I don’t often give personal comment on news or incidents happening in Italy, preferring to give objective accounts of various news items or current affairs in Italy I feel others may be interested in.
However the recent ‘Cameron cappuccino’ incident which was widely reported by both Italian and British press yesterday (1st August 2011) prompted me to think about the Italian way of doing things, especially taking your coffee or cappuccino. In case you hadn’t read or heard about it, British PM and wife on holiday in Tuscany went into a coffee bar in Montevarchi, ordered their cappuccinos, expecting them to be brought to their table al fresco. Having sat down at their table, Cameron was then told however that the barista was too busy to bring the drinks to them and he would have to go and fetch them from the bar himself, which he dutifully did so. It was also reported that Cameron left no tip, paying just the € 3,10 which was asked of him. The barista, Ms. Francesca Ariani, later turned on the full charm and simpatia in front of TV cameras by saying she would gladly serve Mr & Mrs Cameron their cappuccinos on the house if they came back.
So two or three, or more, totally subjective lessons for the tourist here:
- if you do go into an Italian ‘bar’ you are usually expected to take your drinks at the bar itself (al banco) – many places just don’t serve at tables
- rarely do people take their coffees or cappuccinos sitting down – it was considered a ‘luxury’ until a few years ago, although now the custom has been imported from countries such as the USA and Britain. In Italy, people discuss things over meals, not over coffee. It’ll take you less than a minute to drink it anyway.
- If the coffee bar is the posher kind of place that does have tables, and camerieri, be prepared to pay at least double the price for your cappuccino, and above all do not expect simpatia and courtesy, they are not included. (see point 6 below)
- watch out for places such as airports and railway stations – where table service is ‘obbligatorio‘ and you will have to pay a lot of money for service which is often slow and discourteous and will make you anxious about missing your plane/train.
- there is no law about tipping and you are no obligation to leave one. This is not the USA.
- if the barista or cameriere knows you she or he will duly revere you and give you the best treatment, if they don’t then be prepared to get treated as if they were doing you some kind of favour in serving you (same is true for restaurants and shops).
In any case I’m sure Mr Cameron really didn’t mind fetching his own cappuccinos. If he’d been in a Café Nero or Starbucks he certainly wouldn’t get waitress service, and I doubt he’d leave a tip either. Just don’t be fooled by those nice little tables outside that charming little café, if the barista is busy or is having a bad day.. tough! That’s the Italian way.