Tutti a tavola!
Dinner’s ready! (Everyone to the table!)
Something about Italy brings out my inner Martha Stewart. I can’t resist playing “la castellana” (the lady of the manor) and inviting friends to dinner (la cena). Because an Italian dinner party follows certain rules, I consulted Il Galateo (the Italian etiquette book) for a crash course in l’arte del ricevere (the art of receiving guests at home).
The first requirement is una tavola imbandita (an elegantly set table). “Una tavola gradevole agli occhi” (a table pleasing ot the eye), states Il Galateo), may be più apprezzata (more appreciated) than the food prepared to please la gola (the throat). In fact, for those who are not cuochi eccelsi (outstanding cooks), "l’apparecchiatura perfetta" (the perfectly set table) can make the meal “più piacevole” (more pleasant) and the atmosphere più accogliente (more welcoming).
La tovaglia (the tablecloth) must be “sempre impeccabilmente pulita e stirata” (impeccably clean and pressed). My choices were rotonda (round) or rettangolare (rectangular), coloratissima (very colorful), bitonale (two-toned) or tutta bianca (all white). I went with red flowers (fiori rossi) on a white background, with tovaglioli (napkins) to match.
In an Italian place setting, le forchette (the forks) go accanto al piatto a sinistra (next to the plate to the left) and il coltello e il cucchiaio a destra (the knife and the spoon to the right). Le posate) (the silverware) for dessert is placed perpendicolarmente sopra il piatto (perpendicularly above the plate). I bicchieri (the glasses) sit high to the right; un piattino (a little plate) for pane (bread), in the corresponding position on the left.
Al centro della tavola (at the center of the table) I placed un vaso di fiori freschi (a vase of fresh flowers)—taking care that it wouldn’t be so high as to impedire la conversazione fra i commensali (impede the conversation among the diners). And to create an intimate and elegant atmosphere (un’atmosfera intima ed elegante), I lit candles (le candele).
Il Galateo also offers advice on how to handle “cibi-trappola” (food traps). For example. break asparagi (asparagus) into pieces with a fork, never a knife, or take the stalks delicatamente con le dita (delicately with the fingers). With piping hot risotto, non si spiatella (don’t spread it on the plate) to cool it off. As for spaghetti, si arrotolano sulla forchetta (twirl the fork to wrap the spaghetti around it) —senza usare il cucchiaio (without using a spoon).
Here are some other practical rules to keep in mind at your next dinner party:
*Non si giocherella con le posate ne con il cibo. (Don’t play with the silverware or the food.)
*Evitare rumori molesti. (Avoid annoying noises.)
*Non parlare a bocca piena. (Don’t talk with your mouth full.)
*La scarpetta non si fa. (Don’t make “the little shoe,” i.e., use a piece of bread to clean your plate.)
*Le mani non devono mai scomparire dalla vista. Almeno in Italia. (The hands must never disappear from sight. At least in Italy.)
Words and Expressions
cenone –- big holiday dinner (such as cenone di Natale at Christmas)
cenetta -– simple and delicious dinner (usually more intimate and informal)
cena di gala –- gala-dinner
dopocena -– an after dinner party/get-together at home
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.
Who could resist this musical invitation to come to the table?