The train station is a buzzing flurry of action, travellers clouding in plumes, wheeling luggage from platforms, others looking up at the information displays, waiting impatiently for their train’s platform to be named.
My train is scheduled to arrive in 10 minutes, platform still unknown, so towards the cafe I go. I grow confused and discombobulated, quickly realizing that single file standing isn’t really a thing here. The two ladies behind me seem to ignore my presence altogether, and without me realizing how, silently moved ahead of me in line. I step ahead and widen my stance to ensure I don’t get duped again.
I put in my order, “uno cappuccino,” breathing out in relief as the cashier nods understandingly.
It’s my first official solo trip in a foreign-speaking country (aside from the short periods of time I spent alone in Zurich while my family was occupied) and I’d be lying if I said that the task of ordering a cappuccino in Italy didn’t totally freak me out. The waiting bar, which can also be described as the standing, drinking, and chatting bar, is set away from the cashier tills to the side of the room. The place is packed with foreign travellers I’m sure, but the noisy chatter of Italian conversations leaves little else to be heard.
Somehow managing to display a scene of equal parts hectic and orderly, Italians retrieve their beverages with ease despite the complete lack of waiting conformity. Like an assembly line, the Barristas behind the bar work proficiently and aesthetically, the practiced motions surely completed thousands of times over having seemingly become a part of them. Muscle memory.
Every few seconds a new coffee is abruptly announced purely by its character, placed defiantly on the bar, and snatched up by it’s supposed owner within seconds. There is no name matching. There are no order numbers.
My worry sets in.
After several cappuccinos are all but stolen out from under my nose, I begin to panic, checking my watch: 8:55am. 5 minutes to go. Feeling silly at the lingering thought of running towards the platform without my morning cappuccino, I quickly decide that announcing defeat to a strange situation and dozens of caffeine-addicted Italians simply isn’t an option.
My heart begins palpitating (I think) as I contemplate my options. Should I try to inquire about my cappuccino? Should I expose my international naivety and inexperience? I notice more espressos coming, and wonder if I should just shoot one back and run, when I see the barrista finishing up the froth on what I assume to be a worthy candidate to fulfill my order.
“Cappucc-” she announces, my hand shooting and grasping the cup before she can finish.
I gulp down my hot beverage like a starving castaway, mentally preparing myself for a scalded mouth, and then silently thanking my Barrista for its perfect, tastebud-accommodating temperature as I rush towards the platform.
I hardly stop, glancing up at the digital display as I run across the platform, noting the train parked in the now registered area. Platform 11, Coach 6, Seat 3A.
By the time I reach my seat, noting a small child sitting in what I confirm to be 3A, I gesture towards the attendant in a universal language that says “She’s in my seat, where do I go now?” and he gestures back with a motion that says “I don’t really give a damn,” I begin understanding a little more about the Italian ways.
I settle into 2A with a smile, feeling much more confident about undertaking my second Italian destination, and knowing that my Italian cappuccino experience gave me a lot more than coffee, milk, and froth.