You have been invited to dinner by an Italian family during your stay in Florence. They are friends of your next door neighbours back home and, thank goodness, they speak English as your Italian amounts to grazie and quanto costa. So, how should you behave? What are the rules? Well, they’re not too different from those anywhere else in the world.
First, arrive on time – never early and never more than 15-20 minutes late. Go appropriately dressed. This means if you have been sightseeing all day, make sure you have time to go back to your hotel to shower and change. No shorts, flip flops or tank tops unless its a summer pool party and your hostess says ‘to come casual’. Arrive with a gift – flowers, chocolates or a good bottle of wine – and compliment the hostess on her home as Italian women are usually very house proud.
The meal will undoubtedly be plentiful starting with antipasta (appetizers), primo piatto (usually a pasta or rice dish or a soup), secondo (meat or fish and vegetables), sometimes formaggio e frutta (a cheese platter and fruit) and finally, dolce (dessert). Eat through the courses calmly as conversation, often about food itself, is paramount. Attempt to eat a little of everything, unless you have a food allergy and then say so. Avoid drinking too much wine if you are not used to it. Pace it by drinking water which will be on the table. Remember no smoking during the meal.
Cutlery etiquette may seem different. You may be used to cutting your food and then placing your fork in the other hand. Italians don’t do this nor do they cut their spaghetti and only very rarely use a spoon to help twist it onto their forks.
After dessert, you will probably be offered an espresso cup of coffee. Keep in mind it may keep you awake all night. However, it is not impolite to say you don’t want any coffee. Finally, be careful of the digestivo, the liquor usually served at the very end of dinner to help you digest your meal. Normally made of a combination of bitter herbs, it can be quite alcoholic and, more often than not, at least to me, tastes like cough syrup.