Why you should care
Because style is more than a lesson.
Italians have a saying: “Style is not water.” Meaning you either have it or you don’t. It’s innate, and sophisticatedly understated. But now, with a good dose of patience and commitment, you can attend one of the many etiquette schools flourishing across Italy, the land where bon ton was first launched ages ago. The courses, usually located in luxury resorts, teach men and women of all ages the proper comportment when mingling in society (how to eat, sit, walk, hold a glass, etc.). The ultimate goal: to boost one’s appeal and climb the social ladder.
For Italian “bon-tonian freaks” appearance is crucial, and many ladies would kill to emulate those so very elegant Renaissance countesses who had style in their veins. It’s achievable, provided you’re able to do a set of things harder than 100 pushups or swim 200 laps, such as sitting for a five-hour wedding brunch with your back straight as a pin, legs at a 90-degree angle and clamped as tight as if you had to go to the bathroom. Never cross them, though, that’s manlike. And don’t open them either, the last thing you’d want is to show off your undergarments. Resist the urge to reach for your smartphone. Just sit like a mannequin, head and shoulders erect, elbows off the table, please.
Oh, and remember to breathe.
My mother’s duchess aunt believed it was “noble” to end meals with some hunger, and “space” in the stomach.
There are stricter, more torturous rules to follow in order to be perfect, though. After all, etiquette was invented in the 1500s by a petty, fallen Italian bishop who believed society, and the universe, should obey human laws. (This was the same guy who created the Inquisition tribunals against witches.) He wrote it all down in a frustrating book titled Galateo, a manual of good manners that spread across Europe.
Today, more than 500 years following its publication, Galateo remains a popular classic. So the next time you’re invited to dinner, make sure to do the following: Never ask for salt or pepper as this might suggest to the cook that his or her food is “un-tasty”; clean your mouth with your napkin after every bite; never start eating before the host does; don’t stuff yourself with bread; avoid pouring too much wine into your glass, it’s vulgar.
Above all, don’t finish all the food on your plate. Leave at least two mouthwatering bites of spaghetti Bolognese in your dish; if you gulp it all down it shows you’re starving, just like poor farmers did back in the Middle Ages. My mother’s duchess aunt believed it was “noble” to end meals with some hunger, and “space” in the stomach.
Look at it in a positive light: In other countries you’d be expected to express satisfaction at the table by giving vent to your lower and upper regions.
And, believe it or not, we Italians also have a beach etiquette. We’re addicted to tinted Ray-Bans, keeping them on whether sunbathing, sitting in a café or out and about after sunset. Wearing sunglasses is cool, and they sex you up regardless of how ordinary your looks, but if you bump into someone and start a conversation, remove your sunglasses. Ladies should wear only a hint of waterproof makeup, to avoid unslightly smudges, and some jewelry (nothing too flashy as it could attract baby barracuda while swimming). Topless is accepted when you’re solo, but no dangling tits while chatting with the person sunbathing next to you.
Rule No. 1, however, refers to our sacred “espresso hour” (which is approximately four times a day): Never enter a café in a bikini, even if you possess a pair of perfect buttocks. Flip-flops and shorts will do. After all, style is a matter of details.
Last lesson: Don’t forget to carry your Galateo booklet with you to remember it all!