One of the things that has always intrigued Catherine Fulvio about Italians is their strict rules and routines around food and living. Here she reflects on some funny experiences as she learned the Italian rules for life since getting together with her Sicilian husband, Claudio.
Whilst our children love to laugh when Daddy is having his ‘Italian Moments’ – for example, getting annoyed that the tomatoes aren’t ripe or that the pasta is overcooked – when out for a meal, I can tell you that Claudio has had many an opportunity to laugh at his wife having her ‘Irish Moments’ in our early days in Sicily.
‘Excuse us, my wife is Irish’ is his most used phrase. There were some things at the beginning that I just didn’t understand – sure there are even things that I still don’t understand, such as what is really wrong with a little drop of milk in coffee after 12pm?
Claudio’s favourite dinner party story is about the time that I took the children to the beach – we were paddling. Okay, so it was January but the sun was shining and it felt like late spring. We had our coats on but our naked feet were in the water. And so, the police stopped and shouted to us. By the look of annoyance on their faces, I thought we had committed some serious crime. ‘Excuse us, my wife is Irish.’ It turns out the Sicilians don’t paddle in the winter. The police gave a bit of a lecture. It was as if we had climbed the Sugarloaf in our swimming togs when snowing, such was the crime. And so, I know now, ‘the mountains in the winter, the sea in the summer’ I was informed.
And then there was the day in May (it was 19˚C) that I got told off by an elderly gentleman for not having my then baby fully covered in the buggy. ‘Excuse us, my wife is Irish.’
Very early on in our relationship, I learned that in order to keep Claudio smiling, we should avoid mainstream or chain Italian restaurants outside of Italy. No disrespect at all to the restaurants, it’s just that the food was not at all ‘like Mamma makes’. You might think this is a cliché, but I assure you, it’s true. Oh, and he gets very upset when someone asks for ‘tag-lia-telly’. It’s ‘ta-lhee-a-tell-ei’!
And more importantly, even though I was new to the Italian language, I could see his lips curl when I ordered ‘brew-shetta’. In order to avoid a disdainful glance, I should now share that it is in fact ‘brou-sket-ta’.
But my biggest sin has to be ordering a cappuccino after lunch – and before you judge me, just please remember that it was years ago, I had a lot to learn! The embarrassment was huge. The whole table beside us started to laugh. The waiter held his dignity but I was sure he had told the whole kitchen who surely were sniggering at me. ‘Excuse me, my wife ...’ You get the picture!
But what I don’t have to worry about is that it is common not to accept food when first offered – it is polite to wait for a re-offering. Now there is something that we Irish do have in common with the Italians. Mrs Doyle from ’Father Ted’ would be well understood in Italy!