The Italian word aperitivo comes from the Latin term aperire, which means, “to open.” Considered the “opening” to dinner, the word itself is open to interpretation, but generally refers to the act of gathering together with friends in the evening for a drink and a bite to eat. Aperitivo is often thought of as Italy’s version of “happy hour;” however, some of the cultural characteristics that are key to the practice of aperitivo are lost in this translation. Whereas “happy hour” is marketed as an occasion for imbibing discounted drinks, aperitivo is, first and foremost, an opportunity to “open” oneself to a good meal with good company.
Aperitivo is, first and foremost, an opportunity to “open” oneself to a good meal with good company.
Though the national quarantine put into place in Italy on March 9 has severely restricted the sociable nature of Italian life, Italians continue to find ways to meaningfully connect with their loved ones and keep old traditions alive. During this time, the art of aperitivo has taken on a new form. Wherever you are in the world, you can follow the Italian example and host your own virtual aperitivo.
Pick your platform.
FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom are just a few of the many video chat apps that allow for group calls. Choose whichever one you are most comfortable using, keeping in mind that it must also be accessible for anyone you hope to chat with.
Mentally prepare to spend at least a couple minutes sorting through technical difficulties while on the call. Try to consider this as “commute time,” the time you would have spent in transit to your usual bar.
Set a time and date.
Aperitivo usually takes place in Italy between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. If you need to add some structure to your day, feel free to use this guideline as a rule. When inviting guests based in different time zones, try to pick a time that works for everyone. (In some cases this means blurring the line between brunch and aperitivo.)
Create a guest list.
Whether you want to invite one friend or five is entirely up to you, but be careful not to invite too many people and risk compromising the quality of the conversation. For your first virtual aperitivo, it’s best to gather a group of friends who already know one another. Later on, try hosting a virtual aperitivo to connect friends who would not otherwise have the chance to meet!
Be careful not to invite too many people and risk compromising the quality of the conversation.
When making your guest list, don’t forget to consider anyone you are quarantined with. Decide ahead of time if you want to ask your roommates, your partner or family members to join the call, or politely request some privacy. If you do not wish to include them, make sure you get their input on a time and space that will be least disruptive.
Agree on attire.
If you’re looking for an excuse to get dressed up, then aperitivo could be the perfect occasion. Maybe putting on pants will feel fun and exciting for you or maybe it will just make you feel less comfortable. If that’s the case, then host your aperitivo in your pajamas!
It may not be how the Italians would do it, but the beauty of virtual aperitivo is that you do not need to invite anyone who cares what you are wearing. Just be sure to set expectations for your guests so that no one feels embarrassingly under- or over-dressed.
Prepare your drinks and snacks.
For the time being, it is best to avoid making any extra trips to the grocery store. Luckily, an aperitivo can be thrown together with whatever you have on hand. That could be a bottle of wine, kombucha from your countertop or an iced tea from your abundant tea collection—any drink will do, so long as you have arranged everything within arm’s reach for the call. (And if that drink calls for ice, prepare some in advance!)
Make sure you also have something salty and crunchy to snack on, such as peanuts, potato chips, pretzels or popcorn. If you feel like spending extra time on preparations, then you can make miniature sandwiches or pizzas from scratch, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Aperitivo should be easy and affordable.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Aperitivo should be easy and affordable.
Prepare your space.
Pick an aperitivo location where you will be comfortable, have a reliable Wi-Fi connection and can easily charge your preferred video chat device. If you’re feeling motivated, then take a few minutes to clean up or even add simple decorations like twinkle lights or candles to make the space feel special.
Once everyone has joined the call and has a drink in hand, it’s time for a toast! Italians clink their drinks over a hearty “Salute!” If you want to partake in this tradition, then it could be a good opportunity to pause for a shared moment of gratitude.
Salute in Italian means “health,” and during this global health crisis, it is important to remember that as difficult as it is to be separated from our loved ones and our favorite social spaces, we are lucky to have the opportunity to be together (even if only virtually) to raise a glass to good health.
Have you ever gotten to experience an Italian aperitivo or something similar? What can we learn from the emphasis Italian culture places on conversation and good company?
Image via Raisa Zwart Photography