Panini Do Nothing For Me

Italian panini suck! There, I said it! They are boring, and simple, and uncreative, and lack anything fried inside of them! As I’ve said many times before (to avoid a revolt … and because it’s true) Italian cuisine is great. However, when it comes to stuffing bread full of every meat, topping, and condiment possible, America has totally got Italy beat at the sandwich game!

Italian Panino

American Sandwich

Not only are Italian panini too simple and boring (imagine a single millimeter-thin layer of prosciutto, a solitary slice of cheese, and some dry lettuce without any condiment on it), but they also lack creativity. Anywhere you go in Italy, with a few overpriced exceptions, you find the exact same panini with the same dull options. Bleagh!

What’s worse, making any alterations to a “pre-set” panino is a no-no! After nearly 7 years in Italia, I must say that the habit that Italians have of making it difficult to make any changes to a sandwich drives me bonkers! I think I’m adult enough to know what I like and don’t like, thank you very much.

For example, this one time I was getting a sandwich at a café – one of the many where they don’t even permit you to chose your own fillings, but rather have sandwiches that are already planned out for you, even if they need to be made at the moment. The sandwich came with arugula, which I hate, so I asked for it without. When I went to pay they hit me with a surcharge of €1 because I asked for the sandwich without the arugula. And remember, the sandwich was not already made. It’s not like they had to take the arugula off and throw it away. They simply had to not add the damn thing, actually saving them both time and money. Well, I got in one of my infamous arguments with the lady at the cash register and stormed out without paying anything. So I guess I won that time, though I’ll have to add that café to the long list of places that I can never return back to because I made a scene.

This lengthy list also includes the sandwich shop where they tried to charge me fifty cents more because I asked for a condiment on the side, as apposed to actually on the panino. I guess the sandwich maker having to move his hand 2 inches to the right before squeezing the mayonnaise bottle is worthy of an extra charge in Italy…. Plus there is the place where I asked for a sandwich in Italian and the lady answered me in horrible English. I told her that her English was an atrocity and huffed out of there too, with no panino at all and still hungry. Well, this last one actually has more to do with me being too touchy about my Italian than it actually does with the panino itself, but it’s still on my black list.

In America, the local deli might have some pre-organized sandwiches, but you are more than free to simply create your own, choosing from the slew of options. The world is your oyster .. or, rather, topping. Your mile-high American sandwich will be stuffed to the brims and served with your choice of potatoe salad, macaroni salad, chips, or french fries. In Italy you practically have to open the two slices of bread to make sure that there is anything inside and the panino is served with your choice of … napkin.

I always feel bad for my American visitors who come to see me in Italy. They  have these great expectations for mouth watering Italian panini. I hate seeing the look of disappointment in their eyes when they discover that there is no such thing as a chicken pesto panino with roasted bell peppers and grilled marinated portobello mushrooms, smothered in tons of gooey melted mozzarella. That’s just the American take on an Italian panino.

I would say that the food I crave the most when I’m in Italy would be American sandwiches.  Man, I’d kill for a bologna sub from A&A with american cheese, mayo, pickles, grilled onions, jalapenos, and black olives! The best sub in my hometown! My mother would say that the best one is a steak bomb with mushrooms, peppers, and onions from Boyles, and those are pretty darn good too!

*** Grammar Point *** All this talk of food, and I almost forgot the grammar point I wanted to make. So “panino” is singular while “panini” is plural, so saying “I am having a panini” is technically incorrect. Although, who cares about grammar when you’ve got a foot-long sub to chow down on!

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It’s my turn!

Anybody who has spent any significant amount of time in Italy is bound to agree with me on this one. Italians have no concept of waiting in line whatsoever!

It’s something that will make an American such as myself go absolutely out of his freakin’ mind! The lack of respect for somebody patiently waiting his or her turn in line is so unabashedly rude that it’s made me honestly consider just packing my stuff up and getting the heck out of this country! Arghhh! (“Well go then, Mr. Complainy Pants”, say my offended Italian readers.)

Waiting in line in Italy makes me so ANGRY! If I could just find an oversized slingshot!!!

I swear on everything holy, if I were an Angry Bird and the Italians were green “non-line-respecting” pigs, I would throw myself on a giant slingshot and wreak havoc! My anger would certainly propel me towards getting all three stars and racking up a new high score!

Sometimes I really wonder if Italians see me waiting in line and think to themselves “What’s this idiot doing just standing there in front of the cash register blocking me? I know, I’ll go right around him and take care of my business. Good thing I have common sense!” This line cutting is by no means restricted to a certain town, type of customer, or store either. Whether in Palermo or Verona, a young girl or an old man, the dry cleaner’s or the bakery, waiting in line remains an unknown concept in Italy.

Let me give you two unnerving examples from my own life:

  1. I’m at the supermarket in Milan, waiting patiently in line at register 6. I’ve been in line for about 15 minutes when register 5 suddenly opens up. The woman behind me (who got into my line about 17 seconds ago) rushes over to be the first in line at 5. Not only did she not tap me on the shoulder and say “excuse me sir, register 5 is open” (as somebody in the USA most likely would have), but when I try putting on an apologetic face and saying to her “sorry ma’am but I was before you”, she responds by saying that I was before her in line for register 6 and if I’m too slow to move to 5 before her, then I deserve to wait in line all day.
  2. I’m in line at a busy (and understaffed) pizza-by-the-slice place in Bologna. I was innocently looking at the pizzas available, trying to decide which one to get when the kid behind the counter asked me if I was all set. I assumed that if he were talking to me that it must be my turn, so I ordered. Apparently, there was another guy in the pizzeria that was there before I was, who I honestly did not see in all the unorganized chaos. He told me he didn’t know what country I came from, but that here in Italy they have this thing called “waiting one’s turn in line”. The gall of an Italian daring to talk to me, an American, about the sanctity of waiting in line prompted me to respond “Oh yeah, pal? You want to see real line-waiting etiquette? Come to America, we’ll blow your effing mind!” I then left without having eaten any pizza at all!
Whew! Okay, I feel better after having gotten that off my chest! Sometime I just need to get on my soapbox and rant a bit. As I’ve stated before, I do like to share observations but I don’t want to be rude towards my host culture so I’d like to end by saying something nice.

Dear Italian people,

If you cut me in line I will be very unhappy and most likely give you the evil eye. You do, however, have a culture rich in history and superb cuisine. Thank you.

- The American

Let me give you some advice

  • I meet up with my friends outside the bar where we’re going to have a few drinks and one of them asks ” Shouldn’t you be wearing a heavier jacket?”
  • I dunk my french fries in ketchup and a fellow McDonalder says “I don’t think you should use so much of that stuff, it’s not good for you.”
  • I’m at a store looking at some candle holders and shop assistant states “You should look at those silver ones over there. Also, make sure to buy 3 because 2 is bad luck.”

Unwanted and unsolicited advice is one of the things that drives me most bananas about living in Italy. I’m talking a big ol’ bunch of ripe Chiquitas here!

Italians love, lovelove voicing their opinion and giving you advice whether you want it or not. I, being an outgoing-yet-humble guy, have absolutely no problem voicing my opinion (which has a time and a place) or asking for advice (which needs to be left to the individual to decide whether or not to ask). But, Italian people (God love ‘em) for some reason think that their opinion/advice is exactly what you have been searching for and longing to hear.

Among themselves the situation goes without a hitch. An Italian will respond to unsolicited advice from another Italian by responding with some of their own. Both parties seem content to have expressed their opinion or shared their advice and then they both continue happily with their day. This is not so with me.

An unsuspecting (and essentially innocent) Italian will gawk at me with an expression of hurt surprise on their face when their unsought advice is met by my gruff “Who the hell asked you?!”

I know my jacket is light, I understand that too much ketchup isn’t good for you, and I am perfectly capable of selecting candle holders all by myself thank you!

I don’t want to seem hostile or non grateful towards my host culture, so, being that today is Thanksgiving (at least back in the USA), I’d like to close with something positive: I am thankful for my life here in Italy and all the wonderful/strange/exciting/frustrating things that come along with it!

Italian bog reader: “You know, Garrett, you really should have started your post with the Thanksgiving thing and I’m not sure that the Chiquita banana reference was pertinent.”

Me: “Shut it!”

(Okay, I just had to get one last zing in there) :-P

Italian streets of fury

So, I already alluded to this a little bit in a previous blog post, but let’s chat more in-depth about pedestrian life in Italy, shall we?

I’d like to start by defining what these words mean in Italian:

  • strada (street): a place where one should drive as fast as one can, never stop for pedestrians, park wherever and whenever one desires, and behave as if one is the only driver even if the throngs of other cars and mopeds say otherwise.
  • marciapiedi (sidewalk): see definition above.

Hitting the Italian streets can really be quite an adventure (not the “Indiana Jones” kind… more of the “hope I make it to the office in one piece” kind). It is true that Italy, being much older than the USA, was developed and planned way before the invention of the automobile, so some streets can be really narrow and car parking wasn’t taken into consideration when the cities were built. However, I don’t think that Italian driving etiquette really helps the situation at all.

The problems with Italian driving can be broken down into 3 main sub-categories:

  1. Speed
  2. Parking
  3. Ballsy-ness

Speed: Italians’ love of flashy sports cars, like Ferrari, and sports racing, like the Gran Premio, form streets that make you feel as if you took a wrong turn on the way to the pastry shop to buy your cannoli and wound up on the tracks of the Formula 1. I think that Italians get a thrill out of pretending to be Valentino Rossi as they try their best to get you to cagare sotto (crap your pants) while you attempt to cross the street. Plus, drivers know that if they didn’t succeed in running you over, then the mopeds weaving in and out of traffic will probably finish the job.

Parking: The concept of legal parking in Italy is so badly understood that I’ve seriously considered taking tons of photos and publishing a photographic coffee-table book entitled “That don’t go there!”. Cars and mopeds can be found double parked (which doesn’t sound so bad, but when its done on a narrow one-way street which completely blocks all traffic, that’s when the fun begins), parked on sidewalks (forcing you to walk into the street to go around it, where you can be sure to find some guy on a moped ready to run you over – I think it’s some sort of collaboration), parked in front of stores (so nobody can get in or out ), directly on tram rails (just in case you thought that taking public transportation would save you from them), and on the grass, flower beds, and of course strategically placed exactly on top of the cross walk (which really doesn’t make a difference anyways, as most Italian pedestrians don’t cross at the cross walk out of principal – it’s the sort of “hey, don’t you tell me what to do” mentality which is part of what makes Italy so wonderful).

Ballsy-ness: Not only will an Italian be talking on their cell phone and backing up at full speed on the sidewalk (without looking over their shoulder, of course), but the best part is that they have the balls to beep the horn at you and give you a dirty look for daring to attempt walking on the sidewalk! They will illegally zip right through a red light on their adorable Italian mopeds as you are legally crossing the street and then have the balls to yell “go f yourself” at you. But I think the best is when you are trying to cross the street in the pouring rain with 75 kilos of groceries, and they have the balls to almost run you over and splash you with a puddle just so that they can get to a red light and wait for it to turn green.

Well guys, I have to go put on my helmet and hockey gear because I’ve got to run out and buy some bread and tomatoes.

Wish me luck!

Really? You can be in a position of power and actually say that??!!

So, it’s hard for me to keep my blog always G-rated, cute, and not too “emotional” when something really burns my toast (that’s cute talk for “pisses me off”). Also, since soapboxing is one of my things, let’s get right into my first soapbox rant on my blog. Oh joy!

In short, this video (above) is a disgraceful clip from the speech of the a-hole Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio “I suck s#!t for a living” Berlusconi.

He is addressing the Italian media in response to the latest in a string of “illicit affairs” that have not only led to ruining his marriage, but also embarrassed the Italian government (and nation as a whole) time and time again.

In his speech he basically says that its “better to be a womanizer than gay”. Then, you can hear his dumb f!&k supporters laughing and clapping.

Berlusconi makes decisions and uses his power in ways that prevent me from being able to get married in Italy, yet has no respect for the so-called “institute of marriage” himself. He makes light of his own shortcomings and shamelessly makes public homophobic statements on national Italian television.

I this not 2010? Is Italy not a developed country?

This is really ridiculous s#!t guys. This type of stuff can NOT go on!

Am I right here? Or am I over reacting?