Archive | September, 2011

Back in the arms of my Italian family

24 Sep

I just arrived last night in Rome back from a business trip in Russia.  You know the type: running from meeting to meeting, and dining alone each night.  I enjoyed Russia, but from the very nature of my trip, I could not say that I got an intimate feel of Russia or its people.

Back in Rome upon arrival, Alessandro met me and took me straight to the town of Fumicino, the little fishing port that has been co-opted by Rome’s International airport.  Although perhaps not a tourism destination in its own right, it is full of wonderful Italian seafood restaurants.

We walked into our usual place and it as packed.  Families, lovers, children, grandparents expressing cherished memories, lovers’ quarrels, babies’ cries – were all bouncing off the walls. There is a Neapolitan love song that translates as “some words are bitter and some words are sweet, but all are words of love.”  I couldn’t help but feel that in this room full of strangers sharing their emotions so openly – the good, the bad, the ugly – that I was part of this enormously boisterous family.

At the end of the night, the family next to us celebrating the birthday of their patriarch came over to our table to share slices of birthday cake, and the restauranteur brought out the chilled bottle of limoncello.  It’s great to be home.



How to tell if you are shopping in the Italian black market

10 Sep

The tendency of Italians to engage in shady and questionable financial practices is well known. Just recently it was reported than less than 800 Italians report an income of over a million euros. And this in a country where the tax arm of the government is actually a military division!

So how do you know if you are inadvertently taking part in an undocumented financial exchange?

Here’s a clue. Last night I took a city taxi from Rome’s Termini station, and asked for a receipt. Happy to obligate, the driver earnestly wrote out a receipt and handed it to me; with:

“Night club: 1001 lap dances”

at the top.

I kinda wish I had not insisted on an official receipt. I would have loved to see the look on my accountant’s face when I submitted a receipt for lap dances.

An post-script to my “coffee at the Italian office vs work ethic” post

8 Sep

Conveniently following my post the other day, which muses about the impact of coffee on the work ethic of Italians, I happened to have my first business meeting in Italy at an office.

The woman there kindly asked if we would care for an espresso or a cappuccino.  We choose the cappuccino…and within a few minutes a lovely man, wonderfully attired in the elegant clothes of an Milanese barista arrived with a tray; presenting our cappuccinos in cups and saucers.  Apparently they don’t have a coffee maker in the office, it is hand-delivered from the bar across the street.

I was so amazed that I neglected to take a picture, but really, you should have seen it – especially if you’ve become accustomed to office-standard lukewarm coffee in plastic cups served with non-dairy creamer.

The upshot is that I

Thoughtfully covered in foil to keep it piping hot for the 2 minute delivery time.

think I would order coffee all the time while at work – although I am not sure it would improve my productivity!


A little insight into how the Italian work ethic is different

6 Sep

As a Canadian living in Rome, you get several indications that the Italian work ethic is different. For example, just try to get something — anything — done between 12:30 and 3:30; every shop, post office, bank, gas station, tabacchi (to buy metro tickets), etc. will be closed. The markets pack up 15 minutes before closing time, or shopkeeper continues to shut his door as you are walking in.

I used to think it was because Italians in general seem to make much lower salaries than their western counterparts, and were simply unmotivated to be productive (it will forever be a mystery to me how Italians can afford their shoes).

But I think I’ve figured it out – and the secret lies in coffee usage! In North American offices, coffee is a ritual largely of the workplace. Of all the coffee you drink in a day, what percentage of it is consumed at work? For us, coffee is the fuel and lubricant that give us the energy and clarity to get through the work day.

But, I’ve just read in my Italian book that Italians drink 600 cups of espresso or cappuccino a year: 70% at home, 20% at cafes —

Cremina - the perfect sugar for coffee; it's sugar blended with a little coffee until smooth and creamy......

and only 10% at work.

Clearly the caffeine jolt of coffee is being used to fuel personal lives in Italy. Is coffee consumption the reason Italians have developed such a highly evolved “dolce vita?”

A great entertaining trick for Italian dinners

2 Sep

Saw this last night at a wonderful organic neighborhood restaurant in Rome called Gaia bio. Pasta as napkin holders!