Tuesday 18 March 2008

Southern Italian Etiquette Part 1

Last night, whilst dining with the bel ragazzo and my colleague in Trastevere - the old Jewish ghetto in Rome - io ho fatto una brutta figura...I made a bad impression. (By accident of course as I am still a rather ignorant foreigner.)

We were enjoying a pizza and some house wine (very nice) when I noticed that bel ragazzo's glass was near empty. He was sitting on my right, and the bottle of wine was near me so I went to pour him a glass but rather then pour in the normal fashion (where as your hand is on top of the bottle) I poured him some wine backwards (I was feeling a little lazy and just tipped the bottle over so that my hand was on the under part and I just flicked my wrist a bit.)

Have you guessed what I did to make this brutta figura? I had no idea but when I started to pour the wine both bel ragazzo and the colleague gasped saying that I could not do that!

Do what? Could I not pour the wine? Should I have filled my colleagues glass first as she is a female? Should I have waited until all our glasses were actually empty?NO - none of the above. I had been very disrespectful by the way I poured the wine as my hand was below the bottle and not on the top.

Wine etiquette has many unspoken rules that become more strict the further south you go. My colleague is from the north (up near Milan) and she said it is considered bad manners to pour wine backwards in her village, however it does not have such a strong implication as in the south.

In the south if you pour wine backyards you are being openly (and knowingly) offensive. It is as though you are challenging that person, or trying to make a fool of them. For example if the table is full and I pour one persons wine correctly and then the other persons wine backwards, then the whole table knows what I think of this person who I have insulted by pouring his wine backwards.

Now I am a little paranoid thinking back to how many times I have created this brutta figura by pouring wine backwards... Not to worry as from now on it will be bella figura all the way!


Karla said...

I make mistakes like this all of the time when eating. I still can not properly twirl spaghetti!

Delina said...

I made this brutta figura too with the vino.

It was explained to me that time ago a person would wear a ring containing poison and as they poured the wine "backwards" the poison came out of the ring and into the persons wine! So this would be why your bel ragazzo got a bit panicky when you were pouring like that. ;) :)

Anonymous said...

Uhm very interesting! I am from the North and I knew there are some rules (which you can probably find inside the Galateo book) but never thought they were so strict! :-)

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

This is why it's better to just sit back and be served ;)

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

Hi Karla,
It's good to know others make mistakes too!

Delina - finally I have found the answer to why it is wrong to pour wine backwards. We knew there must be some old reason, and I searched the internet but to no avail. Thank you!

Ciao Lucio,
Yes, my colleague is from the North and she has learnt so many 'things' from living in the south. Guess you are not so superstitious up there!

Hi Michelle,
Good advice, I shall sit back and let others serve me!

Lucia said...

Hi Michelle,

I'm not sure what you mean and wouldn't want to create a brutta or mali figurra. What do you mean bottom of the bottle or top of the bottle can you show me in pics. I know I'm asking alot but I didn't know there was such a thing when pouring wine! Love your blog.

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

I don't have a pic but imagine you are holding a bottle (or go and get a real one!) Hold the bottle in your right hand and pour it like you normally would. See how you hand is on the top of the bottle? You hand is facing out.
Now flick your wrist, so that you are pouring the wine in a not so comfortable way. Your wrist and hand should be under the bottle. So you are holding the bottle still, however your hand is on the underside.
Hope this makes sense as you must NOT do this when pouring wine into an italians glass!