Description of Informant
AG (18) is an Italian-American dual citizen and high school student from Berkeley, CA. At home, she speaks primarily Italian, and spends her summers in Italy.
Context of Interview
The informant, AG, sits in the kitchen with her father and the collector, BK, her step-brother. Text spoken in Italian is italicized, but not translated.
BK: What’s aperitivo? Aperitivi?
AG: Basically it’s like… actually? I miss Italy *laughing*. Here in America, like, if you want to do something with someone, you have to kind of like have an excuse to do something with someone. Like “Okay let’s go to the movies,” or “Okay, let’s go to an amusement park.” You know? You’re never just walking around downtown, not really. In Italy, you just say “Oh, you want to go out?” Like that’s it. No reason. You just go out, someone walks to the front of someone else’s house, you know, whatever. And you start walking and you keep walking until you sit down somewhere to have a drink. And the drink is called an aperitivo.
BK: Is the activity called aperitivo? Like the process of going to get an aperitivo? And is the aperitivo a specific drink, or just any drink consumed during the activity?
AG: Yes… it’s like… those little midday snacks. Or midday drinks. You usually have them in the evening. The drink can be anything but it’s usually alcoholic.
*At this point, AG‘s father EG (52) interjects*
EG: You guys are gonna disagree with me on this, but I insist, and [AG] I think you’ll agree with me when you get back from Spain… it’s very much like tapas in Spain. Tapas is not a meal in Spain. It’s never a meal. It’s a snack.
AG: What is tapas?
EG: Tapas. Oh it’s very popular. It’s like small plates. But here in America, they completely misinterpreted it as like small plates that are shared, as meals. But in Spain it’s never a meal. It’s aperitivo, it’s a snack. But it’s later, too, because everything’s later in Spain.
AG: That’s similar in Italy. Like the whole culture around eating— everything is different. Like that “gastronomical culture.” Yeah it’s like everything is pushed two or three hours later. Like having dinner in the summer at like 10pm is not abnormal. And then, you have like literally snacks throughout the whole day. And like, yeah you have you breakfast, and then you usually have merenda, and then you have pranzo which is— oh, merenda is snack, and pranzo which is lunch— and then an aperitivo or two in the evening, and then you have cena which is dinner. Sometimes another merenda before dinner. Then desert. And that’s always how it is!
BK: So going back to aperitivo, aperitivi, what’s the difference?
AG: Aperitivo is singular, aperitivi is plural.
BK: How would you ask someone on an aperitivo?
AG: Prende, take. Would you like to take an aperitivo? Like do you want to go out for one? Or you’d just ask someone to walk to the bar or restaurant with you.
BK: Is there a literal translation for aperitivo? Does it mean appetizer, pre-dinner?
AG: No, no. I would define it as a drink you have in the evening with a friend, usually one friend. You would never have an aperitivo alone. That’s weird. It’s all about the social. In Italy, food is social, period.
Put simply, aperitivo is a pre-meal drink, usually alcoholic, meant to whet one’s palate or “open the stomach.” It’s an extremely social ritual, as with many aspects of Italian culture. The term seems to derive from Latin for “opener” (as in opening one’s stomach in anticipation of dinner).
One may immediately draw a comparison to American “Happy Hour” rituals, wherein peers gather over drinks in the early evening: well after lunch, but too early for dinner. These ritual gatherings do not often “limit” the number of attendees; it is interesting to note that the informant specified two individuals to an aperitivo gathering. AG clarifies that more may be present, but in her experience, it has been a one-on-one affair.
For an in-depth exploration of the Aperitivo ritual, please see:
Mussio, Gina. “The Art of the Aperitivo: The Best Italian Tradition That You’ve Never Tried.” Walks of Italy, 2 Mar. 2017, www.walksofitaly.com/blog/food-and-wine/aperitivo-in-italy-what-it-is-and-how-to-enjoy-one.