Italians are amazing. They sit down to mountainous plates of spaghetti and immediately start talking to each other. When they stop talking long enough to take a breath three-and-a-half minutes later, all traces of spaghetti have magically vanished. This is where I start panicking. See, three-and-a-half minutes are exactly long enough for me to eat two bites of pasta, provided I don’t take breaks to talk, drink, or breathe. And anyone unlucky enough to lag behind during an Italian meal might as well stay overnight, because that’s how long it will take to catch up on the meat course, the drinks, the vegetable platter, the drinks, the bread basket, the drinks, the obligatory seconds of everything, the drinks, the dessert, the drinks, the fruit tray, the drinks, the espresso, the liquor shots, and — because your bladder is far too empty — the drinks.
Foreigners beware! Anyone accepting an Italian’s invitation to dinner should have the ability to:
– Politely shovel vast amounts of food into his/her mouth, while
– Politely interrupting everyone at the table, since that is the only feasible way to join in the conversation, while also
– Politely keeping both elbows on the table (much harder than it sounds!), all the while
– Politely declining the hostess’s urgings to eat seconds, thirds, and fourths of everything,
– Keeping in mind that “No thank you, my stomach is already bursting” translates to “I am on the verge of starvation; keep the food coming!” in the minds of Italian hostesses.
In fact, someone should offer courses on Italian dining, at the end of which certification cards would be issued stating that the bearer has sufficient stomach capacity and chewing velocity to accept dinner invitations. “Can you come to dinner tonight?” “Sorry, I haven’t passed Dessert Endurance 101 yet, but call me in a month!”
I just realized I am making Italian meals sound like something to be avoided, which could not be farther from the truth. The food is incredible, the conversation is lively, and the hospitality is legendary. For Italians, eating is much more than a survival tactic; it is an experience. It is pleasure and relaxation and companionship and satisfaction and life being thoroughly lived. I just need to expand various internal organs before the next time I’m invited to live this thoroughly!