Let Me Buy You a Drink

chaffeeby Caitlin Chaffee

The ability to immerse oneself into another culture can be very difficult to accomplish, especially when it means understanding the traditional ways of doing things. There are rules and guidelines of behavior not easily understood from an outsider’s perspective and often the ability of an outsider to understand these cultural traditions comes from breaking the rule and discovering the acceptable behavior.

In a collectivist nation like Italy, long-standing traditions come from high-context culture in which they are often unspoken and passed down through generations. One of these traditions I was not aware of has to do with women and men’s roles in buying drinks. On one of my first nights here, in a friendly, welcoming gesture, a local Cagliese bought me a glass of wine to enjoy while we conversed in the Piazza. At the end of the night, he told me he was going to pay the bill. I immediately offered to pay for my drink, to which he quickly replied, “It’s my pleasure.” In the United States, if a friend buys me a drink, I will buy him one the next time. I told one of the staff that I would buy the Cagliese a drink the next night and he quickly cautioned me against it. He explained that here, in Cagli and in Italy, because I am a woman, buying a man I do not know very well a drink would be a very forward gesture. The gesture of buying a drink for a friend back home is something I feel compelled to do but here it sends a very different message.

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