This is a story about an unexpected fight about ribs that turned into a lesson on how to win Italian arguments if you're Tuscan. It was 2004 and I was on a family trip to Italy. We were staying at a beautiful castle in Tuscany, Castello di Meleto, and went down to the nearest town, Gaiole in Chianti, one night for dinner.
There were three groups of people in the restaurant. One single man, a couple, and the three of us. It seemed like a sleepy place, especially with only three tables filled in the rather large dining room.
We perused the menu, trying to figure out what would win this evening's round of Delicious Things to Put in My Belly. Then one of the waiters walked over and gave us the rundown of the specials and mentioned something in the mixed grill called rosticciana.
"What's that?" My dad asked. And with that innocent question, storm clouds quietly gathered.
At first, the waiter tried to find the words in English as we tried to will ourselves to become fluent in Italian. No dice. We had to seek help elsewhere.
The waiter turned to the couple, who were actually native English-speakers. The man was Canadian, from Orillia, Ontario, and his wife was from New Zealand. They had lived in Chianti for 10 and 12 years, respectively.
"Rib," said the Canadian man.
The mysterious lone diner piped up and attempted to correct the Canadian. You see, he was actually eating the mixed grill and proceeded to pick up pieces of meat as if to say, "This is it, and this, and this, too."
Well, this threw the waiter off, so he went to get another opinion from someone who worked there.
In the meantime, the two men started arguing in Italian about the meat. I, again, tried to will myself to understand Italian out of both embarrassment and curiosity. Obviously, I can't tell you exactly what they said, but it was a true argument, complete with huffing and puffing and hand gestures.
When the waiter finally came back, he confirmed that rosticciana was, in fact, spare ribs. My dad, mercifully, ordered the mixed grill.
Soon after, the lone man left and the Canadian immediately turned to us. "So, do you want to know what that was about?"
I shook my head up and down. My eyes widened as I tried to stifle my excitement for scandal.
It turns out the lone man was from Milan and rosticciana was absolutely not what they called ribs there. (Anyone who is Milanese, please feel free to add your two cents if you're reading this.) Apparently, the conversation became something of a pissing match about the Tuscan way and the Milanese way.
And that's when the Canadian told us the secret to winning Italian arguments if you're a Tuscan. Are you ready? It goes something like this:
"Yeah? Well, Dante was Tuscan."
There you have it. Remind them that Tuscany produced "The Father of the Italian Language" and one of the greatest poets that ever lived. It would have been especially fitting in a fight over the meaning of an Italian word, but our Canadian said he didn't use it. He thought it would have been rude. How wonderfully, stereotypically even, Canadian!
The rest of our dinner was joyfully and triumphantly consumed in the way one does after some impromptu entertainment and learning a new, sneaky insult, especially the rosticciana.
I'm curious now. Have you ever inadvertently started an argument while traveling in a foreign country? I'd love to hear about it. (She says, with eyes widening, trying to stifle her excitement for scandal.)