There are some differences in living habits between the US and Italy that are just plain hard to get used to. For us, coming back to the States for a while, it is very hard to get used to the fact that most people eat dinner at 6 o’clock, or earlier. There’s a restaurant down the street from us here, and when I drove by at 4:45 yesterday evening the parking lot was jammed with cars. Everyone was there for a 5 o’clock dinner (All You Can Eat Fish Fry on Wednesdays and Fridays – another concept that would be foreign and bizarre to an Italian restaurateur).
For us, 5 o’clock is the Hour of Tea, 6 o’clock is the Hour of Drink-n-Snack, 7 o’clock is the Hour of Dinner Preparation and 8 o’clock is the Dinner Hour. We’ve just gotten used to it that way, because that’s the dinner hour in Italy. In fact, away from the main tourist cities you would be hard pressed to find a restaurant that opens its doors before 8 p.m., or perhaps 7:30.
This eating schedule has a ripple effect. Last weekend my friend Margaret and I went to a play at the ASU Gammage Hall – the ‘darkly comic’ ‘August: Osage County‘ by Tracy Letts (it was great – we laughed and groaned). What time did it start? 7 p.m.! The week before the Captain and I went to a delightful John O’Conor piano recital down the street (glorious); it started at 7:30. That would never happen in Italy! When would one eat??! Typically in Italy the cultural events are before dinner, starting at 4, 5, or even 6 p.m., or after dinner, starting at 9 or 9:30 p.m.
Why the difference? I think (and this is pure conjecture on my part) that the early eating habits in Arizona are due to the fact that there are so many mid-western transplants here. On a big mid-western farm you might get up with the sun and have a cup of coffee and a snack. Then you might work for a few hours and stop mid-morning for an enormous breakfast. Then you would work again until the sun got low (5 o’clock?) when it would be time for a hearty dinner. Even though fewer and fewer people work on farms, I think the early eating habit has persisted.
In Italy the large meal was typically eaten mid-day with an hour or two of rest following. Then work continued until the evening, when a much smaller meal (minestrone?) was eaten. That is changing somewhat, especially in the large cities, as Italy becomes more an Office Culture. But most stores and businesses are still closed mid-day and then are open again from 3:30 or 4 until 7:30 or 8, at which point it is time for dinner.
I don’t much care for the late night events any more, but it is delightful to go to a wonderful concert at 5 p.m., come out at 6:30 or 7, take a stroll through the town, find a good restaurant and sit down for a fine meal at 8 or so, a pleasure we miss when we’re in the U.S.
So, why the Dinner at Eight video above? Well, the title is appropriate, and as a librarian I just couldn’t resist sharing Jean Harlow’s book review. I bet everyone would like to be a member of her book club!