I write this having got back from Italy earlier today. As I arrived back at my parents’ house (I return to Manchester on Wednesday) The Red Arrows flew over ahead – how kind of the country to lay on such a salute to mark my return to UK shores. (They were actually headed to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta that ran this weekend.)
My family and I spent a night in Siena at the start of the holiday and then drove to the Le Marche region of Italy, stopping off en route at the stunning town of Assisi. After six nights at a villa we then drove to Pisa to see the tower and then flew back.
As we were travelling I noted the Italian way of doing things, especially when it comes to dining. As a nation, they are much more laid-back than the British (except when it comes to driving). This casual attitude, in my opinion, showed in their service at the restaurants and cafes in which we ate. I am not saying it is a bad thing; it was just different from what one normally experiences in Britain.
Before I go further, a word on the structure of the traditional Italian meal. Whereas in many countries you have your first course, main course and pudding, in Italy there are usually four courses (although sometimes more). They start with the antipasto – an assortment of cold meats, cheeses, olives and the like; then comes the primo, which is a pasta or rice dish (sometimes soup). This is followed by a secondo, which will be meat or fish. Finally, they have the dolce: the pudding. With all these courses (and don’t forget the bread that accompanies the savoury courses) it is easy to see why I have probably underdone all the good work I’ve been doing in the gym over the last few weeks. However, I pose this question… why are most Italians all so slim?!
Going back to the casual Italian manner: on the Thursday night of our stay we went to a Michelin starred restaurant just outside of Treia. The food was very good, but for the primo course the plates were brought out in no particular order and with long gaps in-between each person’s meal. (This may just be the restaurant but there were other places we ate that had similar quirks in their service.) This is probably down to the laid-backed attitude that Italians have towards life.
What was most heartening to see was that children as young as 3 were all eating dinner with their family. The children were beautifully dressed (the Italians have great style); they sat at the table without any fuss or restraining from parents, and they made very little excess noise. Sadly, in Britain, you often see what my grandmother calls ‘free-range children’, who refuse to sit still, scream, and belt around the restaurant. It was so refreshing to see such wonderfully behaved children. I put this down to practice and exposure from an early age. Children must be shown what they are supposed to do, and immersed in these situations from a very early age otherwise they will one day sit at a dining table and it will be alien to them, and thus you will get ‘free-range children’. It is no good to just expect the little darlings to somehow have an innate knowledge of what to do, or what the expectations are.
I thoroughly enjoyed my Italian trip and I look forward to returning to the country soon. Italy really is a special place.