17 Maggio 2013

Ten tips for Italian dining etiquette

"Buon Appetito" is one of the first expressions you learn in Italian. It's also one of the first you should forget, warns Italian etiquette expert Alberto Presutti. Read his ten tips for Italian dining etiquette.

Moving countries isn't just about learning a new language and you'll find there's a whole host of unspoken rules to get your head around. 

To find out the do's and don'ts of the Italian dining table, The Local spoke to Alberto Presutti, a Florence-based etiquette expert who offers courses on anything from dining to business etiquette.

Throughout his career Presutti - who is also a poet - has made numerous television appearances on RAI and Sky and is often interviewed by the Italian press. 

Since the Italian wroter Monsignor Giovanni Della Casa published his treatise on polite behavior in the 16th century, etiquette has become an important part of Italian society.

Centuries later, Presutti is convinced that etiquette still holds the key to "an effective communication between each one of us".

10 tips for Italian dining etiquette

If you live in Italy you'll know that a large amount of your time will be spent eating. So you'd better make sure you do it right. The Local spoke to Alberto Presutti, an etiquette and manners expert who's given us ten tips for Italian dining etiquette.

1) Arrive late. Italians are not famed for punctuality - and it pays to remember this when you're invited to a dinner party. "Always arrive a few minutes after the appointed time - never before," advises Presutti. "Take for granted that your host will still be preparing the food."

2) Watch the host. "You should only pick up your cutlery when the most important person in the room starts eating," warns Presutti. "At a private dinner party, this could be the hostess or simply the oldest guest at the table. At a business lunch, it would be the boss." However, he adds, "in a restaurant, it's fine to start first if your meal arrives before the others."

3) Head of the table. "In Britain, hosts will nearly always sit at the far ends of a table - but in Italy, they sit in the middle of the longer sides of the table," says Presutti. What if it's a round table? "Imagine that there's an invisible line going through the centre: the hosts will sit at either end."

4) Buon appetito. One of the first phrases you may have learned in Italian is "buon appetito"; it's also the first thing you should forget. "Wishing someone 'buon appetito' in Italy is impolite," says Presutti. "This is because in Italian courts in medieval times, the prince would sometimes offer banquets to his best servants and wish them "buon appetito" - meaning: 'eat as much as you can because you may not be invited to another feast if you don't behave yourselves."

5) Put your hands where I can see them. "Wrists should be on the table, but never your elbows. And don't cross your hands," warns Presutti. "That's considered rude - it may look to others as if you’re hiding something," or even - God forbid - "touching yourself".

6) Use the right fork. "In Italy, fish must be served with a special three-pronged fork and a knife similar to a butter knife," says Presutti. However, he warns, don't whatever you do use the knife to cut the fish. "The purpose of the knife is to remove the skin of the fish - you can use the fork to cut the flesh."

7) Bread. "In Italy, we are big bread-eaters," says Presutti. "It must always be served on a small plate to the left of your main plate, and broken off rather than cut with a knife - it's the Christian way." Stuffing yourself with bread before the meal arrives should be avoided. But if you really can't wait, Presutti suggests nibbling on some grissini (breadsticks), which looks more elegant.

8) Wine. Food and wine in Italy are like yin and yang, so don't expect to have one without the other. "You'll find that the wine will only be brought out with the food. This is because each wine is designed to go with a specific dish. Red wine will always be served with meat, whereas white wine will always be produced for fish - because it has a more delicate taste."

9) Napkins. "These should be placed on your lap only after the food has been brought to the table," says Presutti. "Use one by all means to wipe your mouth, but take care that the dirty part of your napkin is hidden."

10) Forget about your diet. "Being on a diet and having a meal are considered a contradiction in terms - so avoid mentioning to the host that you're trying to lose weight," says Presutti. Having said that, you will be forgiven for declining dessert. If you're a vegetarian, you may be happier in a different country: "In Italy, vegetarians are regarded as aliens from another planet."

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