When you live in a foreign culture, everything becomes relative to your native culture. Take, for example, milk.
Here in Italy, milk is sold in one-liter bottles. And, it only stays good for about 3 days, tops. I suppose this makes it “fresher.” At least that’s what they’ll tell you here, and please don’t ever contradict an Italian on food, especially if you’re from the States. Because if you’re from the States, you are only qualified to talk about obesity and your home gun collection. Anyhoo, apparently the milk here is pasteurized at a lower temperature than US milk, which tends to last at least ten days or longer, and which you can usually even stretch a couple days past the printed expiration date. (This fact, needless to say, horrifies Italians almost as much as Cheez Whiz.)
Here in Italy, you can choose between the 1-liter bottles of milk in the fridge, or the “UHT” milk which is in 1-liter boxes on the shelves and tends to cost a bit less. This is milk pasteurized at a super high temp so that it doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened.
Why am I boring you with a discussion of milk in Rome? Because I am reminded of my shopping at Costco when I lived back in the States from 2008 to 2011. (Italiani: Costo sarebbe più o meno l’equivalente della Metro qui a Roma, solo che devi moltiplicare ancora per 3 volte le misure delle confezioni.) There, it was perfectly normal for me to buy not one, but two, plastic jugs of ONE-POINT-FIVE-GALLON size milk. Meaning, it was completely normal for me in the States to buy ELEVEN LITERS of milk in one fell swoop. And anyways, the expiration dates were three WEEKS out, rather than three days.
The other day one of my Italian mamma friends came over with her two sons who are about the same age as my kiddos. She couldn’t believe we eat dinner around 6 pm or so. But the real shocker was that we drink milk with dinner. Her look was half bemusement and half OMG-ness.
There’s a devilish side of me that loves making Italians squirm over the fact that we drink milk with meals. COLD milk, no less. (Italians have a weird thing about drinking cold drinks, especially kids drinking cold drinks. I do not know why this is so, but it is. Actually, that’s a lie—I do know. They say it will give them stomach cramps. You know, cold beverage = total seizing up of the intestinal apparatus, all 28 feet of it. Come to think of it, everything eventually makes its way back to the topic of digestion or lack thereof, here in Italy.) So I really milked this one for all it was worth. (Pun absolutely and most totally intended, hence the italics! Oooh, amusing myself here!)
I began my torture thus:
“Yeah, we drink a lot of milk around here. In fact, we drink milk with all our meals. Come to think of it, I drank milk with dinner all the way through high school and beyond.“
At that point I didn’t have the heart to deal the final, always fatal blow: Americans drink a tall glass of cold milk with pasta. Tell an Italian that and the reaction is akin to the delightfully sadistic feeling you might have experienced while slowly roasting an ant on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass as a kid.
Anyhoo, reminiscing about my 11-liter milk shopping trips, I can only look upon the “family size” milk here in Rome with the same bemused and OMG expression. Because “family size” in Rome is a whopping ONE-POINT-FIVE liters. Wooo! Hold me back, folks! Make way in the fridge for that wide load! I bought two of those the other day and they were gone in as many days. But God, just look how happy the family on the family-size milk is! Red cheeks and all!
That special offer price of €2,45 is roughly $3.20 for less than a half a gallon of milk, while the US Bureau of Labor Statistics helpfully gives us an average price of a U.S. gallon of milk for each month of every year for the last ten years (!), and for Feb. 2013 we’re at just under $3.50 a gallon.
Now, if only we could get the price of wine in the States to come down to Italian level, we’d have Utopia.
Oh and P.S., if you think I’m the only expat who discusses Italian milk on their blog, well, you’d be wrong. It baffles the best of us.
Oh and P.P.S. another interesting trivial milk fact here. “They say” that the milk sold in the Vatican supermarket is absolutely superior. I had the occasion to taste the Vatican holy milk only once, at breakfast on vacation with some friends, one of whom had the all-hallowed and clearly God-granted privilege of shopping at the mythical Vatican supermarket. And I know I’m about to destroy dreams here, but, it tasted like–well, milk. But the package did have a really cute cow on it.
UPDATE: Ok, silly me, I’m getting old. I did actually post the thing about the Vatican milk. Duh. Here it is. And the picture wasn’t of a cute cow (that must’ve been some other milk I’m thinking of.) Instead, naturally, it’s of the Vatican gardens or something. Best part? It says it’s from Pontifical Villa Farms. YES!