Ten years ago, we stumbled across a little out of the way restaurant in a small backstreet of Florence. It was run by a couple and the food was sublime – beautiful Italian dishes served without fanfare, just simple flavours that let the freshness of the food shine through.

So, last month, returning to Florence for meetings, I made sure that one night was spent there and was pleased to find that the food was once again perfect. Mains done and plates cleared away, the waiter came to take our dessert orders and followed up asking if anyone wanted coffee.

All had been going so well. Until this…

‘I’ll have a latte please,’ said someone at the table. It was an innocent enough request, but I knew where this was going.

The waiter looked horrified. ‘No!’ he said indignantly. I’d ordered an espresso, knowing there would be no response other than a nod. But the idea of a caffè latte at this time of night, after a meal, was not getting past him.

Clearly, our waiter felt that it was part of his job to enforce the Italian gastronomic rule of no milky coffees after 10.30am. This was an abomination, as far as he was concerned, and he was having none of this flouting the rules business in his restaurant. I suspect that if someone had asked for a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano over their spaghetti con vongole his response would have been the same.

Perhaps his response would usually have had the customer slinking back in their chair and ordering an accepted coffee-based post-dinner drink. But this was a table of people with diabetes and telling us that we can’t break the rules never goes down well. Because breaking rules is how we survive. And jeez, we get defiant when people tell us that we can’t. Rule books states that injections should never been given through clothes? Watch how easily this needle goes right through my jeans. Rule books claims the only place that CGM sensors must be worn is on the stomach? I’ll just roll up my sleeve and put it there, thanks. Rule book instructs single use of all diabetes consumables? Let’s see just how many times this insulin pump cartridge can be refilled before getting stuck.

We learn the rules and then turn them upside down and inside out to work for us to help our endless search to make diabetes that tiny bit more manageable and forget expecting us to say sorry for doing it our own way. We make no apologies for taking what some may consider short cuts, instead sharing them with our diabetes peers because everyone deserves a break with this condition if there is a way! And sometimes we just do things in a different way because we like it better.

The waiter in our restaurant looked to me to back him up. I think he assumed that my decent Italian accent that he’d heard when I ordered meant that I was across Italian food rules and that he had an ally. I wasn’t surprised at his response – I do know the food rules – but I treat them in equal measure with respect and contempt, just as I do diabetes rules. I understand why they are there, and sometimes I’ll abide by them. But if I want a milky coffee after my meal because that’s what I feel like, you bet I’m going to order it.

I shrugged my shoulders at the waiter, I’m sure disappointing him that I wasn’t going to back him up. ‘Un latte?’ he asked disbelievingly. ‘Si,’ I confirmed, and then clarified. ‘Con caffè.’ The last thing I wanted was the delivery of nothing more than a glass of warm milk to the table and all that was going to ensue following that.

All our lives we are told there are rules and some of them are just stupid: blue and green should never be seen, unless there’s a colour in between. Never wear pink and red together. Others don’t allow for personal choice: don’t order a steak well done… (or a milky coffee after dinner). And some forget that those rules are connected with something that is boring, tedious, unpleasant, frightening and sometimes downright horrible: every single diabetes rule.

Sure, sometimes rules are there for safety, and we all want to be safe. Living with diabetes doesn’t suddenly make us reckless and not interested in being healthy and safe.

There are some rules that we know are just non-negotiable and we will begrudgingly follow those. But the ones that we think are ridiculous, or we have found a work around to? Those are the ones we’ll do whatever we can to shake up or lose.

Our tiramisu desserts were delivered to us, and so were our coffees, including the caffè latte, which the waiter placed down while shaking his head and making ‘tsk tsk’ sounds. Thirty seconds later, he reappeared and placed down a shot of grappa, making some comment about this being needed to cancel out the coffee.

I smiled up at him, because that’s how Italians do it. (I know – I’ve spent 45 years doing things the opposite to how my Italian father thinks I should do them!) They’ll let you know they’re not happy with you, and absolutely don’t approve of your obviously wrong decision making. And they’ll remind you at every chance that they have.

And then? Then they’ll somehow offer a final fuck-you-and-fuck-your-bad-choices. And, really, there is nothing better than some oesophagus-destroying hard liquor to get that point across!

Viva Italia!

Perfect tiramisu.

DISLCOSURE

I was in Florence for DOCLab Advisory meetings. My flight to Florence from Amsterdam and two nights’ accommodation were covered by Lilly. The attitude during this meal was all courtesy of the rather cheeky waiter.

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