It’s a scary thing when I admit that I am drinking more coffee and actually enjoying the taste of it. They say that breakfast is the most important meal, but here in Italy breakfast doesn’t exist. It saddens me to say it, because I am a huge fan of omelets, hash browns, pancakes, and BACON. That’s not what breakfast looks like across the ocean.
It’s not a bad thing really – It means I get to eat croissants filled with nutella every morning and not be judged because that’s actually normal. (Italians love their nutella let me tell you – nutella waffles, nutella crepes, nutella gelato. You name it they probably have it.) Coffee here is also really REALLY cheap. I’m talking 1 euro for a cappuccino, which is roughly $1.20. Even better the pastries are on average 1 euro as well, so you can spend a whopping total of 2 euro on breakfast. It’s not a bad life.
The biggest difference that I’ve had to adjust to is the culture around coffee. Coming from Nashville and even my suburb in Chicago coffee was the go-to hang out. If you want to catch up with someone then the typical thing is to ask to grab lunch or coffee – at least that’s what I do. Coffee is code for “I want to hang out with you and have a real conversation, so I can get to know you better or so I can check in and see how you are really doing.” It doesn’t matter if you drink coffee or not, because the idea is that you want to be friends and do something with them. If you ask someone to get coffee in Italy it means “I haven’t eaten anything all day because my breakfast is a cappuccino and croissant, so I need a shot of espresso.” Coffee means energy, not socializing. Most bars (coffee shops) aren’t even open on Sundays, which in America is the typical “I procrastinated all weekend and need to do homework, but I’d rather hang out with you and talk about life and how stressed I am with all the work we both have to do” day. When bars are closed you can’t hang out or work on homework in a location other than your apartment or the library. No one wants to be in either of those places on Sunday because the first means sleep, and the second also means sleep. Basically, the lack of open bars leads to further procrastination, lack of socialization, and no cheap coffee to stay awake.
But in all seriousness, it’s definitely an adjustment. Instead of a casual coffee date on Sunday with a friend the next best option is a sit down meal. In a way that’s a little more nerve wracking because a meal seems like a bigger deal, especially dinner. In reality it’s all the same. I think we need to start looking at interactions with people with a different perspective. Instead of thinking about the time you will be losing or what you are trying to avoid (homework) or how uncomfortable it could be we need to think about how cool the other person is and how there is a reason we want to hang out with them and how they are worth the time.
[You actually can sit down in the afternoon and have coffee. It seems to be a cultural thing among college students around the world. Instead of naps, the young adults in Italy down the caffeine drinks amongst good company.]
One of the things I’m learning about Europe is that you don’t just ask, “How are you?” in passing. Those three words mean you care. It could lead to a half an hour venting session, an outburst of joy, or a five-minute rundown of the events of the past few hours. It means you care. Every time you ask to get lunch or coffee it’s not just something to say, it’s a plan. It doesn’t mean that you never text them about grabbing that dinner or going on that walk to catch up and grab gelato. Words aren’t just fillers here, they mean something. People are not overly polite – they don’t ask how you are out of courtesy, they ask because they actually want to know. “Good” is not a good enough response.
My friends here have taken to saying “FINE” stands for freaked out, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. Questions require a real response here and although that is slightly intimidating for someone who doesn’t like to talk about emotions (aka me) it’s a good challenge. Instead of superficial relationships it’s helped to form incredibly strong friendships with people that I have known for six weeks. Whether it’s because we knew we needed friends here or because we were more inclined to put ourselves on the line because we knew we’d only be here for 4 months we have been real. I know when my friends ask if I’m ok I can tell them the truth and if I don’t feel like answering them then they send someone over who they think I will talk to.
I may not be able to have my normal coffee dates here, but I have plenty of 2am texting rants, late night conversations while wandering the streets of Rome, and life chats while searching for artisan gelato. I may have only been with these new friends for six weeks, but they’ve kept me laughing. This experience wouldn’t be the same without them and we’re not even halfway through the journey.
All I have to say is I’m so grateful for the people here, but I’m also looking forward to my Sunday coffee dates again.