cappuccino, travel, Americans, and cultural diversity

Real Italian espresso and espresso-maker

esterday afternoon I made myself a cappuccino and posted this picture on facebook. Immediately – in my mind – I found myself in a bustling Tuscan piazza, sipping the inimitable Italian perfecto cappuccino and breathing in the unique cultural ambiance.

My cappuccino was very good – I made it with real Italian cafe espresso, in an authentic Italian espresso-maker that Andrew sent from Tuscany, and I frothed the milk with a nifty appliance purchased in Livorno. But I can’t nearly replicate the perfectly balanced beverage conjured up by the Italian barista plying his or her trade at a busy espresso bar.

After our 2009 visit to Tuscany I made one of those photo books and titled it, “Rebekah Maul Discovers Italian Froth”. I had around 20 pictures of Rebekah sipping cappuccino in various places. Pisa, Livorno, Florence, Sienna, Lucca, Rome, Milan, the train station. She fell in love with cappuccino.

But she won’t drink it here in the USA. “Just not the same,” she says.

The BEST in the entire world!

RULES: In Italy there are protocols, Andrew tells us, regarding the proper consumption of espresso products. Cappuccino is – properly – a morning beverage. After noon the barista should be serving espresso. There’s another window, apparently, just before dinner when it’s appropriate to order cappuccino. Then it’s back to straight espresso again.

I remember going into a cafe in the walled medieval town of Lucca. It was three in the afternoon and Rebekah was ready for her new favorite treat. Andrew wanted nothing to do with it. “The barista is not going to be happy,” he said. But Rebekah insisted and so Andrew went up to the counter.

Rebekah enjoying a sidewalk cafe in Tuscany

We couldn’t understand the conversation – it was in Italian. Then, after some negotiating, Andrew shrugged his shoulders and said the Italian equivalent of “What can I say, she’s my mother….” “Ahhhh,” the barista responded, raising his hands in mock surrender, “Vostro Madre…” She got her cappuccino, and with a smile.

RESPECT: Wherever he is, Andrew always tries his best to respect the local culture, and to learn what makes a place tick. Not that we can’t or shouldn’t order a cappuccino in the middle of the afternoon, but that we avoid the tendency (of so many from this side of the Big Pond) toward unthinking cultural homogenization.

That’s what I’m talking about!

We taught this principle to our children from the earliest years, when we’d get off the interstate on vacation, roll into a town, and drive right past the fast-food and franchise restaurants to make them eat at places like “The Tumbleweed Diner” or “Mel’s Armadillo Cafe” where it was nothing but local flavor served by local characters.

Many Americans say they like to indulge themselves in an occasional shot of Europe, but in reality, if the experience can be modified to be more like an afternoon walking around Epcot, then so much the better.

Rebekah, in Pisa, looking toward the leaning tower while enjoying the perfect cappuccino

CHARACTER: This is a diverse world full of individuality and character. That goes for coffee, food, politics, culture, and religious expression too.

The last thing this planet needs is a homogenized, sanitized version of life that’s easier for Americans to deal with because – after all (and we’re heard this a million times) – “We’re right and they’re wrong.”

I’m thinking out loud here, and I’m not sure exactly what conclusions I’m leaning toward or that should – ultimately – be drawn…. So I guess I’ll just close this post and make myself another cappuccino.



  1. Good evening, Derek. When people travel, they really need to “smell the coffee” (pun intended for your posting) and soak up as much of the local environment as possible. That’s why you adventurously go to local eateries. You also learn respect for other cultures and subcultures and the morals and mores of the inhabitants. After all, people pay dearly to travel these days. By doing the above, they just might get their money’s worth and an education to boot. Peace and Blessings, Henry


  2. I can (sadly) predict the response of many of my American friends would be to this: “Well you’re not really an American so you wouldn’t know.” In my case I’m not an American at all, so apparently I can’t understand why Americans insist on eating at McDonalds in Singapore (costing a small fortune, when they could be eating a large portion of Indian vegetarian food for $1.50 or large portion of Singaporean Chinese food for $2) In reality, America has it hard because America is so big.

    Globalisation is a fact of life, but there is a danger to being an unthinking American, or unthinking Brit, or unthinking Egyptian, Palestinian, whatever. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that just about anything can become an ‘us vs. them’ situation. And that’s particularly true when we’re stressed, worried, anxious, uncomfortable, etc. And that is generally worsened when we feel alien. I think all too often Christians take Jesus ‘If you’re not for more, you’re against me’ as a battle-cry to divulge ourselves of anything to do with people who are not ‘for us’. And that thought-pattern can easily step into any other part of our life, because it’s a natural thing to do. Whereas I think Jesus was saying something totally different. I’m not quite sure how to express it, but I think it has to do with whatever the opposite of alienation is. Accepting the reality that people are different to us, and may even have different faith perspectives to us, because only then can we actually do something about it? I don’t know, it’s late and I’m rambling, but I wanted to get some thought down as a comment.


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