Pippino himself escorted my wife and me to our table at his famous restaurant, Pippino’s Piccola Cucina Italiana in a nearby metropulos known for its fine food. It turns out that I am supposed to follow my wife, not lead her to the table. At least that was Pippino’s thinking, because when he turned to pull out a chair at our table, he was shocked to see me standing there. He was positively aghast when I sat down instead of letting my wife take the chair. To his utter dismay, my wife then pulled out her own chair and sat herself down.
It was then that Pippino decided to give me some tips on etiquette. I believe that all men born in Europe are inclined to assist American men on how to behave toward women. They believe American men to be ill-mannered, uncultured, crude, lout-like, prone to bullying and a bit swinish. In short, boorish. There may be some truth to this. When I was in England, I was completely taken aback by cheek kissing. I honestly do not know how to do it, when to it and with whom to do it with.
When Pippino returned to take our order, he said, “Perhaps we should let the lady order first.”
“Oh, right,” I said, realizing that he had just saved me from another social faux pas (I always pronounce that “fox paws”). I could tell from the expression on his face that this near-miss was a disappointment to him. He had thought that I at least knew that the woman should always order first. He quickly recovered, and I saw a new determination in eyes. He was going to train me come gehenna or high water.
I noted that, when he served us, he always served my wife first, whether it was the food, the drinks or refills on the drinks. He also served all her stuff with a flourish and a hint of a bow reserved for her only. This, too, I thought, was a subtle message for me to do the same when I got the chance.
When it came time for desert, he naturally asked her first. She said no thank you, but I was steadfast in my desire for some pistachio pannacottas with white chocolate. After telling him what I wanted, he wrote it down and then paused, looking for me to tell him something else.
By now, I had learned that these pauses were important, but I could not for the life of me figure out what he wanted me to do. After a moment more, he sighed a little sigh, and left.
When the dessert arrived, I knew immediately what my mistake was, and why all great literary male lovers-Agent 007, Casanova and Don Juan-are all European. Pippino had brought two spoons! I have never seen such brilliance in the affairs of men and women!
As much as I am able, I intend to return to the Piccola Cucina Italiana both to demonstrate to Pippino that I am making progress and to learn more.
I told my story to a European man I know here in Rhinelander but, before I could ask whether it was true (as I thought) that Pippino was giving me lessons, Bob hung his head, completely discouraged by my apparent inability to overcome my natural, American oafishness. Bob then gave me a speech about manners, and how the lack of them is directly related to the decline and fall of western civilization.
By the end of it, I was pretty sure that I was responsible for at least one decline and possibly a fall.
Rhinelander District Library Director Ed Hughes is available at (715) 365-1070.