If you ever happen to find yourself in Sheffield in the north of England, you might want to steer clear of Vito’s Italian restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, the food is delicious, the service is excellent, and Vito himself, if he happens to come out of the kitchen to talk to you, is charming and funny. But the place is a minefield for the childfree.
During my recent trip home, I went there with my mother and her gentleman friend to celebrate his birthday. Over the course of the meal the waiter (picture 50-ish, stocky Sicilian, with a thick half-Sheffield, half-Italian accent) discovered (from asking me) that I lived in California, was a writer, and was married to an American.
“So,” came the next question, “you have bambinos?”
“Um, no,” I said, quickly going back to my pasta.
“No?” he says. “Why not?”
There was an awkward pause while I weighed my options as to how to answer. I could grab this “teachable moment” and educate this man as to why is wasn’t okay to ask such a prying question; I could tell him the truth and risk embarrassing him, my mum, and her friend; or I could tell a big fat lie.
I chose a hybrid answer. “Too old,” I told him.
Now you think the penny would have dropped for him and he’d have walked away from the conversation, but no. Instead it went on, something like this:
“Too old? How old are you?”
“How old do you think I am?”
Sicilian shrug. “Thirty six?”
“Thanks for the compliment, but I’m 41.”
“41?! That’s not old. My sister-in-law, she have bambinos and she 50! You have plenty of time.”
At which point I think I nodded and smiled and mumbled something like, “We’ll see,” and wondered if I could have steered the conversation differently.
This occasion wasn’t the right place to set this man right. And he wasn’t the right target for a lesson. Here was a man who came from a time and culture where all women have bambinos, and so naturally why wouldn’t I?
Yes, his question was awkward and embarrassing, but the reality is that anything he asked me in a normal line of conversation could have been awkward. I could have just lost my job, just been abandoned by my husband for a younger woman, just lost my house and been forced to move back in with my mother. He just happened to ask the one question that was my personal trigger and I don’t think that reading him the riot act for his misstep would have been the appropriate thing to do, do you?