Saturday, December 10, 2005

Time Is on Their Side

Today I accidentally locked my house keys inside my house, and as I waited for my landlord's son to come and let me in, I speculated that I'd be at least half an hour late for the Christmas party our faculties were having at a hotel-restaurant. Luckily, in Sicily, that meant I would still be there before anything really happened. And I was right. When I got there, half an hour late, everyone was standing around chatting, no one was seated, nothing was ready, and others were arriving even after me. Here you see us seated and waiting for the next course.

This is normal in Sicily. Times are "suggestions," kind of like stop lights and road signs. Practically no one arrives at the actual time of an event. Even the opera started a little late. I've been to restaurants with large parties, where, of course we had a reservation, and the staff seem quite surprised to see us there. They do start to get things together, but it takes a while. Meals themselves can last for hours if all the courses are taken. Here you see Phil and Leslie enjoying a four-hour lunch at the Murgo Winery recently.

I found this out when I arranged a TGIF event for about fifty people last fall. I rushed to the place just before it was scheduled to start, and NOTHING had even been started. Where were the food, drinks, bar, and tables? Eventually, it all got done and came together, but on Sicilian time, and slowly. Meals can take hours, especially if all the courses are taken.

The evening meal is usually eaten quite late, which is why Americans rarely go out to eat during the work week. Who can eat at ten, eleven, even midnight and then get up at five to go to work? The earliest you might find a restaurant open for diners is 7:30, more often 8:00 PM. Sometimes they'll tell you to come back at 8:30. The cook and kitchen staff are still eating their own supper, and they're not about to jump up and cook for customers yet!

So, when I do go out, we are usually the first ones in the restaurant and have eaten, paid, and are leaving just as the Sicilians are coming in. Great-grannies and little children, all coming out to eat at 10:00 PM! On a weeknight!

On the other hand, don't attempt to buy anything, even gas, during pausa or riposo, which is from 1:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon. Except for a few large (foreign) superstores which have now started to stay open during those hours, everything shuts down but restaurants, as the Sicilians take their rest . . . probably so they can stay out past midnight having supper!


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