In Italy, we were staying in a small guesthouse in the tiny coastal town of Monterosso. One morning I sat alone at a breakfast table in the corner of the dining room. Other tourists surrounded me, quietly enjoying their cappuccinos and pastries. I worked on my laptop, putting the final touches on the first edition of this book, my breakfast dishes pushed aside.
The manager of the guesthouse approached. In halting yet perfect English she asked, “Are you finished with your breakfast?” I answered, “sí.” Then she said, “Please. To work, take your computer to the lobby downstairs. This is a place of breakfast.”
That elegant phrase—This is a place of breakfast—was perfect. In her wonderfully nuanced English, my host got directly to the point and I instantly understood. There was no quibbling with the logic. I was working in a place of breakfast, and working there was wrong. Italians consider eating a semisacred process that should never be sullied by work. My incursion was callous. I was not respecting a process that had been operating for scores of generations.
I moved downstairs to the lobby, a place where many things—including a busy American with his laptop—were welcome.
It’s understandable how Europeans can sometimes consider Americans crass, as we too often fail to leave our overbearing quirks at home. It was a humbling reminder that I must always respect the systems of others.
Photo Credits: Susan Roehl