It is always amazing to me, ok, maybe not amazing, but NORMAL in Italy, how easy it is to forge new relationships with wonderful people. I've already written about how I met Rosalia and Roberto over lunch in Bologna, exchanged emails and phone numbers, and ended up seeing them for THREE days during our Veneto trip. How likely is it that this would happen in the U.S? In my neighborhood, you could live next door to people for 5 years, and not know their names!
On our first evening in Follina, (population 4,019) we walked a block to the main intersection of town, and had a choice of three bars/cafes. We went to the most crowded one, where many locals seemed to gather. DOCG prosecco: 90 cents. How could we go wrong? We grabbed the only free table outside (maybe there were a total of six tables), and began watching the local scene.
There were a group of 7 or 8 local men gathered at the other tables. After a few minutes, the church bells rang 7 p.m.. Many seemed to begin their good-byes, and the group split off on foot, or bicycle and one work vehicle to head home. There was one gentleman left at the table with his glass of prosecco. I looked over and smiled. He smiled back. I said "Buona sera". He said "Buona sera". I said in Italian, "Do you live here?" That was all it took. In seconds, he was at our table chatting and asking about where we were from. The server was summoned, and he ordered "two more glasses for his new friends."
We spent the next hour with Giuliano, exchanging info about our lives, families, the town, the area, travel, work, etc. At 8:00, he left to go home for dinner. ( I believe I could go to our local wine bar every night for a month and not end up with a new friend. I think I will do a little experiment on this...ok, maybe once a week! LOL)
The next morning, we were in the bar/caffe across the street having coffee. Three interesting things happened. Another of the men we had seen the night before was seated out in front with a glass of prosecco (at 10 a.m.). He spoke to us, and seemed to already know we were "the Americans in town". Another man walked by and stopped purposely to ask how our visit was going. He already knew I could speak enough Italian to chat. He said, "You are American, right?" I said we were, and he replied, "But you are of Italian descent, no? I can see it in your face. You ARE Italian." I wanted to hug him! Soon Giuliano rode by on his bike, and stopped. We invited him to have coffee with us. He said he was on his way to work, but he would be there at noon.
It was market day in Follina. We browsed the two block area of stalls and booths until 12. We returned to the caffe, with coffee to wait for Giuliano. He never showed up. We waited until 1:00. We were somehow disappointed we had been stood up!
Unbeknownst to us, Giuliano had to work until 2:30. We were out for the afternoon, but he came by our hotel several times, asking at the desk for the "blond lady from California." He kept trying, and finally found us on the terrace having a drink at 7:00, before our anniversary dinner. We invited him to stay and have a drink with us. He was so apologetic, and had a business card with his home phone, cell phone and email. We spent another delightful hour with Giuliano, our new friend in Follina.
I am as friendly in California as I am in Italy. I have never made a friend in a bar/restaurant or caffe in the U.S. What is the magic that happens in Italy to make this a common experience? Maybe it is just because we are visitors from afar, but I don't think that is all. It think we have unfortunately become less trusting of strangers, more paranoid about safety or crime, and that there is also a cultural difference of connecting over food and wine. Maybe it doesn't matter why this is so easy there, but thank God it is.