A characteristic Italian meal is later, longer, local, seasonal, and social. Before I left for Italy, I went to a sermon that talked about how meals are important to developing faith and blessing your neighbors, and that is something that really resonated with me on my trip.
Befriending tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus sets an example for us by sitting down with people that were supposedly far from God. Sharing a meal with them is a very critical point in scripture and says so much about his character. Jesus, friend of sinners. When forming relationships with other people, eating together is a fairly common step that everyone looks to take. Inviting someone over for a meal with your family is a very precious invitation. I think that college students especially feel this way when sharing meals with other people. It feels weird to eat alone sometimes, and in college, it really means something when someone wants to meet with you for a meal or coffee. It means that they have gone out of their way to meet you and carve out some of their time to accommodate you. I think that anyone can agree that feeling of appreciation is unique.
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11:19
In Italy, it is not uncommon for meals to last hours on end, letting people laugh and talk and savor both the food and each other’s company. One Friday night in Arezzo was spent getting late night crepes at Crepes di Lune, and walking through town at 23:00 or so, there were so many people out at dinner. The town felt alive. I felt warm inside, as I watched people eat with their families, or sip on some wine with their friends, or enjoy some live music with their significant other. As I ate my crepe alongside two of my new friends, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of spending precious time with loved ones and slowly eating my crepe.
I have found that I and a lot of my classmates eat much, much faster than Italians. Perhaps it is because we are absolutely famished all the time, but I think it is also something that we have become acclimated to. Most places in Italy do not serve anything “to-go”, and it is fairly hard to find a fast-food restaurant anywhere. Bars (coffeeshops) generally do not serve coffee in to-go cups, and there is only one Starbucks in all of Italy. Americans always seem to be in a hurry in comparison, and that even shows when we walk 10 times faster than the locals here. Sitting down and enjoying your food is something that I have fallen in love with here. Dinner has more than one course, and things are served very slowly sometimes, allowing you to focus on one course at a time, and chat with your friends and family in between courses.
Eating means so much more here than it does in the United States, and I hope that I will be able to retain some of the values that I have learned here when I return.