Saturday, April 21

Italy: A snapshot into the past

I decided to start an occasional new column discussing some of the ways we were in Italy, in our recent (and...with the years passing...still memorable) past.  Living in Italy these 20-odd years, we've all seen many things improve for the better, while growing wistful for the past, especially after passing our favorite trattoria with the red & white checkered tablecloth and discovering it's been transformed into an uber-cool nightclub, replete with capirinhas and pole-dancing. So, here it is...a look to the past - but not the ancient kind which usually comes with life in Italy:
I asked a friend out to lunch the other day but in reply, he said he couldn't really make it.  He went on to say that it wasn't for being over-worked or out-of-town.  Instead, he told me he had 30 minutes lunch break.  I nearly lost my breath.
I have long held that Italians work a whole heck of a lot.  And, a lot more than even their European counterparts.  Clearly, government employees and parliamentarians excepted -- here's an article showing one of our public officials looking for an escort while on duty.  But at least he's in the halls - most (just like in the U.S. Congress) are absent and others use their time (paid at four times the European average) for siestas. But I digress.
Perhaps they're taking naps on the job, just because those afternoon Siestas are a thing of the past.  And this practice of short lunch hours I believe came flying in on the coattails of the panini or McDonald's revolution.  I was in Rome the day they inaugurated the very first Italian McDonalds.  It was 1986, and it was so spiffy with it's faux Pompeiian fixtures, ceramic tiles and fountains, I was tempted to hang a sign out from the top of Trinità di Monti reading, Real McDonalds don't look like this.  I mean, coming from wasn't an everyday sight.
Panini Recipes from Squidoo
Up in Milan, the Burghy became the local hangout for kids and future Milanese yuppies  after high class, garnering the term, paninari.  As for me, I abhorred this intrusion into my Italian experience...but found an amazing panino joint making every type of sandwich known to man - it was a feast for the senses.  Still today, no one beats the Milanese for creative panino fixings.  Working in Milan at the time, it wasn't long before the colleagues would go out and grab a panino - and eat standing at the bar counter.  Of course, it would be another 20 years before you'd see them drinking their coke straight from the bottle, but that story will come in a future excerpt.
Little by little, it was bound to be.  The 1 hr lunches became a fixture in Milanese life styles.  But in hard-working Milan, we'd still get out of work between 7 & 8 pm.  Unfortunately for us time-pressed souls, the store owners still took - up til 2012 - the siestas; leaving an entire country with pent-up demand and no internet & postal service to make up for the slack thru online sales.
These seemingly inconsequential events are the things that, in retrospect, reveal more than anything the change of the face of what it meant to be "Italian".  But since it's now part & parcel of the way we are today, shouldn't we at least change the name from lunch hour (ora di pranzo) to something else? 


jacques said...

Actually, when I worked in Milan (until 10 years ago) we always called it a "pausa pranzo", e non "l'ora di pranzo", as often as not "salto la pausa pranzo oggi, voglio finire questo..."

Irreverent Italy said...

omg...just a pause? those milanese are serious workaholics!

I just recall making appointments...all'ora di pranzo !