Sunday, June 22, 2008

Soccer fever, plastic gloves and Italian food in Germany

Cleanliness becomes more important when godliness is unlikely (P.J O'Rourke)

This week I went on a three day impromptu visit to see my family in Germany, a country I love visiting. My poor husband was to stay behind as he had to work. Being a Polish wife means you are inherently born with a gene that makes you feel instant guilt if you abandon your husband without leaving a fully stocked fridge with three different cooked dishes and a homemade dessert. So after finishing that task, I packed my bags and yelled out arrivederci as my husband dropped me off at Pisa airport.

My German cousins decided to take me out to a restaurant and then a bar afterwards for a drink. I was disappointed when they excitedly told me we were going to their favourite Italian restaurant but didn't have the heart to tell them I really felt like a schnitzel. Afterwards at the bar, I got to experience the madness in Europe right now that is soccer fever. The fussball match I watched was close to home as the Italians were playing and they won. I smiled as I could only imagine the happiness and cheer that I was sure was being paraded that night in my hometown of Florence.

Whenever I go to Germany I stock up on food at the Polish delicatessen. I left Florence with a twelve kilogram suitcase and came back with twenty one kilograms. Jason picked up my suitcase and looking weak asked 'how many clothes did you buy this time?' But to his pleasant surprise he opened the bag and was greeted by the wafting smell of salami squashed in amongst Polish preserves, Polish spices and the traditional Polish poppy seed cake, makowiec. I sneakily smiled at the thought of my two new gorgeous items of clothing I had stowed away in my hand luggage.

After living in Italy for a few months now, Germany always feels so clean and organised. Now today's blog is going to expose me for the germaphobe that I am, but I have to admit I have some 'cleanliness issues' with Florence. See, I can get over that I will be walking behind someone who will not think twice about dropping rubbish to the ground that I inevitably step on with my new pair of cream wedge shoes. I also have no problem dodging the dog poo that is on every footpath. And I can even get over that smokers will not care about you choking when they are smoking three centimetres away from you while you are trying to eat.

But I just can't get over that the shop owners use their ungloved hands to serve me my bread each morning. In the first couple of days of arriving in Florence, I bought bread and pastries from various fornaio's (bakeries) around town and was shocked that they handled my (and a hundred other people's) money and then used the same hands to cut my bread or piece of pizza. That would never happen in Australia. I paid them and promptly threw the 'dirty goods' in the nearest bin cursing myself for choosing a seller that clearly was not hygienic. Well, it only took me another two days to realise that if I was going to eat at all in Italy, I would have to get over this cleanliness obsession I had.

Recently we started doing our food shopping out of town in a big supermarket as there are no such places in central Florence. With lower prices and a larger variety of food, I was excited to find a shop that looked like my beloved Woolworths in Australia and I quickly proceeded to the fruit and vegetable section. I picked up some delicious looking peaches that are in season now, checking for their firmness. An Italian lady looked at me with displeasure and pointed at the gloves. Apparently it is mandatory to use plastic gloves to pick up the fruit and vegetables before I put them in a bag! Someone forgot to tell this news to the bakery, pizza shop and every other place in Florence. I thought about the irony of this situation of handling fruit that will be washed anyway as I put on the plastic gloves. I mumbled mi dispiace (I'm sorry) to the lady.

Returning from the supermarket and back at home, I cooked up a traditional Florentine meal for dinner. The menu was Bistecca Alla Fiorentina or in plain English terms a medium rare steak half the size of a cow served with fried zucchini flowers. And just in case you were wondering, yes, I washed the zucchini flowers thoroughly before we ate them and washed my hands. Twice. Old habits die hard.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you on the cleaniness issue chich....never eat out of a chip bowl...hehehe...

Anonymous said...

How do you get all that produce through customs? Doesn't it make all your clothes smell like a butcher shop for a week afterwards?

Monika said...

Hi Anonymous,
No customs between EU countries. In fact they don't even check your passport when you fly back. Not like in Australia where you have to declare all food! I only had one bag of salami which I triple wrapped to prevent my clothes smelling!! the rest was all in jars, can or sweet stuff in paper!

Viv: I haven't eaten chips in about half a year. Their chips here are just not as satisfying as the ones up on level 2 during a meeting.

Romerican said...

I feel your pain Monika... I've been in Italy for 10 years and I still cringe when I see shopkeepers handle food & money together! At this one pizza place I used to love, the workers started wearing plastic gloves to handle the food but then I noticed they DIDN'T remove the gloves to handle the money- nasty!
I still don't understand the plastic gloves when handling produce- what's the point? We all wash our fruit & veggies so why wear gloves? I don't bother, I do get nasty stares but who cares! I'd rather not waste more plastic =)