There’s always a catch right?
In America ‘free’ never happens. The American experience looks something like this, “Free’ appetizer” (with two full-priced meals); “One month free” (with 12-month subscription); “Free trial” ($19.99/month automatically billed after the first month).
That’s not free, that’s just a larger ‘portion’ for the full price or a lure to trap you into paying for something you may not have paid for.
So, while Kim and I were enjoying a couple of Aperol Spritz at a cafe on the edge of Lago Maggiore in Stresa and the waitress brought us a plate of Italian olives, hard cheeses, and fresh bread you can imagine our reaction.
It was one of surprise and confusion
- Had we ordered this by mistake (my Italian was terrible at that time)
- Were we being forcibly up-sold?
- Were we marked as sucker tourists and getting ‘free appetizers’ and outrageously priced drinks?
The answer was no, no, and no. This appetizer plate was genuinely “free”.
The sweet life in Italy
Only because of the cultural difference in lifestyle Italians don’t consider this free. They consider this normal.
And this is the cultural difference between the Italian La Vita Dolce (the sweet life) and the American Work Ethic. American culture is about getting things done, being efficient, and making money. Italian life is about the good life, spending time with family and friends, and enjoying life’s moments.
In Italy, you are more important than money
An Italian bar or cafe is more interested in the customer’s satisfaction than the customer’s money. Sure, Italian businesses want to make money, but profit is not the main point of business. Mostly they want you, the customer, to enjoy your moment in their care.
I can’t think of a similar situation in America where the management gives something to the customer solely for the purpose of enjoying the moment – with no expectation or pressure to spend a little more money.
Relax, you’re in La Vita Dolce
The La Vita Dolce is also apparent in the way the wait staff takes care of you. They leave you alone.
They let you enjoy the conversation, the companionship, the moment. When you want something you have to get their attention, which is just a raise of a hand, and then they attend to you, but not quickly. They have a life to enjoy too.
I like the constant attention I get when I’m in American from the waitstaff. It’s a different experience. But with that attention there is a sense of ‘hurry-up’. In Italy, it’s clear you are wanted to stay for as long as you like. In the U.S. the waitstaff brings the check to your table and says, “I’ll just leave this here for whenever you are ready, no rush.”
Umm, right. If you’ve rung up the bill and that pretty much says “Your done. No more orders. Time to go.” With La Vita Dolce you need to ask for the check a bit before you want to leave because they are in no rush to give it too you.
The management and waiter are in no hurry to get you out. But the waiter will wait at your table to collect payment. It’s clear in Italy that when you’re done, you’re done, but there’s no pressure for you to be done.
Life is not a race, it’s a stroll
La Vita Dolce takes some time to get used to, especially when you’ve grown up in the Work Ethic. Enjoying a glass of wine with a friend, your wife, your mom, for an hour chatting about life’s nothings is an egregious waste of productive time.
Or is it? And that’s after ‘wasting’ two hours over coffee earlier in the day.
An American friend posted on FaceBook, “No matter how hard you work, someone else is working harder. Are you willing to put in the work?” I commented, “Is life a race?” She said “Yes it is.”
I think she would not appreciate La Vita Dolce. I think all that “wasted” time would drive her crazy.
And really La Vita Dolce is not the life for everyone. But I’m happy to stroll through life and spend a few hours every day with my family, friends, even strangers. Life should not be endlessly about work and striving. Life is about the experiences, the relationships, the moments.
So, here’s to La Vita Dolce and the free appetizers.