Italian waiter, with attitude

Sometime in the 90’s, while I lived in Italy, American restaurant service style changed. I came back in 2000 and now all wait persons had names they needed to share. Go to a restaurant and be “taken care of.” Managers (doubtless) force a hovering style: “Is everything alright?” “Is everything still alright?” “Still?” Or, more pointed, “Is everything delicious/yummy?” “Do you need anything?”

Not that way Over There. Italian waiters (mostly male) are mostly professional and don’t work for tips. You don’t need to know their names. They bring you good food and tell you what you need to know, sometimes with refreshing attitude.

For instance, we were out to dinner with American friends and their 4-year old. They ordered for her penne arrabbiata (lit: angry penne pasta — “angry” as in “very spicy”). The waiter (whose name he didn’t share) voiced his disapproval, that is: “It’s the wrong pasta for a little girl.” Pasta al sugo (plain tomato sauce) would be better. They wanted the arrabbiata. He shrugged. In due time he brought our plates and the child’s. She took a bite, gagged, and spit it out. “Yuck! It’s spicy and crunchy!” Maurizio, of course, was explaining that pasta should be al dente,  not overcooked alla Americana, but when our young friend was vociferous on the “crunchy” quality, we did all try. Yup, very spicy, and pretty much out of the box crunchy.

The waiter was brought over and told the pasta was inedible. Suppressing a smile, he agreed. He could have it cooked more but, he noted blandly, that would be “a long time to wait for a little girl.” About that time I noticed a plate of pasta al sugo sitting on his staging table. He offered to bring the child “something else” right away. Which he did — that plate of pasta al sugo. Which she loved and afterwards during the vacation invariably asked for pasta al sugo, “not that spicy stuff.” So he did, after all, “take care” of us. And we’ll never know his name.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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Workshop on Point of View for the Knoxville Writers Guild, Sat. Feb. 18, 2017, 10am to noon

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“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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