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Overheard in Firenze

Walking along a street in Florence yesterday , while passing a restaurant where the star dish on the menu was Florentine steak , a diner giving his request to the waiter ended with this - " Do you have ketchup ? I can't eat this without ketchup " . I leave it to you dear readers , to guess the nationality of the diner .

Posted by
6380 posts

The waiter was unable to reply----- he fainted and was unconscious on the floor

Posted by
2984 posts

Chris , I don't know , all I could sense was dead silence , probably induced by shock . I would bet , though , that it wasn't' the first time he had heard that .

Posted by
8889 posts

Steven, pity. I had so hoped the waiter had come up with some suitably cutting reply.

Posted by
6380 posts

My guess is he comped the patron a side dish of special mushrooms.

Posted by
1727 posts

It's been my observation that Florence, more than any other Italian city I've visited, experiences this 'ugly American' phenomena on what seems to be a regular basis.

I don't know if this logic makes sense, but maybe it's because central Firenze is almost set up like a movie set, like it's Carmel, CA, or Cape Cod, expectedly picturesque. Also, there are plenty of American parents visiting their college-age children doing a semester abroad. You get a lot of people of that ilk that really aren't experienced travelers and thus have unrealistic expectations, that Florence is like Disney and if you want ketchup, by gum, they should have it for you!

Can't forget the day, on a Sunday noon in a touristy restaurant on the perimeter of Piazza della Republicca (it was the only place open), we were enjoying a nice lunch, when a bunch of American tourists barged in and started ordering the staff around, making fun of their accents to each other, etc. Then they all ordered pizza, ate it and every one of them left the crusts. Like they were the Stepfords or something. Very bizarre, and at that point I wanted to be from somewhere else.

For whatever reason, I didn't see this at all in Rome. Why is that? My bad luck in Firenze?

Posted by
15588 posts

Hunt's or Del Monte?

Please, only Heinz is good enough for Steak Florentine. Its slow good.

Posted by
1666 posts

You get a lot of people of that ilk that really aren't experienced travelers and thus have unrealistic expectations, that Florence is like Disney and if you want ketchup, by gum, they should have it for you!

Unfortunately, too many tourists are in the Disney World mindset. They also tend to see the citizens of the country they visit as either servants to meet their needs are actors there to add atmosphere.

It is been my observation that most RS forum members are more erudite. There are ways to minimize contact with clueless tourists. When Deb and I were in Florence two years ago, we sought out restaurants off the beaten path. We had a wonderful lunch in a small café where most of the customers were regulars. The only time we heard English was when our waitress was serving us. There was no English on the menus. We had great homemade minestrone.

We took a Rhine cruise at the invitation of some long time friends. It is not our style and we would not have chosen to do this on our own. Although we did have a good time, I have developed a strong negative reaction to the concept and doubt I'll ever set foot on a cruise ship again. I realize that most of my negativity stems from a significant percentage of our shipmates. They were just the sort of people that would put ketchup on a Florentine steak. Too many tended to be loud, boorish and demanding.

Posted by
1762 posts

It's well known that Once upon a time Florentines used to put Ketchup almost everywhere, including the steaks and the pici.

You know the real reason the Vasari Corridor is always closed, don't you? There are many portraits of the Medici family members proudly holding a bottle of Salsa Rubra, the name Dante gave to ketchup. Didn't he wrote, while on the run: "oh, how tasteless are these pale, foreign steaks"?

Only after the Florentines conquered Pisa they learnt how to eat and behave. Just like Romans and Greeks, the more civilized pisani conquered with good manners and culture their own conquerors.

PS I didn't know that leaving the pizza crusts is a sign of ugly-americanism. Many Italians do the same, I think it's seen as a sin only in Naples these days.

Posted by
1109 posts

I'm in Florence now. It is a movie set! Ryan Reynolds is filming a Netflix series on our street.

Anyway, yesterday I tried to order my meal in Italian. The server replied, deadpan, "madam it is better you just speak English ". I decided to accept it as a joke rather than an insult!

On the train here our entire car was subjected to a very loud and passionate speech about how great guns are and how she is ready to shoot anyone who crosses her. I thought she was being ironic but it became clear she's expecting to use - and looking forward to using - her guns. Kind of unpleasant talk for my journey!

Posted by
1666 posts

On the train here our entire car was subjected to a very loud and passionate speech about how great guns are and how she is ready to shoot anyone who crosses her

To quote John Lennon, she's the "All American bullet headed Saxon Mother's [daughter]".

I don't want a loud and passionate speech on any subject from fellow passengers anywhere.

Posted by
2070 posts

Our Florence "Ugly American" story. From 2 years back.

We went up the Duomo. As all of you who have been there know, it's become a graffiti trap. No sooner than we come out on the top viewing platform does a middle aged American woman standing 1/2 foot in front of us reach into her bag, grab a Sharpie, and prepares to write something amidst the other scroll work on the closest column, at eye level.. My wife, several inches smaller and directly behind her flips,, and as woman ignores her she actually yanks her arm back. The woman's comments included such gems as "it's none of your business" and "so what, everyone does it -it's right there." My wife and I continue to harangue her until the pen disappears, but we do keep an eye out. Amazingly, with all the commotion, not one tourist joins in to add to this. Later that day, we see her across the way in the Duomo Museum, and when she notices us she turns and runs out.

Posted by
1225 posts

Holidays are meant be enjoyable and if your chap will enjoy Florence a bit more by having ketchup on his steak why is that an issue? Why, indeed, would anyone else care? It's not as if Italian waiters are going to start holding down the rest of us and force-feeding us ketchup with every meal.

The only notable thing here is that he was talking loud enough that you could hear him whilst passing on the street. Certain tourists talking too loudly is definitely an annoyance; them wanting condiments, not so much.

Posted by
1666 posts

Holidays are meant be enjoyable and if your chap will enjoy Florence a bit more by having ketchup on his steak why is that an issue?

I'm sure there's an Outback near his house that has just the steak the would go with ketchup. It's probably next to the Walmart.

Posted by
11978 posts

I don’t think Italians pay too much attention to these things. So I’m sure that waiter heard strange requests before. It is a well known fact that some “foreigners”, not only Americans, have strange eating habits.

I had an American friend in Italy who used to add vinegar (lots of it) to his pizza. Brazilians regularly add ketchup to pizza. I’ve also witnessed an American college girl making a sandwich with spaghetti in it. I also heard that some Americans add Nutella or chocolate of some type to pasta.

De gustibus non disputandum est (tastes are not to be debated), said the guy who liked to suck his dirty socks.

Posted by
1727 posts

It is been my observation that most RS forum members are more erudite.

Unfortunately, too many tourists are in the Disney World mindset. They
also tend to see the citizens of the country they visit as either
servants to meet their needs are actors there to add atmosphere.

Right on, DougMac. That's why we can discuss this here without noses getting out of joint that we're maligning the poor American tourist.

My opinion--call me crazy--is that there's a fine line between ignorance and stupidity and then graduation into outright boorishness. And it's why we've given Florence proper a vacation after two trips. Nothing against Firenze itself--I adore it, and from a historical standpoint it's just so dang important. But next time I'll visit the outskirts.

And I'll also visit parts of Italy less traveled, and in off-season. Whether our next trip involves a train trip down the Adriatic coast from Le Marche to Puglia in the boot, or from Naples to Sicily through Basilicata & Calabria, I have little chance of observing the behavior mentioned above, which puts a smile on my face. Traveling to these places takes preparation & planning, which I love to do. And one also has to be a little egoless and be open to assimilation. Do as the Romans do, as they say.

Posted by
1666 posts

It is a well known fact that some “foreigners”, not only Americans, have strange eating habits.

To be fair, that also includes Italians. We stayed at a wonderful B&B on the Isle of Skye. It was off the beaten track and we were the only guests at the time. Our hosts visited with us and we asked about the life of a B&B owner, especially living on the property.

They loved the life, but talked about some of the challenges. For instance, they established a two day minimum because they found overnight guests in a hurry and usually rude. The other thing that mystified them was Italians at breakfast. They said almost all Italians consumed copious amounts of sugar. A family of four would empty the large sugar bowl on the table and then ask for more!

BTW, if it's any comfort, I'm just as big a snob at home as I am when traveling! My dad didn't finish high school and placed a huge emphasis on education and knowledge. I have a hard time with the deliberately ignorant and the rampant anti-intellectualism. My mother was from an Old South family that lost almost everything but their genteel upbringing and manners. She taught me how to set a table properly. I once had to attend a wedding that was held after 6:00 pm and she insisted that I rent a tuxedo. I remarked that I would probably be the only one there in a tux. She replied: "Then, you'll be the only one there properly attired!" There was one other gentleman in a tux.

Posted by
390 posts

hahaha speaking of strange habits....

I mean, the wurstel e patatine (hot dog and french fry pizza, some places are ok, but some places are AMAZING) pizza is my 2nd favorite pizza after the diavola! I have heard some people (maybe Americans?) refer to it as an American pizza, but I never saw it until I went to Italy!

Posted by
11678 posts

I’ve also witnessed an American college girl making a sandwich with
spaghetti in it.

No idea what her circumstances were but lordy, you don't want to KNOW some of things we snarfed down in college just to get by! Between rent, books, tuition and minimum-wage jobs, anything cheap (very) and filling would do!

Posted by
1266 posts

Interesting discussion. I think there's another consideration - how much tourists' weird food demands might cause inconvenience and even hardship, apart from being culturally insensitive. I was having lunch in Venice, and overheard a family of my fellow 'murricans repeatedly demanding ice, more and more ice, for their drinks. Not only is it not customary to put ice in drinks in Italy, but this was Venice, where they can't just have freezer trucks pull up to their back door. Yech.

Posted by
12123 posts

I don't know about Italy but in Poland, France and Germany there are the local brands of ketchup which I have seen. If he were there, the waiter could oblige by offering him a local brand.

Posted by
3 posts

Reminds me of when my grandmother visited me on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. She was very upset that they did not bread and fry the shrimp. Fortunately, I was able to head this off before it got to the waiter.

Posted by
60 posts

Firenze or Florence? Talk about pretentious.

What’s it to you what someone has on their steak? Do you call out people who eat hamburgers or pizza with a knife and fork? What about Americans not using a knife and fork properly?

Geesh

Posted by
1564 posts

What makes a traveler "ugly" is their attitude, tone, stance, demands, and lack of respect for the culture they supposedly represent as well as the culture they are visiting.

Posted by
12123 posts

How about Florence in French? In German they would say/spell it as "Florenz" and "Mailand" and " Vendig" for Milan and Venice.

In Vienna in a restaurant I was given that little basket containing a pretzel, a little "tube" of mayo and a tube of ketchup, all of which would be charged if you consumed them in the course of your meal, 95 cents each. It goes without saying the ketchup was not Heinz, but a local brand.

Posted by
12123 posts

"...not using the fork and knife properly." One can use them American style or German style.

Posted by
1158 posts

In reply to Larry, at present being spotted writing on historical monuments will start a criminal procedure with punishment up to one year in jail (usually condoned to a first time lawbreaker) and a fine starting at eur 1000 but that can be raised up to eur 3000. Arrests by municipal police are quite frequent.

Posted by
2984 posts

Kathy , you have touched a nerve , and my wife is shaking her head in disbelief . Back in my pothead days of the late sixties , hunger brought a friend and myself to engage in some highly creative culinary art . The result was knockwurst with marinara sauce . The closest thing to Ralph Kramden' s Neapolitan Knockwurst , it was delicious .

Posted by
1118 posts

Wow, Larry!
I'm appalled at the woman writing on a monument.
I'm proud of you and your wife for stepping up to tell her off in public.
How would she like it if someone wrote on her fence or front door.
My husband and I were in a bar ordering a late coffee in Florence a few years back, and an American couple behind us was demanding a burger from the staff.
We slunk away outside to drink our delicious coffee.
On the same trip, I was ordering from a menu in Milan in my then-terrible newly learned Italian; and an Australian couple at the next table leaned over and asked us to order for them, as they knew not one word of Italian.
They had been in Italy for four weeks.
Not sure how they managed before I appeared.
(Weird food things: I like marmalade on my cheese.) :)

Posted by
23751 posts

you're not the only one who likes marmalade on cheese.

I also rather like thousand island on a grilled cheese.

Posted by
737 posts

I've had way more "ugly Brit" experiences than "ugly American" ones.

Posted by
2984 posts

Nigel you are fifty percent there , add sauerkraut and corned beef and it's a Reuben Sandwich .

Posted by
6885 posts

Reminds me of the guy in Paris who ordered a chocolate milkshake to accompany his escargots at a chic café on the Avenue de l’Opera in Paris. May have been an urban myth, but I do remember a friend of my mother’s who brought two bottles of Ranch Dressing on an European tour because she slathered it on everything.
Thanks Steve.

Posted by
1762 posts

I like marmalade on my cheese.) :)

Maybe you have Piedmontese ancestors?

Posted by
2545 posts

For those of you/us who like marmalade, jam or chutney with cheese, it is “paired” with cheese in certain circles.

Posted by
2070 posts

To lachera and SJackson - It is clearly marked in multiple languages in many places that you are not to write on the walls. Which was a great big "Duh" for us -until w saw all the writing. We would gladly have called in any kind of guard or authority, there were none up top. And we did not really feel up to following her down to grab someone. Best we could do was my wife on her heels repeatedly yelling "How dare you" and calling her "Pond scum", until she finally relented and crept down. Her response to our pointing out that this was a religious monument (and we are not Catholic, BTW) was a "so what.' Absolutely amazing, and even more so that absolutely no one while turning to see the brouhaha (not they could miss it) said a word.

Posted by
3829 posts

Re - Italians having all the sugar at breakfast - we couchsurfed with a guy in Bologna - his breakfast consisted of vanilla sprinkle cookies dipped in Nutella...he offered us some - we decided to get breakfast out...lol.

Posted by
23751 posts

My hubby puts mustard on his potato chips. Yuck! Fortunately it’s only at home.

Send him to England. Most good supermarkets will have Roast Beef and Mustard crisps. Be careful though, English mustard has a bit more bite than French's.

Lots of other great flavours too - how about Wasabi and Ginger?

Posted by
20688 posts

I love good mustard. And have dipped more than one chip, bread stick, etc., in good mustard when it is available. Can you imagine a German pretzel with ketchup? The discussion reminded of the time a "diner" was demanding, loudly, lemon pepper for her salad. And the waiter didn't have a clue but tried hard by bring a fancy wrapped half a lemon and pepper grinder. Totally unacceptable !!!

Posted by
879 posts

In Paris, about 10 years ago, a good friend - a high school French teacher - realized that the two American women ahead of him in line at a buffet restaurant did not speak a word of French and kept speaking slower and louder at the trying-to-be-patient French server behind the food, who clearly did not understand what they were saying. My friend, who is extremely fluent in French (from childhood) stepped in and helped the "ladies" order. As they checked out, the "ladies" turned to him and said, with exasperation, "I don't know why they don't speak English! If it's good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for them!!" True story. Really. True story.

Posted by
14007 posts

Aaah, ketchup. I took an Israeli friend to a restaurant in California and she ordered chicken parmigiana and was horrified when her chicken arrived smothered in ketchup, complaining that Americans can't cook anything without it. Then she tasted it . . . I never understood what she thought parmigiana was. I kind of like ketchup and will eat it on a lot of things that might make you cringe - cottage cheese (shades of RMN), simple omelets - but am both horrified and revolted by the thought of putting it on a hot dog (ask an Chicagoan, including Barack). And I cringe when I see the tons of mayo Europeans are willing to drown their French fries (frites or chips to you Europeans) in. The only civilized way to eat them is with malt vinegar.

Posted by
1762 posts

never understood what she thought parmigiana was.

Coming from a Mediterranean country, I bet she would have never thought at chicken instead of fried eggplants.

Posted by
1727 posts

I kind of like ketchup and will eat it on a lot of things that might
make you cringe - cottage cheese (shades of RMN), simple omelets - but
am both horrified and revolted by the thought of putting it on a hot
dog (ask an Chicagoan, including Barack).

Didn't you tell me at our last meeting, Chani, that your 'secret' middle name is Milhous? :)

Posted by
1666 posts

"I don't know why they don't speak English! If it's good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for them!!" True story. Really. True story.

:D It's possible their server only spoke KJV English.

Posted by
11678 posts

OMG. That's blow-coffee-out-of-nose funny.
Off to find a paper towel...

Posted by
17020 posts

In Dijon there's a mustard emporium with a large mustard-vending machine. It dispenses small glass jars of many flavors.