We Get Jew’d for Breakfast

Saturday November 2, 2013

Electric drills woke us this morning at 7 a.m., an hour earlier than our scheduled wake-up call. And church bells.  Today’s another major holiday, All Soul’s Day. We’ve been  in Rome for three days. Every day has been a major holiday. Today, according to Harrie, Catholics visit their dead relatives. Harrie, who is a relatively non-practicing Catholic, visited his parents Thursday before leaving the Netherlands for Rome.

Today is check-out day, then onward to Tuscany, where we’ll spend the next week. We needed to be out by 11 so we went out for breakfast, our first breakfast in Rome. I looked forward to my favorite breakfast meal: two eggs over medium, hash browns, and rye toast. Jewel, the hotel manager, gave us a business card for Rik’s Café when we checked in Thursday afternoon. “Tell them I sent you,” he said, suggesting that we would get a deal if we mentioned his name. We did the same at Andrea’s, where we went for pizza that same day, and got no acknowledgment at all so this morning we didn’t give his signed business card much credence. To our surprise, the waiter said, “You from hotel?” We said we were from Penelope’s. I gave him the card. He said, “Oh!” as if we’d won the lottery and he was our heir.

For our winning ticket, breakfast was free. Unfortunately, breakfast was only a croissant and a cappuccino. Sonja, Harrie, and I went for regular cappuccinos; Emily went with decaf cappuccino, what they called dec (pronounced deck). We selected croissants from a small selection in the display counter. Emily pointed to a cheese croissant, the one I wanted, so I went for the one with the big blob of brown filling oozing out the center. “You want prune?” Emily asked with surprise. “No, chocolate,” I said. The waiter confirmed my choice. I smiled. When we bit in to our choices, which we shared anyhow, Emily said, “Mine’s custard.” I said, “Mine’s prune.”

Breakfast in Europe isn’t the major event as it is in the States. In the States, breakfast can be the major meal of the day. Menus go on for page after page, each page dedicated to an alternative form of the main dish: 30 varieties of pancake, two dozen types of waffle, eggs—oh, there’s a book in itself: over medium, over light, over heavy, poached, fried, scrambled, omelets, and with what kind of filling? That’s the subject of chapter two in the menu book.

In Europe, a croissant and a cup of coffee is all they need and they’re on their way, at least when they go out to eat. So what we were getting for free, what I would have considered perhaps an appetizer while we were waiting for our meal, was our meal. I remembered when we had last visited Harrie and Sonja in the Netherlands with David and Carrie many years ago. Breakfast then was cheese and bread with coffee and juice. We ate until we were stuffed.

In Europe, Harrie said, folks from the Netherlands have the reputation for being cheap. “Why go out for coffee when you can make it cheaper at home?” He added, “You know the expression ‘double dutch’?,” referring to the practice of each paying for the other instead of one person picking up the whole check. We had never thought of that. “Jews have the same reputation,” Emily offered.

We joked about stereotypes, threw out a few that we sometimes used with no sense of pride and some sense of guilt, and then Emily said what I was thinking: “I need protein.” I agreed. Indeed, the menu—which if you order from is not free—had an inside spread of other items, but the three workers looked frazzled already giving free croissants and cappuccinos to the other guests, all of whom displayed business cards and other forms of coupons from their respective places of lodging. Also, we didn’t notice any evidence of a substantive facility that could have created a protein source anyway, clearly suggesting that the menu was primarily for show, at least during rush hour.

My practice when I drink coffee is to take one big hit to start and then nurse the rest, and then refill, and then refill again, and again. I drink for the buzz, not the taste. In Europe, a half cup is a full cup, so my first hit emptied my cup.

When we had all finished, we ordered a second round, which was not free: three cappuccinos regular, one dec. They brought three cups. We figured it was the three regulars so Sonja, Harrie, and I started drinking while Emily waited for her dec. And waited. And waited. Finally we called out to one of the waiters. He nodded but didn’t look like he had any idea what message we were trying to convey. We asked the second waiter. He clearly understood and pointed to the woman behind the counter, who apparently ran the show, indicating that she would make it. We waited. She did nothing. Finally Emily went up to the counter and asked her directly. She confessed that she had thought the order was for two regulars and one dec, indicating that one of our three cappuccino regulars was a dec. I said, “I thought mine was kind of weak.” So she made a dec for Emily and replaced my dec with a regular.

Two men came in. They ordered their croissants and cappuccinos but didn’t have free passes so they each paid. They remained standing at the counter while they ate. Sonja said to us, “When they eat at the counter, it is cheaper.”

“They must be from the Netherlands,” I said.

“Or they’re Jewish,” said Harrie.