This Ain’t No Starbucks

Yesterday I witnessed one of the biggest sins a person can commit in Italy.

As I stood at a bar sipping my cappuccino, I watched as a group of students walked inside. Based on their appearance, I did not need to hear their voices to know that they were American. While I was spooning out what remained of the froth from my caffeine fix, I listened intently as a girl wearing a Penn State shirt approached the cassa, the register.

Vorrei un café latte,” she said in an accent that was a mix of New Jersey and New York. The older woman at the bar turned to an older gentleman behind her, most likely her husband, and she repeated the order.

Although my coffee cup was nearly empty, I lingered for a few minutes longer and continued to overhear the Americans conversation. Amidst chatter about the beach and Itunes songs, the man at the counter began preparing the student’s order by placing a cup under the machine to catch the warm drips of caffeinated espresso. After securing her milk from a refrigerated drawer that also displayed a luscious chocolate cake, the girl suddenly interrupted.

E poi,” she began. Then she paused for a short moment as if compiling the vocabulary for what she wanted to say next. I anticipated that she would ask for a brioche or biscotti to accompany her morning beverage. What she asked for, however, made me gasp.

With a shrug and a sigh, it was clear that the girl struggled to find the right words. “Can I have the coffee to go?” she asked in English. Then, after finally remembering the word, she said, “Portare?” (to take).

The couple at the bar both looked at each other, and then the man turned to indicate the already fill cup of coffee sitting on the machine. It was clear that both were frustrated by the request, first because she asked after it had already been prepared, and second because the request was something simply unheard of in Italy.

Rather than preparing a new drink for the customer, the man poured the hot contents of the already prepared drink into a Styrofoam cup and covered it with a plastic lid. He handed it to his wife, who then placed it on the counter along with a receipt.

Unaware of the serious sin she had just committed, the student proceeded to take the cup and sweeten it with multiple packs of sugar. Then, with coffee in hand, she and her friends left the bar, giggling and gossiping as if nothing the wiser had happened.

As I watched the scene unfold, I felt stunned. Never before I had seen someone attempt to do the unthinkable and request a coffee to go in Italy. Even more to my surprise, the couple behind the bar accommodated her, though perhaps grudgingly. Meanwhile, as all this unfolded, the Italians customers sipping their drinks laughed in amusement. While I could not hear exactly what they were saying, it was obvious that the Italians were mimicking the American way of life.

Despite the fact that I had already been at the café before their arrival, I felt a sense of guilt through association with this student’s American identity. Though she was living thousands of miles away from home, the sinful customer could not distance herself from the American obsession with convenience and multi-tasking. Although I certainly miss my chai-tea lattes and iced coffees, there is just something so relaxing and comforting to take a few minutes in my morning to stand at the bar and sip a coffee. In America, I always feel anxious waiting for my caffeine of choice because I know that once in hand, I will then be off to do a million different things.

In Italy, however, this is never the case. I know not to expect to be in and out of the bar in three minutes. Instead, I have grown to appreciate the time its takes to greet the cashier, the efforts it takes to prepare my drink fresh, and the brief occasions when I stand by the bar with a mustache of cappuccino foam. These are moments of simplicity and comfort, and even when I pull into the drive-thru for a cup of coffee back in America, each sip will serve to remind me to slow down and savor such instances of warmth.

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One thought on “This Ain’t No Starbucks

  1. Pingback: Overhearing the World’s Words | Le Colline e La Città

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