Italy’s Sabbath Sundays: thoughts and stories about grocery shopping, relationships, long meals and bottled water:
Today is Sunday and almost every shop is closed for the whole day. Most markets open throughout the week are also closed. The few places that are open are more often than not, owned and operated by foreigners. I found this a little hard to get used in when I was living in Florence in 2003 but only because during my first few weeks there, I would forget to buy groceries on Saturday. On Sunday afternoon I would walk over a mile to the grocery store (past lots of shops and cafes that were closed no less!) only to notice the empty parking lot at the grocery store and remember the store, like all the others I had passed, was closed. I would be stuck with what I had on hand or borrowing from my neighbor until the next day when I would have to make the trek again!
Once I got in the habit of making sure ahead of time I had food for Sunday, I really warmed up to this aspect of Italian life (though I confess I still forget every now and then to buy ahead on Saturdays!). The whole country takes a Sabbath rest on Sundays. No work, just, in the words of an old McDonald’s slogan: “food, folks and fun!” I love the importance Italians place on people, especially family. It is almost as though they reason: “if you are going to eat, the food should taste delicious. If you are going to eat delicious food, you should slow down and enjoy it. And if you are going to slow down and enjoy a delicious meal, it is best enjoyed with the ones you love!”
This is definitely something I resonate with because I am by nature always prioritizing quality over quantity (though when it comes to food, Italians do both extremely well!). Italians find it completely reasonable to spend a couple of hours (or more!) making a meal and another couple enjoying it! I do not like to eat fast but I do like to eat hot food while it is still hot. In America I can be overwhelmed when a waiter brings me my meal: all three courses, all of which are hot, all at once! And I, a slow eater, am expected to eat it all before it gets cold?! But here in Italy, this dilemma is rare. I get to enjoy each course as it comes, one at a time. I should clarify that this is a generalization, Italians do not take several hours eating every meal but it is very much the norm for dinner during the week and most especially the meal served Sunday afternoons.
WHEN you come to visit, do not think your waiter has forgotten to bring you your check after all the plates have been taken away and everyone is clearly done eating. This is one of many cultural differences that supports this value placed on eating meals together and enjoying the company you are with: waiters do not rush you to leave so they can use the table for the line of guests waiting to be seated. Stay as long as you’d like! Chat. Visit. Laugh. Enjoy the company you are among and do not feel rushed to head out for the sake of getting back to your list of errands, chores, and other tasks that feel so pressing. Relationships are the most valuable things we have and need to be treasured and treated as such, each and every day. Easier said than done I know, especially in the task-oriented atmosphere of the States but I write this as a much-needed reminder for my task-oriented self as well!
Here’s a final illustration: one of the longest meals I have ever had at a restaurant in Italy was in the Spring of 2003. It was Spring Break and my friend Amy and I spent the week traveling to Rome, Naples, Capri and Pompeii. Our first night in Naples we ate at a pizzeria. We each ordered a pizza (here this is the norm, for everyone to order their own). It was our custom to sit and chat after we finished a meal until we had finished all the water we had ordered. We did this because you have to pay for the water (it always comes bottled), you can’t take the bottle with you and neither of us wanted to waste our money on water we had purchased but didn’t drink! That night we were chatting about who knows what but in the mist of our discussion and drinking our water, we forgot we needed to ask the waiter for the check. It wasn’t until several hours later we realized how long we had been there and remembered we had to ask our waiter for “il conto.” The waiter had never once given us a weird look or pressured us to hurry up. Why should we be in a hurry to leave good company?