Last week in my Italian class one of my fellow students was having difficulties answering a question. He offered as an excuse that he had skipped breakfast and coffee and thus was too sleepy and hungry to think straight. This prompted a conversation about what people from different countries eat for breakfast (all in Italian, of course)
My teacher explained that few Italians actually eat breakfast, they only have a cup of coffee and then later in the morning if they get hungry they stop for a coffee and cornetto (the Italian version of a croissant) at a bar. She then went around the room and had students explain what is the typical breakfast in their country.
We started with the British guy (toast and tea) and then the Germans (museli and yogurt). However, when she got to me, just as I started into my carefully worked out speech about cereal, toast, muffins, etc she preempted me saying , “and of course, Americans eat eggs for breakfast.”
Then she moved on to the Japanese guy who talked about traditional Japanese breakfasts (rice and tea) but he explained that today, it is more common to find people eating breakfasts similar to that of Americans (whatever that means). Of course I raised my hand and tried to explain that Americans are often in a hurry and just grab toast or cereal and coffee or get a muffin or bagel and coffee on the way to work, but she was having none of it.
I would have just thought this was an anomaly had the same ‘fact’ about the American diet not been repeated to me two other times over the past week. My school offers something called a ‘tandem’ in which you are paired with an Italian who wants to work on speaking in your native language for a conversation exchange. I have two tandem partners. One is in her 20s and is an aspiring actress going to New York in March for film school. The other is a teacher in her late 30s who wants to work on her English so she can move to Holland, teach Italian to foreigners, and ride bikes (that’s what she told me). Both of them asked me what was my favorite ‘American’ food. I don’t even know what ‘American’ is any more, so I told them it is pizza and spring rolls (not together of course). This confused them completely. Then somehow the topic of breakfast came up and both said something like, but of course you all eat eggs for breakfast.
Where are they getting this?
I can tell you it’s not from tv. Since I now have tv in my apartment, I’ve been taking full advantage, keeping it on as much as I can bear it to help with my Italian. I have watched several hours of Italian news which currently centers around three topics:
the crisi dell’governo (crisis in the government – see my previous blog)
the crisi dell’refuti (crisis of the trash in Naples)
and the marriage of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy to the Italian model, Carla Bruni
I have also discovered that one can watch many American television shows that have been dubbed into Italian like Alias, ER, Cold Case, Desperate Housewives, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and other similar shows. I think what all these shows have in common (even Desperate Housewives) is that no one is eating eggs for breakfast. In fact, I don’t think anyone in any of these shows is ever shown eating breakfast.
So why is it that Italians not only think we all eat eggs, bacon, toast, etc for breakfast but they even call this an American breakfast? This may have been true in the 50s and 60s and even for a while in the 70s but it seems today, especially in households in which everyone works, no one has time to make eggs except on the weekend. It seems that a visit to any American grocery store, most of which have an entire aisle dedicated to cereal and breakfast bars, would reveal to any outside observer what Americans eat for breakfast.
But as I have thought about it further, one common denominator among all of these people who have told me that Americans eat eggs for breakfast is that none of them has ever been to the US, they have been to other English speaking countries, but not to ours.
At any rate, I guess this is an example of the idea that old idea that stereotypes die-hard.