Know your neighbor

Italians on water, culinary quirks and littering

Julie Butterfield
May 24, 2012

The TF staff must often come to terms with the most common truisms about Italy, Tuscany and Florence. After seven years in print, we've pretty much heard and said it all. However, there are a few things about Italy and Tuscany that never seem to get old. And that started us thinking: what's behind these truisms? We've done a little digging and found some fun facts behind the following three ‘frequently made observations.' Write us at inbox@theflorentine.net with your favorite truisms about the Boot, and we will investigate them in upcoming articles.

 

Italians prefer bottled water to tap water Italians love bottled water, largely rejecting ‘the mayor's water,' a campaign to coax people to draw from the tap. Some even pour bottled water for their dogs and in their Moka coffee maker. How did drinking bottled water become a habit? Well, it comes down to taste and marketing.

 

Tap water can taste like the chlorine that is used to purify it, and when health-conscious Italians detect chlorine, they regard it as something that fa male (‘is bad for you'). It doesn't help that in 2008, Italy's most widely read daily, Corriere della Sera, reported that Italy's water quality wasn't exactly sparkling.

 

Now add the marketing savvy of bottled water giants looking to capitalize on tap-water anxiety. Since the 1980s, bottled water companies have touted the health benefits and superiority of water in plastic. Yet, Emily Arnold of the Globalist says that in Europe the ‘regulations governing the quality of tap water are more stringent that those for bottled.' Remember those chic Evian bottles that we would collect and then refill up from our tap? Toting an Evian bottle was as cool as wearing neon orange earrings the size of hula-hoops.

 

Writer Elisabeth Rosenthal addressed the status of bottled water after investigating Venice's plastic-bottle-garbage nightmare. She writes, ‘After tap water was considered safe, buying water became a sign of financial prosperity and created manufactured demand.'

 

To combat the flood tide of the bottled water furor, Florence's public water provider, Publiacqua, installed free ultra-filtered water in fountains around Florence to entice people to switch to the tap. The free water tastes so great that it's being reported that some Florentine dogs have even stopped howling for their San Pellegrino.

 

Italians do not eat chicken with pasta or cheese with fish.One of the things that bugs Italian diners about non-Italian restaurants is the one-in-all culinary option. Italians eat in courses: primo, secondo and so on. Because pasta is part of the primo and chicken belongs in the secondo, pairing chicken with pasta means pairing two courses together. It's like seeing your nachos on the same plate as your rib platter-too much at once. In Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, Jessica Theroux learns that Italian housewives were ‘raised on meals that comprised either a starch and vegetable, or a protein and vegetable.' A starch and a protein at the same time? Nonsense!

 

We've all been subject to the Italian waiter who doesn't approve of our menu choice. So if you're feeling especially impish, insist on some Parmesan to sprinkle on your white fish. In Italy, it turns out, that is like asking for Skittles for your tagliatelle alla bolognese. Robert Trachtenberg wrote for the New York Times that his inquiries to various Italian chefs turned up ‘Sprinkling cheese on any seafood will stamp out the subtle flavor of the fish.' He then provides a seafood recipe after his article, with ‘peasant's cheese,' which is a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Hmm. Doesn't ‘peasant's cheese' on fettuccine alfredo sound delicious?

Italians litter.We've all seen it: the careless flick of a cigarette, the butt rolling to a stop, its embers lighting the way for us on the sidewalk like lanterns. This may seems courteous and thoughtful until you remember that Italy has a garbage problem. Italy's beautiful beaches and panoramic views are threatened by garbage and pollution. Campania, where the distinctive buffalo mozzarella is made, is tainted by scandal over garbage. Overflowing garbage bins trash Venice's romantic image, too.

You'd think smokers would want to contribute their own small part by disposing of their butts properly, however the environmental group Marevivo cites cigarette butts as among the top 10 items that pollute Italy's beaches. According to BBC News, Italians throw away 195 million cigarette ends every day, adding to toxic waste. The nonprofit group Ocean Conservancy says that cigarette butts are the ‘most prevalent marine litter item found' during international coastal cleanups. Maybe the problem is that the Crying Indian never manipulated Italian smokers into proper disposal.

 

In 1971, the Keep America Beautiful crusade scripted an American Indian (turns out he was actually Sicilian), complete with a feather in his hair, to cry when someone threw trash at his feet. (Why this helped stem the littering epidemic, no one knows.) Perhaps Italian smokers rely too much on street sweepers to pick up after them. In fact, on page 6 of the street cleaning ISWA Italia handbook, there's a section specifically for cigarette litterers. It calls cigarette butts ‘recurring waste,' an expectation for street sweepers.

 

The next time cigarette butts light your way on the sidewalk, don't get mad. Like paying for an espresso or panino, the smoker believes he's pre-paid for littering with his tax dollars. Besides, Woodsy Owl never popped up during Love Boat pleading for him to ‘Give a hoot.' His Saturday morning Looney Tunes were never interrupted by a Sicilian disguised as an American Indian crying about litter.

 

 

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