Celebrating your birthday in Rome should be an unforgettable experience, all the food and prosecco you could wish for to celebrate in style. Except there is one birthday rule (there is always a rule) that this foreigner finds extremely difficult to comprehend. I am a lover of many Italian regulations and enjoy those that make me question my own upbringing and sometimes values. I accept the no cappuccino after 11am, the flip-flops and dressing gowns in the swimming pool, the constant use of serviettes instead of licking your fingers. But, you will always find one or two that you simply cannot get your head around.
People from the north of England prepare yourself – if you go for a night out in Rome for your birthday, you have to pay for everyone else. That’s right. NO-ONE buys you a drink. You are obliged to pay for everyone you have invited, including your self.
Except no-one tells you this at first. Of course you are just supposed to know. So my first couple of birthdays here I can guarantee that I offended certain people by my unknowing reluctance not to pay. And then when I did know, it was a genuine reluctance to entertain this particular Roman/Italian tradition. I always struggle to know what to do for my birthday in any case – who to invite, where to go, nothing too flashy or showy, worrying about organising something that’s all about me. Far too much pressure. But here you have to pay for the pleasure too! It becomes staggeringly expensive – a few friends, a terrible cake and some fizzy wine – it’s the Italian rip-off equivalent of an English wedding. Nope. I can’t do it. The only solution I have found in the past is to have a party at home where the act of paying for everything yourself seems much more reasonable.
It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To – always one of my favourites
This year, whilst I didn’t organise anything grand for my 37th, I decided that I did live in Italy and I should try to embrace this troublesome tradition and stop being so stingy. I have spent all weekend trying to pay for friend’s drinks and lunches and even my delicious birthday meal with my beloved (who being Italian, expects me to pay). But to no avail. I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything. My Anglo-Saxon sulking has obviously paid off.