I have often said on these posts that if I walk into a bar or restaurant and am greeted in English it is time to leave the place. Now I do realise that that can sound a little glib. Obviously in places like Corfu, Rome, Palma, etc it is almost impossible to find anywhere where the staff don’t speak English, often very well. Indeed I remember well berating a waiter in the Algarve for not trying to understand my Portuguese and he in exasperation saying in English that he was from Norway and didn’t understand a word of Portuguese. However down here in Puglia it is still unusual to find people who speak English except on reception at large hotels. Most bars and restaurants except in Ostuni have little knowledge of English and speak it even less. So my adage tends to be true for the time being and indeed was proved the other night.
Last year we stumbled across a new pizzeria called Mimma’s near the Tre Trulli Hotel on the outskirts of Ceglie. It was one of those little gems that you tend to keep to yourself for as long as you can. She had apparently taken the place over after owning a successful pizza joint in Germany and she brought a little of that teutonic organisation in that the waiters all wore smart black trousers and crisp white shirts with a long black apron to add to the effect. Her father did the rounds of the tables introducing himself or kindly recognizing people he had seen before and so did Mimma. Truly a find and we went almost every week during the winter. We however tend to give restaurants a miss in July and August as they fill with Milanese and become just plain uncomfortable to be in with meals taking for ever to be served.
On Monday we took the house guests, for their final meal in Puglia, to Mimma’s. She was at the door by chance when we arrived and greeted us in English. Ten months of going to the place and I had never heard her speak English nor had she tried to as we had chatted about various things Italian during all our visits. It did not bode well but worse was to come.
English menus were bought to the table. Now after hours spent learning this language to the best of my ability and having staggered through endless conversations this was quite an insult. Worse of course was that the menu translations into English were appalling .
Gone were the crisp uniforms and instead two waiters I had never seen before in jeans but who spoke English and insisted on doing so served us. Another adage is speaking English doesn’t make people a good lawyer or plumber and nor let me now add a good waiter. We were clearly on a ‘tourist’ table. Suffice to say I should, on being greeted in English, have steered the house guests back out and off to places I knew would still give them what they have enjoyed so much down here namely not seeing tourists and not hearing English.
Two portions of anti pasta consisted of just 7 small dishes 4 of which were cheese for an eye watering €22 and the pizza lacked most of the dressings we knew were in the Italian menu . I am sure the loss of a few meals each week during the winter won’t bankrupt her but trust me she won’t be getting them.
So I again rest my case as to the validity of doing a sharp about turn immediately you are greeted in English down here.
Down the driveway on Sunday last came one of neighbours with his son Maximilian . I knew that the lad had tried last year to go with a group of friends to London having found no work down here. They had hoped to emulate Italians in the past who found jobs in steaming London kitchens washing up whilst learning English and then worked their way up to owning chains of Italian restaurants. Instead they found Poles doing all that type of work and that their lack of English prevented them from even getting any job further up the employment ladder. After 2 weeks they returned home having spent all their money.
Could I teach him English his father Flavio asked me. Now regulars will know I am already teaching two barbers in Villa Castelli in return for free haircuts. Max is a DJ in Martina Franca so I couldn’t really think of anything to barter there except maybe on the 10 or so nights he comes to his fathers place with about 20 friends to party the night away perhaps I could get him to stop shouting into the DJ microphone after say 2 a.m.
With that in mind I agreed and today we started lessons. He like the barbers is a fast learner and again said that in his 8 years of “learning” English his teacher never once uttered a single word of English. He is a rising star. Not sure he wants to be Americano though.
Oh and to finish the US Open Tennis women’s singles quarter final today features Roberta Vinci from Taranto and Flavia Pennetta from Brindisi so both Puglia girls.