Occasionally, when I have the desire and time to prepare coffee at home, but no time to drink it, I turn to my trusty travel mug. I like my coffee with a lot of milk and there must be at least four shots of espresso in there. A grande latte, Starbucks style. It's something that doesn't exist here. If you're accustomed to having Starbucks every morning, when you arrive here and take your cappuccino, you'll find yourself searching the bottom of the cup wondering where the rest of it is. It's extremely difficult to keep yourself from ordering a second, even under the raised eyebrows of everyone in the bar, and it's even in vain, because you'll find that another sip still doesn't satisfy your expectations. Yes, it's good, there just isn't enough of it. You're accustomed to warming your hands on the cup, sipping contently over the next 20-30 minutes of your commute. Or sitting in a plush chair and chatting with a friend for the next half hour.
Back to my point.
I occasionally, say "to hell with these puny cups of espresso" and make myself a large steaming travel mug of coffee and milk. Some days you just got to have it and today was one of those days (cut me some slack, I've only done this twice in over a year). So I fill up my trusty travel mug and I'm out the door.
And it is then, that I discover how many rules I'm breaking.
People stare. More than usual. And they are staring at the mug. This large silver canister in my hand. I'm talking eyes-bugging-out-of-heads staring. You see, they've never seen such a thing in their lives.
I know this because the other time I did this, I brought the travel mug with me to my Italian class. I thought people were just staring because they couldn't believe that someone would want to drink so much coffee. But that wasn't it. It was the mug. They didn't know what it was. My Italian teacher literally asked me "what is that?" I think she thought it was a bomb. I explained that it was my coffee. Still confusion. It's a cup that you put coffee into... it keeps it hot so you can drink it for a while. Slowly slowly lights are coming on... but they're still staring. Now it's because of the quantity and that I would want to drink while doing other things. Like walk out of my house with it and go to class.
So my mug goes back in the cabinet.
OK... I like to gripe about the reaction to my travel mug. I find it humorous. But the truth is, the absence of travel mugs in Italy is due to an aspect of Italian culture that I love. Italians value the time spent eating or drinking. It's just not something you do on the go. Everyone stops, and I mean S T O P S, twice (or three or four times) a day and goes to get a coffee. And then they stand together, at the bar or machine, and talk together. Maybe they look at and discuss the paper. When someone finishes, they wait politely for everyone else. They leave together. If it happens that someone does have to go off in a rush, it comes with desperate pleas for forgiveness. So there is no need for a travel mug, because it is not in their nature to travel while eating or drinking. I can see how my travel mug of coffee might have been seen as anti-social, or unhealthy even. And really, what is so special about my coffee that I have to haul it all over town with me? (Oh, but it is SO good).