It was 1am and we had closed an hour ago but still the dining room was full of customers, sitting and talking like they had no plans to leave. My coworkers were tired. It was the end of a seven-hour shift and I was so exhausted I forgot how to speak Italian. Brice was behind the bar muttering a confusing blend of Spanish and Italian and Khuma was in the back, throwing dishes around yelling in Sinhala. I was in the kitchen, scooping mayo into squeeze bottles, covered in sweat and semi oil, thinking is this really why I came to Italy?
So ends a typical night at Hamerica’s, where I started working a few weeks ago. The money well ran dry somewhere between successive trips to Cologne and Sicily, and I found myself typing out my resume in Italian and walking the streets in search of a job as a waiter or bartender.
I realize the cliché of working at a touristy burger joint called officially The United Taste’s of Hamerica’s, but when I walked in and told them I was American with waiting experience, they hired me on the spot to work at their new location near the center of Bologna. A job is a job and I took it.
I work a few nights a week after my class finishes at 7 or on Sunday afternoons when business is slower and the customers are more tourists. I bounce from table to table taking orders and serving food, talking to people from all over the world.
I am a novelty to customers, who come to eat burgers, fries, tacos and ribs and like being served by an American. They see me as an expert of everything America and often ask where I come from and why I speak Italian so well. Most of my coworkers don’t speak great English so whenever a someone doesn’t speak Italian, I’m sent to serve them. I talk to travelers from throughout Europe and when Americans enter I greet them like family.
It’s a casual place with a modern décor that blasts American songs and when they let me choose the music I always play the unedited versions of my favorite hip hop because no one but me can understand how dirty the lyrics are. I laugh to myself as old couples and young families struggle to use silverware to eat corn on the cob to the sound of the Fugees and 50 Cent.
More than anything, the job has helped me improve my Italian. When waiting tables your actions have to be quick and instinctual, and your words must be too. I don’t have time to think of a response in English, translate it in my head and say it; instead I must think all the time in Italian. The work forces me to speak to people with different accents and phrases and by the shift’s end I’m too tired to speak; but after work and a beer I am more fluent than ever before.
In the end however, work is work; I have been drifting for so long with no obligations that it’s strange when I have to work instead of chilling all day and night wherever I want. But having a job gives my life structure and eventually -once I claw my way out of debt- some money too. It’s hard for me to work until 2am when I know there’s a concert at midnight, but most good parties will go until 4 so really I’m just missing the pregame.
From Hamerica’s I learn more about how Italians see The United States. I serve American food with Italian hospitality and get better at talking with all types of people who just want to sit and eat and talk. I have made friends with my coworkers and sometimes Italian girls that I served at work will recognize me on the street as quel americano che lavora a Hamerica’s, which, dear reader, is a great conversation starter.
There was once a loud Italian man with wine-stained lips at my table who didn’t like my attitude. I didn’t like him. He told me not to forget that I was a guest in his country; I told him not to forget that he was a guest in my restaurant. From then on, he was quiet. Later he asked politely for another bottle and I gave it to him with a smile and a hand on his shoulder. Before he left he shook my hand and we both understood respect without words. So ends a typical night at Hamerica’s.