There’s a place and a time between work and home that’s neither professional nor domestic, but as familiar as both of them. English speakers call it happy hour; the French call it cinq à sept; Italians, aperitivo. It’s a where and a when to speak openly and easily – and in which we’re momentarily free.
L’appetito viene mangiado – Appetite comes when you eat
For many Italians, l’aperitivo and la passeggiata have shaped that place and time between work and home. La passeggiata is a historical tradition where folks meet for a walk before dinner, facilitated by the narrow streets and densely built neighborhoods of Italian cities. L’aperitivo is the opening course of a traditional Italian supper, but it now has a degree of independence from the evening meal. It’s still a time for having a glass of prosecco and snacking on some nuts or olives to stimulate the anticipation for dinner, but l’aperitivo is also an occasion for low-key socializing on its own.
Put la passeggiata and l’aperitivo together, and the space between work and home becomes the street, where friends, neighbors, or colleagues both old and new meet and walk a few laps of the local piazza before stopping to enjoy a bite of gelato or a vermouth-based cocktail. From here, goodbyes are said as everyone heads off for dinner. For those less committed to a lengthy evening meal, many Italian bars have begun to compete with one another to turn a patron’s focus from their negroni to the free finger-food buffet.
This isn’t like the American happy hour where the focus is on getting a few cheap drinks in with coworkers to take the edge off the day. L’aperitivo is a greeting: it’s a moment to join with the people in one’s life, while encouraging the appetite with a small bite to eat. Italians may say that l’appetito viene mangiado – appetite comes when you eat – but perhaps it also comes with the company you keep.