A few years ago, Chris and I took our first overseas trip to Italy. I prepared for months for it – not only did I learn some basic Italian, I learned about their culture so I knew what to expect and how to be respectful. Mealtimes in Italy are a different experience than in the States – you can expect to spend significantly longer in a restaurant, with a more relaxed style of service and multiple courses to enjoy. For an eat-while-standing-over-the-sink girl like myself, this was an adjustment, but I appreciated the change. They are also generally set on their offerings – when you order a meal, there isn’t a whole lot of off the menu customization.
On one of the last days of our trip, we were in Venice, and sat down for lunch at a trattoria. I became increasingly sick from my traditional Vacation Sinus Infection, and looked forward to relaxing outside and enjoying some Venetian cuisine. A cruise ship docked in the port for the day bringing with it a grumpy couple who sat down next to us a few minutes after we placed our order. The man frowned and grumbled at the menu, “where’s the pizza?” The woman scanned her own menu, clearly irritated. “We’re in Italy – where’s their pizza?” My husband Chris helpfully pointed out where it was located on the menu. The man glared at the pizza section, never looking up to acknowledge Chris’ existence, never mind his helpfulness. “Where are their toppings? I want a pepperoni pizza!”
I took a sip of my wine and took a breath, hoping the combination of wine and Acti-Due (an Italian version of Sudafed) would slide me into a blissful coma. I hate conflict and sensed these people were going to be a problem. Chris remained friendly and gregarious, because he is nicer than I am. “I don’t think they have pepperoni here. And it’s a little different in Italy – they list what types of pizza they have and you order from one of those selections. There aren’t topping choices the way you see at home.”
“Well, that’s silly,” the woman sighed. “We want a pepperoni pizza.”
Chris shrugged his shoulders. The man looked up from his menu for a second to look around. He growled, “Where’s the waiter? It’s been five minutes,” and stuck his nose back in his menu.
While I silently prayed for them to leave and ruin someone else’s lunch, Chris kept a friendly, disarming demeanor. “Service takes a while everywhere in Italy…”
The man kept his eyes on his menu and actually waved off Chris. It was the “talk to the hand” for dusty old taint hairs, apparently. As Grumpy Old Taint (a.k.a. G.O.T.) did it, the woman started chatting with Chris, and it appeared neither even noticed the rude gesture. They made small talk about where the couple was from, and she discussed their current travels. Surprise, surprise: every country they visited had rude people, and guess what? They hated everything and everyone. I seriously would love to see a Frommer-style guide from this Debbie Downer: “Explore Italy! These Spaghetti-Slurping Assholes Don’t Even Have Pizza!”
G.O.T. abruptly stood up and started flailing his arms as if he were cast out to sea and trying to get the coast guard’s attention. “We need SERVICE! Where’s a WAITER?”
Debbie Downer looked up at her useless taint-hair of a husband. “Charles, the people here are so rude! When are we going to get a pizza?”
Chris looked at me, his eyes saying, Can you believe these people?
I looked at him, my eyes saying, you’re the one who is still talking to them, motherfucker… although I think he interpreted my glance as I know, right?? I really hoped the restaurant knew we weren’t with the Mr. and Mrs. Taint – I didn’t want a loogie in my lunch…
A waiter arrived at their table. G.O.T. was a man who knew what he wanted – you’ve got to give him that. And he wanted PIZZA! PEPPERONI PIZZA! The waiter tried explaining they didn’t have pepperoni. Debbie Downer was not pleased. “How could you not have pepperoni?” She passive-aggressively sighed and bargained to customize a pizza based off of the ingredients they did have available that didn’t sound too “weird” or “unpleasant.” I think they stuck with cheese.
The waiter looked uncomfortable with each question he asked. “Would you like soup with your-“
Our food arrived and I asked for the check, so I could get the hell away from these horrible people as soon as I was done eating. Debbie Downer continued to talk to Chris, and I remained as cordial as I could – unlike G.O.T., even if I don’t like someone I’m going to at least be polite, because I’m not that brand of asshole.
As Debbie Downer talked and complained, G.O.T. snorted and grunted. I ate my meal. What brings people to this point? What lives did these two people live that turned every vacation they ever had into a nightmare? And why did they keep on doing it if they hated it so much? They were fortunate enough to travel overseas and see beautiful things they’ve never seen before. Palaces, weird birds… the most amazing art and architecture in the world! Mr. and Mrs. Taint were very lucky to be in the situation they were in, but they entered into it with the expectation of being disappointed. Paradoxically, having the expectation of disappointment never disappoints.
I remembered a quote from a former manager I had at a retail gig in college. She wisely and simply stated, “you just can’t make some people happy, because they are at their happiest when they are miserable.” Exhibit A and B: sitting next to me in a Venice trattoria.
Chris and I ate our food quickly; even he was tiring of their behavior. The waiter brought back our change, G.O.T. roared “WHERE’S OUR PIZZA?”
Chris and I stood up to leave. Through a forced smile, I said “enjoy the rest of your cruise!”
Debbie Downer gave a “thank you” in a way that told us she didn’t comprehend what “enjoy” meant. Judging by the pizza-deprived caveman she married, I don’t think she ever knew the meaning of the word.
Mr. Taint said something that I could only make out as a “Bah! Grumblesmut!” to bid us adieu. I never wanted to beat someone so senselessly with a pizza pan as bad as I did at that moment.
Chris muttered as we walked away, “so that’s what they mean by ‘ugly Americans.’”
“I have a favor to ask you.”
I stopped him and grabbed his shoulders to look him squarely in the eye. “If I ever turn into that? Fucking shoot me.”
We continued walking. “Same here.”
Delicious-looking pizza photo taken by Celeste C. Thanks, Celeste!