Every country has its own set of rules about social etiquette. You probably already know that the Japanese bow in greeting. Americans shake hands. And the Italians kiss both cheeks.
But did you know that Italians refuse food? Yes, you heard right, Italians refuse food!
We Americans are pretty blunt and forthright. Perhaps too much so sometimes! So when someone asks, “Would you like a cup of coffee (or whatever), we say what we feel. Not so in Italy! But we’d been here a while before I caught on to that…
You can speak a language without understanding the mindset behind it. And so doing, I always offered coffee when our good friend Antonio visited. “No grazie, I don’t care for any,” he invariably replied. So we never made him coffee. I mean, you can’t force someone, right? Wrong!
Italians expect you to insist when offering food or drink!
Unbeknownst to me, parents here teach children at a tender age to refuse anything offered. “You don’t want to seem rude or greedy,” they’re told. So kids learn in a big hurry to accept something only when forced. At least then they can say, “But she insisted!”
But finally, after who knows how many visits, dear Antonio finally got brave enough to question my inadequacies as a hostess! “Why don’t you ever offer me coffee when I visit?”
And when I assured, in confusion, that I always did, he replied, “Yes, but only once!” And seeing my utter astonishment added, ” You’re supposed to offer at least three times! It’s rude to accept before the third offer!”
“How silly!” I thought. But with enough sense to keep my opinion to myself. And to my American mind, how confusing! But then fine cuisine, and the serving of it, doesn’t hold as much importance to many Americans. To the Italian, however, correct preparation, serving, and eating of proper cuisine is of monumental significance!
So if you come to Italy, remember Italians refuse food. And so should you!
Don’t seem too eager to take what’s offered. Or they’ll think, “Another one of those greedy, uncouth foreigners!” And likewise, don’t you dare leave a crumb on your plate! The guest who doesn’t lick his platter clean insults the hostess. “He didn’t like my food,” she thinks.
And an extra tip: Don’t actually lick your plate clean. Just do the Scarpetta! Rather than seeming uncouth, it’s the best compliment you can pay the cook!
Just remember. Don’t seem too greedy at first. But once you’ve got it, greedily eat it all!
And most Italians are such great cooks that doing the scarpetta is not a sacrifice at all!