Thursday, September 3, 2009

Birthdays and bubbly

Despite the fact that I've been in Italy for over a decade (gasp!) there are still some things that surprise me... like birthday routines. Last week my presence was required in the office for a few days. After lunch, the cleaning lady busted out a gigantic birthday cake... for HERSELF. No, I don't mean she brought the cake only for herself, I mean she brought her own birthday cake to work. I found it so odd that the birthday girl would provide the cake as opposed to the office providing it for her. But then I recalled a friend doing the same thing: inviting people out to dinner for her birthday and footing the bill herself (I was the only one who tried to object, I was obviously outnumbered). So very strange to me...

As for the bubbly, while we were all eating this very delicious cake for the cleaning lady's birthday, she also busted out four bottles of prosecco and started pouring a glass for everyone. I politely declined and was met with stares and that question: "Sei astemia*?"
"No I'm not, but drinking a glass of prosecco at lunchtime while Giuseppe Tornatore is next door ready to review my translation with me does not seem like the brightest of ideas, thank you very much!"
This got me thinking about how normal it is for Italians to comment on one's drinking or lack of. I have several AA friends so I find it somewhat rude to ask someone why they opt not to drink. Once at dinner here in Rome with an American AA friend, the waiter kept trying to pour him a glass of wine and I kept saying no, the waiter rudely insisted numerous times so I finally said "No, lui e' astemio (No, he doesn't drink)" and the waiter commented "Non ha la faccia di uno che e' astemio (He doesn't look like someone who doesn't drink)". I could not believe a waiter, let alone ANY person, would have the gall to make a comment like that. I was so taken aback, I couldn't even respond. Total lack of sensitivity in this country toward people who chose not to drink for whatever reason.

*astemio/astemia- sober, abstemious, someone who doesn't drink alcohol


Monika said...

I'm Polish and in Poland, if you invite someone to your birthday dinner you are paying. It's extremely rude to invite someone out somewhere (even if not your birthday) and not pay...very different in Australia :) It's a European thing for sure.

Romerican said...

So it's not just the Italians? Good to know, thanks Monika!

michelle | bleeding espresso said...

Yeah the buying things for other people on my birthday will never fly with me. Sorry Italians!

And funny enough, here in gatherings in my village in the rural south, women are often not even *offered* alcoholic drinks, including wine at dinner; it's just assumed they'll decline...which is why I like to make a big deal of asking for a glass of wine even if I don't want it :P

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Re: the birthday...could be an age thing in the States.

20s early 30s everyone paid for the birthday girl. Late 30s and up my friends pay if they invite people to their birthday dinner/drinks.

After a certain age it was considered rude to insist on some expensive place (especially for a sit down dinner) and then expect everyone to cough it up. I appreciate this as I'm the broke friend. ha.

J,Doe said...

It's not only for birthdays that the birthday girl/boy pays. When my husband left his job he paid for the going away party foods/drinks/plates and cups.