THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (AND THE AGE OF BOOZE)

W11

HOW DIFFERENT BRITISH AND ITALIAN FAMILY ATTITUDES TOWARDS HAVING A BOTTLE OF WINE ON THE DINNER TABLE? 

 

 

I think my father would have thoroughly approved of the German theologian, Martin Luther’s quote - “Beer is made by men, wine by God.” He positively worshipped the stuff. As a child, bottles of Soave were regularly delivered to the house by my father’s regular supplier. Loyalty was important, and he simply didn’t shop around the local supermarkets trying to find the best deal out of endless choices. That’s not how it was done. Wine was on the table at lunch and dinner, always. In fact, he was quite capable of polishing most of it off himself, and yet he’d leave the table seemingly quite sane. As a child, I could not have been less interested and hated the mere smell of it.

Now, as an adult and with a young family, my husband and I enjoy a glass most evenings, although I cannot say I am a connoisseur. But the children aged 9 and 11 are still at the ‘hating-the-smell’ stage. As only partly Italian and not the real deal I wonder - Do  ‘real’ Italians do it differently? Marina Bozzoni, who lives in Rome and has two children aged 12 and 14 tells me they don’t drink much alcohol at home at all, and they certainly never drink at lunch times. ‘It makes me too sleepy for work’, she says. ‘I prefer a glass of wine at aperitif time, and I think most Italians would agree. But a dinner with friends is not a dinner unless there is wine on the table’. My son who is 14 is a bit curious but not really, and my daughter, 12, is totally disinterested at this point in time’. 
Francesca Venturi is an Italian journalist living and working in Brussels. She also has two older children, aged 17 and 15. She says her children were around 12 years old when they began to taste wine, or more specifically, ‘bubbly’, at parties and other celebrations. Now they do have a little with a family meal and on a regular basis. Living in Brussels thought, beer is making more regular appearances at the table. English mum of four, Kathrynne Bickers, is more unusual in the UK in that her 12-year-old son will have a glass of watered-down wine with a meal on Sundays. Most English families I speak to are quite strict about children never drinking and most children here are aware that drinking too much is a ‘bad thing’.

They’re not discerning though, when it comes to distinguishing between wine and other spirits.“Pre-kids we’d go out more,” explains Kathrynne, “so we had less wine in the house, and unless we were sitting down to eat we wouldn’t open wine. It wasn’t a regular occurrence. But we’d always finish an opened bottled, and once uncorked, never re-corked!”, she laughs.

Another English mum, Fiona Wright, agrees. ‘Yes, pre-kids, wine was pivotal, and we drank quite heavily’, she says. ‘I’d say we’d drink 5/7 evenings. When we had children, we massively curtailed how much we drank. I’d just feel so rough afterwards and in no mood to deal with small children, so I cut right down! ‘Now I’d say we are much more choosey as we like to spend a bit more on wine and enjoy it more moderately. We don’t have a bottle on the table unless we have friends over. We just have the glasses and the bottle is either in the fridge or on the side. And like my parents, Fiona’s parents would drink far more than is deemed acceptable these days. She says as a child she’d realise that they had had a glass or two, ‘as mum would be giggly, and dad would go quiet. He’d drive home after though.’ And that is a real difference, as today, drinking and driving is considered unacceptable in Britain. (It happens of course). In Italy, wine drinking is part of the tapestry of life. It’s linked to what you are eating and is to be enjoyed as such. And even if the glasses are of similar size, in Italy, they are filled much less, notices Marina. In fact, Michela Scibilia from Venice talks about ‘un’ombra di vino,’ or just a shadow of wine. You can get this for about one euro in the Veneto region of Italy, and you enjoy it seated at the bar, sometimes with a ‘cichetto’ or little snacks, sometimes in the shadow of the bell tower of St Mark’s Square, which is where the expression originates. Drinking habits may have moved on, and young people in Britain and in Italy today seem to prefer cocktails or spirits, according to the mums I spoke to. But wine retains its place in both countries, as something to be savoured and enjoyed in company, and accompanying a delicious meal. As someone once said, ‘Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it’. I’ll drink to that.

 

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