Being polite is an admirable quality to possess, and here in the Midwest, we make it our life’s mission not to offend. But on occasion, being deeply polite can put you at a disadvantage. Take for example, the night I was invited to a family dinner in Italy…
When my friend’s father invited us to join them, he told me we would be having Tripe – otherwise known as cow stomach. Honestly, I wasn’t all that afraid. I grew up on a cattle ranch and I’ve eaten liver and heart; I assumed this would be just another tasty organ. But, as is so often the case, I was dead wrong. It was nothing like I expected. Nothing at all. Tripe is thick chunks of stomach lining; dense, with the consistency of what I imagine it would be like to chew on a garden hose. The worst part is the sight of it. It looks like something that should be in a jar in a science lab, not on the dinner table.
The taste of it wasn’t SO bad but I couldn’t get past the consistency and the feel of the suction cup-like folds on one side. Someone passed around a chunk of Parmesan and I began grating cheese into my bowl with the kind of desperation usually reserved for people who are trying to out-swim an angry shark. I covered my food with as much cheese as was socially acceptable before passing it on to the next person.
Earlier, on the drive over, my friend had said to me,“Now, if you don’t like it, just tell them and they can make you a chicken breast or something.” I told him, “I could never say that, it would be so rude to insult their cooking when I am a guest!”
So there I sat, at the Rossetti family table, an angry inner voice screaming Tell them! Tell them you don’t like it and this could all be over! But I couldn’t do it. Years upon years of hearing “Eat what’s on your plate” and careful schooling on being a polite dinner guest prevented me from voicing my opinion, It was as though I were being held by some paralyzing force of courteousness.
Across the table, someone asked if I liked it,“Beth, tu piace tripe?”
“Si! Grazie!” my affirmative reply burst out reflexively before I even had a chance to think. Nice one, idiot, that was your opportunity and you blew it! There was no turning back. It was like the old saying “You made your bed, now eat that bowl of cow stomach.” So, that’s exactly what I very politely did.