In Italy, where beauty never takes a back seat, there is a phrase used to describe this country-wide devotion to grace and class: La Bella Figura. The phrase was invented by Sophia Loren…ok it wasn’t, but it might as well have been (I mean, who gets off a airplane with no wrinkles?!?) It technically translates to “the beautiful figure” and describes a way of life and a system of etiquette innately understood by all Italians. It tells you how to look and how to behave in particular circumstances (i.e. with class). It means basically that your barista will often be better dressed than you and at least as well dressed as the cop and bus driver sipping on the café he just made them. It means that the woman riding a bicycle in high heels will never fall and if she does, someone will catch her. But it also means “looking good” socially. It is why the word awkward doesn’t exist in the Italian language or the Italian mentality (I have tried to explain it many times, it is not easy.)
When I first arrived, I was making all kinds of brutte figure (the opposition of the bella figura) all over the place. Sadly, there is no book or guide you can buy. You just have to watch and learn. Preferably while no one is else is looking. This blog series is here to help you not make the same mistakes I did; a cheat sheet of sorts. But let’s be honest, I am still brutta figur-ing it all over the place.
No one is perfect.
Except Sophia Loren, apparently.
Lesson 1: How to toast in Italy
Generally speaking, at the start of a night of festivities, or any night at all really, you should begin with an aperitivo. This could be a glass of sparking wine, prosecco, or, the latest craze, uno spritz. The glasses are very cheers-able, so it’s hard to not feel the urge. When you do finally give into that urge to fare un brindisi, be sure to:
1. Lift your glass and look at your companions so as to be clear that you are beginning a toast (this will be sure to keep anyone from taking their first sip and getting a mouth full of glass when you go in for the early and nervous “cheers!”)
2. Move in delicately with your glass, making a clear movement in one direction, either clockwise or counterclockwise.
3. This is key: keep eye contact at all time (see diagram below)
4. As your glass meets with that of your companion’s, say “Cin cin!” (chin-chin)
5. Take a sip
6. Put your glass down
Failure to follow steps 1, 2 and 6 can be forgiven, but steps 3 through 5 are essential. If you fail to keep eye contact with your companions while also not breaking the glass in your inevitably awkward gestures, it is considered bad luck. I can’t remember what the bad luck is but it is REALLY bad. It may be no mozzarella for seven years. I can’t think of anything worse, so that must be what it is. Anyhoo. I am so glad you have this down now.
Good luck at your next aperitivo, and remember, fare una bella figura!
Special thanks to Brooke and Isabella for showing us how it’s done!