Thursday, 12 September 2013

Caffe Etiquette

In past issues we've provided a run-down of the various coffee drinks and aperitivi available in Italian cafes. You can walk in and order confidently. Or can you? Just what is the proper protocol when you go to a bar?

Stand or sit? It depends on your preference and your pocketbook. If you want a quick caffe, just stand at the bar and down it. If you want to relax, rest your feet, and soak in the atmosphere, then grab a table and hang out. In most cafes you just sit down and the waiter or barista will come to take your order. Larger piazza-side cafes in tourist areas may require you to check in with the server before being seated. Sitting and being served costs more than standing at the bar.

Self service? In most bars -- unless you're near a major tourist sight or want to sit at an outdoor table -- it is acceptable to order your coffee and take it to a table yourself. The price is the same as standing at the bar. This generally applies to the smaller, single-proprietor cafes. It's a general courtesy to bus your own table afterwards.

Pay first? Many guidebooks tell you to pay before order, then take your receipt to the bar and repeat your order to the barista. This holds true in the larger cities, but in smaller towns things are more casual. It is customary to order and drink your beverage, and pay afterwards. Frequently you'll have to remind the barista what you've consumed.

To tip or not to tip? Tipping is almost always a source of confusion for foreigners in Italy because tipping is commonplace in many other countries. In Italy tips are not expected, though una piccola mancia is always a nice gesture. If we do tip, it is a much smaller amount than in the US or England. In a bar, ten or twenty cents is the norm.

Learn Italian by Eating Pasta

We're pretty famous for our cuisine, and what is an Italian meal without a plate of pasta?  Really, we do love the stuff.  In fact, statistics say that we consume 60 pounds of it per person annually.  Atkins Diet?  Wouldn't go over too well in Italy!  Just to make sure we don't get bored, we have a rainbow of sauces and an awesome array of shapes.

Next time you peruse the grocery shelf or a restaurant menu, you can instantly learn Italian just by reading the pasta types.  They're more than cute monikers, they each have a meaning which corresponds to the shapes.  So mangia, and brush up on your Italian - no grammar lessons or dictionary required.
  • Cavatappi: corkscrews
  • Cappellini: fine hair
  • Conchiglie: shells
  • Ditalini: little fingers
  • Farfalle: butterflies
  • Fusilli: spindles
  • Gnocchi: knuckles
  • Mezze maniche: short sleeves
  • Rigatoni: wide stripes
  • Orecchiette: little ears
  • Penne: feathers or pens
  • Spaghetti: strings (also means twine)
  • Tagliatelle: narrow cuts
  • Gemelli: twins
  • Radiatore: little radiators
  • Manicotti: cooked sleeves
  • Vermicelli: little worms

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