This installment of Tales from the Vegan Army takes place about 10 years ago. I was in Italy for a conference. Ten years ago, I wasn’t confident about my veganism. I didn’t know many vegans and I rarely liked to call attention to it*. I also had zero experience with veganism and international travel.
Eating outside of the conference wasn’t an option since it was on an isolated beach. Most meals were buffet style. I stuck to the salad and the plainest pasta with tomato marinara.
One night, we had a formal sit-down meal in the dining room. I sat at a large round table with about 10 people. My two closest table-mates knew I was vegan. That evening I experienced the meaning of “lost in translation”…
Table-Mate 1, TM 1: [looks around at the table settings] Man this is fancy!
TM 2: I know. I wonder what we’re having.
ME: [looks around nervously, worried] Yeah….
TM 2: [gives me a sympathetic look] I’m sure they’ll have stuff you can eat.
At this point, fancy Italian waiters disperse around the room with the first course.
ME: [realizes it’s just a salad and breathes a sigh of relief]
As the meal progresses, more Italian waiters swarm around to take our plates and bring us our second course……plain pasta with tomato marinara. Whew! I’m thinking the meal is done at that point, right? Salad and pasta. Ri-i-ight.
ME: [looks down at the MEAT dish the waiter has just put in front of me] Oh, um, I didn’t know there was more. I actually don’t eat meat.
Since I don’t want to even attempt an Italian accent for the waiter, just imagine this guy’s voice for the waiter.
Trust me…it’ll work. Plus despite what transpires, the real life waiter was just as friendly and animated as Roberto Benigni seems to be. So if this were a movie, he would be playing the part. Um, right. Maybe just go with it.
WAITER: Oh, you don’t like the dish?
ME: [not wanting to offend] Um well, I don’t eat meat. I’m also really full on the pasta and salad.
WAITER: [takes the food, not offended] Okay, I will bring you something else then?
ME: [nods and thinks…sure, whatever dude. Just keep it down, people are staring at me]
WAITER: [comes out and puts down a new dish] You like this dish?
ME: [stares down at a whole FRIED FISH] Um, I don’t eat any meat. Or any dairy either.
WAITER: [looks sad] Oh, no fish either eh? Okay, I’ll be right back. [swoops up the fish]
ME: [feels like a pain in the ass and says feebishly to the retreating waiter] Sorry…really, I’m fine. I don’t need anything else.
TM 1: [wants to dissociate himself from the vegan freak and so says loudly enough for others to hear] That fish looked good! I should have taken it for myself. You know…since I eat meat like normal people. Did everybody hear me?
The waiter, anxious to please, comes out again and plops an omelette down, certain he’s found a winner. I thought to myself — Shit…I said no dairy but I should have mentioned eggs…aren’t eggs considered dairy? Back to the kitchen it went.
The fourth time he came out, despite me telling him I needed nothing else, he slapped a big piece of fried cheese down in front of me. The size of this cheese was enough to feed a small army, not something someone would ever eat as a meal. As if the chef just fried the first non-meat, non-egg item he saw in the kitchen to try and please “the crazy American”!
FINALLY the waiter just brought me out more pasta. Now why didn’t I just think to ask him to do that in the first place?
What’s your “lost in translation” or vegan travel story?
*Today, I wear the vegan-freak flag proudly. Admittedly, it has gotten a lot easier to do since veganism is more prominent in the mainstream.