told the teller he didn’t have one, the poor banker was confounded.
My friend learnt his lesson. The next time he went to the bank, he conducted the transaction in English with no problems at all.
Yup, they love rules over there. Love them! Here’s another one: everything in Italy comes with a receipt. Buy a gelato in Italy, you’ll get a receipt. Order a coffee in Italy, you’ll get a receipt. It’s not the shop keeper being facetious, it’s the law.
More than that, to buy a coffee in Italy you need to follow the strict conventions of the espresso bar.
First you order your coffee and pay. The member of staff will give you a receipt. Move down the counter to the barista (sometimes the same person!) and put the receipt on the counter. Don’t hand anything to anyone. It hits the counter first. Money, docket, everything.
The barista will make your coffee (in his or her own time) then produce it for you to season with sugar as you wish. You can then either stand at the bar or move away and drink.
By the way, because I am lazy, Mrs R ordered my coffee in Italy. This doesn’t work. Ordering multiple coffees often confuses your average Italian waiter and we rarely got what we’d ordered.
Note: by all means give ordering drinks in Italian a go. Just be ready to say everything a few times and be frowned at. Mrs Romance speaks very good Italian… unless she’s ordering coffee. Then it’s like she’s speaking Hottentot.
- Have your cash ready – don’t be dilly-dallying once you’ve ordered. The Italians are a passionate people. They can also get quite impatient!
- If there’s a bowl on the counter when you pay, put the money in it. The Italians aren’t as precious as the French, who hate hand-to-hand money exchange, but it’s better to either use the money bowl or put it on the counter.
- Italians only drink milky coffees before lunch – and often a cappuccino is seen as breakfast. After 12, you should be looking at an espresso or a macchiato at best.
- Order a café corretto after dinner. It literally means a ‘corrected’ coffee, and you’ll be offered a dazzling array of liqueurs to add to your espresso. I love a grappa corretto, but I’m a sadist! Other popular choices are Sambuca, Cointreau, Grand Marnier and even brandy or scotch in some places.
- Feeling in the need of a real heart-starter? Go for a doppio – a double espresso to you and me.
- Cafes are not like Starbucks. If you like your double-mocha-super-nut-triple-stipple-low-fat-soy-mug-a-ccino latte, better ask for a cup of tea in Italy. They won’t have a clue what you’re on about!