In Italy, many bars and cafes charge one price for service at the counter (al banco), and a higher price for service at the table (al tavolo). Establishments are required to list these drink prices on a listino prezzi posted in the bar, but many foreigners never bother to decipher the list.
It can be frustrating for a barista when a foreigner who is unaware of this 2-price system simply orders a cappuccino at the bar, pays for it, then picks it up and calmly walks to one of the few tables and sits down, oblivious to the fact that a rule has been broken. Often the barista attempts to communicate the misdemeanor in broken English, pointing a finger at the bewildered foreigner and repeating something like “you no pay for sit”. Not surprisingly, this tends to confuse rather than clarify the situation.
When I am leading a tour, I like to get up early and head to a bar for my first cappuccino of the day, before I have to see any tour participants who might expect me to be coherent. Plus, I love to watch a small Italian town slowly wake up and come to life.
At a little café in the town of Pienza in southern Tuscany, I got a few giggles along with my coffee. I noticed that the bar owner, in an attempt to clarify the 2-price system, had posted an explanatory sign in English next to the price list.
“Extra Charge – Consummating on the Table”
Though not specified, I could only assume that the price was lower for sexual intercourse on the counter.
When the barista saw me laughing at the sign, I explained its meaning. The barista gasped in horror, and rushed to rip down the sign, despite my protests that it was nice to start the day off with a laugh. Plus, since I have made numerous embarrassing blunders in Italian, for once I could enjoy having the tables turned.