It irritates me every time I hear it, causing me to pointlessly retort that it’s not that the days are shorter, it’s that the sun comes up earlier in the morning. Truth be told, the daylight hours are slightly longer in Italy. But am I just being overly defensive thinking that they’re pointing out some shortcoming in Japan because the days are a little shorter there?
It’s in my nature to be so pointlessly confrontational even about the daylight hours, and so people here are constantly pointing out things about Japan to me. What happens when you sit down in a restaurant, for example.
While Italians look over the menu or after they order, they eat from a small basket of bread on the table or munch on grissini, which are hard little breadsticks with a cracker-like crunch, while they chat and wait for their food to arrive.
You can have as much bread as you like, so it’s not uncommon for people to devour the bread while they’re waiting and end up getting full. When the food comes, the table is often so littered with crumbs that it feels as if the meal is over.
Because of this, the Italians tell me how disappointed and shocked they are that they don’t get any bread when they sit down at Japanese restaurants.
They make a huge fuss, as if Japan is so impoverished that it can’t afford to give people a simple slice of bread. So I fire back that at least Japanese restaurants let you drink as much water as you like for free, while Italian restaurants won’t even bring it out unless you pay for it.
Another Italian custom is giving everyone a table napkin, even when people are eating at home with their families. These days it’s more common to use disposable napkins than cloth ones, but they’re an indispensable addition at an Italian dinner table for wiping the grease off your mouth before speaking or drinking from your water or wine glass. And they’re quite large. Cloth napkins are typically designed to complement the tablecloth, so they’re even used at home to decorate the table when there’s a big dinner party.
Knowing that I’m so short-tempered, the Italians probably get a kick out of pointing out the lack of napkins at Japanese restaurants as well. It immediately sets me off, which leads to a pantomime scene in which I’m forcefully sawing at piece of meat with a knife and fork, explaining that because we use chopsticks in Japan, there’s no need for everyone to use their own knife and fork to cut the food—it’s already cut into bite-size pieces that can be eaten gracefully without getting your mouth dirty. You don’t need a napkin so big it could be used as a baby bib. So there. I open my mouth wide and act as if I’m cramming a huge bite of food in, and then, with a calm expression, pretend to eat daintily with chopsticks.
Everyone then gets quiet for a moment and stops complaining, offering only comments of admiration. But I’m just waiting for them to bring up the next difference…