If you want buy something in Italy, you have to want it real bad. Just showing up and offering money, is not good enough. Not when you’re buying a house, not if you consider taking up a language course and certainly not when you want to order a wedding cake.
It so happened that my fiancé and I were organizing our own wedding party in our recently finished Villa Bacio del Lupo late September. We had about 50 people to feed, a large part coming in from The Netherlands. We wanted to spend some more time with our Dutchies and so we also organized brunch the next day. And we needed cake. For the reception.
We figured our wonderful baker Giovanni was the person to talk to. A month before the wedding I announced my plans. He was unimpressed. “Come back closer to the date and we’ll talk about it”. In my opinion handing over a list would be easier, but I know in Italy easy isn’t wat does it. Two weeks before the big day I brought the wedding up while doing my regular shopping. Now wasn’t a good time, I was told; “Come back after 5 pm”. That didn’t help: the first time the shop was closed, the second time he was on vacation and the third time his fierce yet tooth-less mother was behind the counter. Although I had tried to bond with her before, she never warmed up to me although she’s from Sicily where people are supposed to be a hundred times nicer than in Umbria.
Running out of time I figured I would have to deal with the mother-baker. So I set out to express my wishes as eloquently as my humble Italian permitted me. She scribbled it on a tiny piece of paper. Not trusting the outcome, I strongly suggested she write down my phone number, which she accepted only after I pressed her several times. Two days later Giovanni was on the phone and together we struggled through the order once again until we got it right. We just needed to pick it up the day of the wedding.
Forgive me, but on my wedding day I need to attend to other things, like getting my hair done. So I sent my fiancé with a large sum of cash to get our things around 11 am as discussed with Giovanni. Anyone who thinks you can get a detailed price before you actually go to get the food, clearly doesn’t live in Italy. He went around 12 pm to allow them more time, but to no avail. It wasn’t ready. Shortly before 1 pm we went back together. My gorgeous hair had given me new powers and I was sure we were to get our things, pay fast and dash off.
We entered the shop in high spirits only to find the mother-baker behind the counter. Mannaggia! I’ll be damned. ‘You here to pick up your order?” “Yes ma’am. Giovanni isn’t in?” I tried in vain. “He’s sleeping. Seven ‘crostate’ fruit cakes, no?” “No, six please.” “You said seven before. I wrote it down!” “Okay, my bad (although I’m SURE it was six) gimme seven.” “You needed 37 whole wheat breads no?” In fact I needed 37 whole wheat panini not pane – buns instead of breads -, slightly less, but what can you do? Nothing! “Come behind the counter and take them yourself miss.” I did it. After some more hostilities it was time to pay.
She looked at me expectantly. “Well …” and then something I didn’t understand. Well what? Give me the numbers! But she repeated her question angrily. I turned to my fiancé for help. Together we figured out that she wanted us to do the math! This explained why Giovanni and his mother were always bickering in the store when it came to paying the bill. When I showed signs of understanding she exclaimed: “Ha! NOW you understand!” The total was 120 euro, but, if we didn’t need a receipt, she could do a 110. Fine woman, we’ll take the 110 and let’s get out of here. While we were already on the threshold, our arms full of delicious bread, croissants, chocolate, cookies and cakes, she stopped us. “What’s all that food for anyway?” she demanded. In a final attempt to mollify her, I answered: “It’s for our wedding.’ She just looked me up and down disapprovingly and said: “A wedding huh? So where’s the confetti?”