There's a strange phenomenon that I have come across in Italy that I either never experienced as a visitor or took notice of. When Italians go to a bar they don't seem to need to look at a menu - they just know what they want and order. What? How do you know what you want to order? How do you know what they have to offer? Where's the menu???
This has happened to me on two occasions recently. One, S and I were out with his mom at a mall doing a bit of shopping and decided to hit up one of the bars inside for something to drink. Within seconds of sitting down, they ask me what I am going to have. S will have a coffee, his mom a gingerino... they look at me expectantly. I don't know what I want to drink - I want to see what they offer then make a decision. Seconds tick by.... the waitress comes back a second time... looking at me expectantly... I am looking at a menu of drinks but feel pressured to respond so - I order a Shakerato (coffee/milk/chilled and shaken) - it's not really what I wanted but everyone was looking at me like I was from Mars not knowing what I wanted immediately upon sitting. lol Whatever, I shook it off and didn't take much notice.
Fast forward to two weekends ago when S & I went back to Venice to see the rest of La Biennale offerings and as it was around noon when we arrived we stopped at a nearby bar/restaurant for a quick lunch. Same thing happened. within seconds of sitting down, waiter is there, S starts to order - they look at me expectantly. I am a total blank. I have no idea what they have to offer. How can I know what to order if I don't know what they have? So, I asked for a menu, feeling a little embarrassed that I needed to. It was very short - basically 3 or 4 variations of sandwiches and beverages.
This time I took notice and it led to a discussion not only with my husband but also with my Italian teacher. In my experience, this is not something that happens in the USA, unless its a place you know well and frequent often. When you sit down, menus are always offered and you enjoy your water while you decide what you want. Here, not so much. Most bars have menus if you want to see them and you should not feel embarrassed like I did by asking to see it. However, forewarned is forearmed - at least now you'll know what to expect and not feel like a idiot for not being ready to order on-the-spot. It seems the safe bet in bars is a panino (could be pressed or cold) with either prosciutto crudo/cotto or a local salami and some mild cheese or a toast which is white bread with those same ingredients warmed up. Maybe they add some tomato or arugula in there, but that has not been my experience.
Am I the only one who has experienced this? Is this some common knowledge that I somehow missed? Ah the cultural learning curve when living in a foreign country....
PS - this weekend we're planning to go to a Christmas Market up north if the weather holds. Can't want to share!