‘An attack on tradition’: Italian bar owners protest rule against drinking coffee at the counter

The very Italian custom of drinking coffee quickly at the counter is still banned under the country’s coronavirus restrictions - but bar owners say the tradition is their “lifeblood” and must be restored.

‘An attack on tradition’: Italian bar owners protest rule against drinking coffee at the counter

Bars in Italy’s lower-risk ‘yellow’ zones can now serve customers at outdoor tables only. But in a country where many people usually drink coffee while standing at the bar, struggling business owners say this isn’t much help to them.

Ordering food or drinks at the counter remains banned – a rule which Italy’s coffee shop owners say makes no sense and risks damaging their businesses further.

READ ALSO: Schools, restaurants, gyms, travel: Here’s Italy’s new timetable for reopening

“The ban on eating and drinking at the counter has no legal or health basis,” stated the business group Fipe-Confcommercio, which represents Italy’s bar and restaurant owners, according to La Repubblica.

The government “should clarify once and for all that drinking a coffee and eating a cornetto at the counter is possible and, with the right social distancing, without risk.”

The group demanded “an immediate intervention (by the government) to restore the possibility of eating and drinking at the counter,” something which had previously been allowed until a rule change in March.

Outdoor table service is currently allowed in Italy’s lower-risk yellow zones – but bar owners say that’s not how most people in Italy normally take their coffee. Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Aldo Cursano, Deputy Vice President of Fipe-Confcommercio, told La Repubblica the ongoing ban was “an attack on the tradition of the Italian bar”.

“A tradition, known and appreciated all over the world, of coffee drunk quickly at the counter on a break, accompanied by something sweet or savoury.”

This is “a habit for millions of Italians,” he said, and “the lifeblood of the 144,000 bars in our country which, since the beginning of the pandemic, have recorded an 8 billion euro loss in turnover and a reduction in the workforce of 90,000 people”.

READ ALSO:How has the coronavirus crisis changed Italy’s coffee culture?

In some parts of Italy it’s so unusual for people to order coffee while sitting at a table that doing so would usually incur additional service charges.

In Liguria, one part of Italy where the habit of drinking coffee al bancone is particularly common, bar owners say the rule could easily spell the end for their businesses.

“If you can’t drink at the counter, you give up on coffee,” Alessandro Cavo, president of the Liguria branch of Fipe Confcommercio, told local media.

“The amount of coffee drunk at tables is less than at the counter, and this is especially true for our city.”

“We believe that with distancing, the act of quickly drinking a cup of coffee carries a minimal risk – and this minimal risk represents the difference between life and death for a business based on this type of work,” he continued.

Drinking coffee at the bar was not explicitly prohibited in Italy’s latest emergency decree, but in a government circular issued on April 24th.

It clarified that counter service is allowed at bars that “allow consumption in the open air” such as outdoor kiosks, but not indoors.

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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.