What would you like to order?
It was a scorching hot August day on the Amalfi coast, and we were a group of sticky hot tourists looking to take a lunch break. We sat down at a beautiful restaurant, one of those you see in the pictures with massive lemons hanging in a trellis up above. Once everyone had studied the menu and decided what they wanted, the server came. My Italian was better than the others’ and so I ordered for everyone, based on what I’d remembered everyone wanted, in the order that I remembered it. The food started to arrive at the table, in a seemingly random order. We were puzzled. Why was a second course coming out with a starter? Where’s my pasta? Why were the dishes coming out in rounds, rather than in order, or all at once?
The server must be incompetent. That was the only possible explanation. Italians were serious about course order. This guy must be a goof ball, or maybe he was just having a bad day? Then suddenly came the aha. The pattern to the “random” order? The dishes were coming to the table in the exact order I had requested them. The laugh was on me!
Also, isn’t it funny that, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, on a day that I took about 80 pictures (back in the film-camera days), what we remember is what went wrong? Somehow, we always seem to remember the mishaps.
A few years back, I took my niece and nephew, who were 6 and 8, respectively, to Italy to visit family. The kids spoke no Italian, but they made instant friends with some locals. One afternoon the neighborhood kids came by, wanting to play. My niece and nephew went out happily, and about five minutes later, stormed back in, angry and frustrated.
“They are cheats!” they declared.
“I don’t want to play with them anymore.”
I went out to talk with the Italian kids to find out what had happened. They were just as puzzled. “What were you playing?” I asked? And as it turns out, the Italians were not playing freeze tag, as my niece and nephew had thought. And the Italian kids weren’t cheating at freeze tag. Instead, they were playing a similar game, but with different rules. My niece and nephew had assumed the worst—without the benefit of language, they had no idea what had gone wrong.