When I hopped off the plane, it was a frigid, but sunny Tuesday morning in Rome. From that moment, I knew that my journey here would be challenging, entertaining, and rich in knowledge. As an American, I’ve been exposed to luxuries that I don’t have access to in Italy – among them – a dryer, reliable wifi, and a Keurig machine, to name a few.
So imagine my excitement when I stepped into my very first Café in Viterbo; Café San Sisto, to order a cappuccino. Ordering the drink in Italian seemed like a challenge akin to introducing myself to my classmates in Kindergarten on the first day. I literally had no idea what I was ordering. I’ve come to expect that in Italy these days, though. Reading menus in Italian, trying to decipher every little word using my Rick Steves pocket phrasebook that my sister gave me for Christmas, I sure looked like a tourist.
Back at the coffee shop, which I’m still going to say since that’s what we call Dunkin Donuts back on the East Coast, it took me about five minutes to order my first cappuccino because I was trying my hardest to speak proper Italian when ordering. I finally got my cappuccino and I really felt like it was a big accomplishment. I mean I was about as proud of myself as I was after I learned to ride a bicycle. It seems silly that such a simple thing could have made me feel so proud.
As I approached Riccardo, the barista at San Sisto, to pay for my delicious cappuccino, I felt a few glares from other Italians in the Café. I wondered why at first, but after careful study learned that Italians rarely pay when they get their drink. Instead, they choose to pay after they’ve sat down and taken the time to enjoy a nice hot drink – whether it be caffe, caffe latte, ciocolatta calda, cappuccino, or something else. By the way, the ciocolatta calda drink in Italy is an addiction on its own. Think of hot chocolate crossed with chocolate pudding in the U.S. and you have ciocolatta calda.
What originally seemed foreign to me, or at the very least odd – given that we are trained to pay for our goods immediately in the U.S. has now become one of the most comforting aspects of staying in Italy. Normally I’d walk into Dunkin Donuts, order my medium French vanilla coffee with skim milk and maybe, maybe, sit down and enjoy it. Though I can say that about 90 percent of the time, I’m out the door before the attendant can say ‘Have a nice day.’ Its either the former or going through the drive–thru for me.
What makes ordering coffee in Italy special to me is the capability to suppress my Americanized tendencies and live freely, mostly for the benefit of learning something new. After class every day, I walk to any Caffe within the area and order a cappuccino con cacao (with cocoa) and it only costs me 1,00 €!
That’s my go-to drink because it makes me feel safe and comfortable – like I belong here.I can sit for hours, read a book, watch a show on Netflix, or get some homework done courtesy of the free wifi. No matter how long I sit, there is no one constantly approaching me to hand the check over or to rush me out so they can push another sale. Italians take their time, and they don’t care how much time you take either.
The best part is that the baristas here take time to construct each cup. Each one has a different design, but they always, and I mean always, look nice. Think of ordering a latte from Dunkin Donuts after seeing it on TV. Think you got what you saw on TV? Obviously not. We get our hopes up and are forever disappointed. I call that picture food. In Italy, though, you don’t have that problem.
What you would see on a poster, you actually get. I’ve noticed that Italians put a lot of love into their food and serving their customers and it really shows. I am always impressed with the cappuccino that I receive. The cappuccino alone is probably enough to keep me here in Italy for the long haul.
My advice to you all is to try a cappuccino con cacao (if you haven’t already). Sit down, relax, stay awhile because you’ll feel so refreshed when you finally do get up to pay for your drink.