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Gyro Madness

In order to pay my rent while I stayed in Lecce, I began working for a restaurant close to Porta San Biagio called Sapori di Grecia, which sold Greek food, obviously. This meant Gyros, Moussakas and Baklavas. During the summer there was a modest cobblestone outdoor dining area which I, along with the other female workers, (as only women worked there as servers), set up and took down each night. With a beautiful flowering vine inching along wires strung over the eating area, it was a lovely spot to have a quick bite and escape from the overwhelming heat.
Since my Italian was still a bit shaky, I was asked to run food out to the tables, and prepare the salads and appetizers for the restaurant. Having worked in a kitchen before, I found this job most enjoyable and took pride in my sampler platters with involtini, feta and olives.
At times I was sent out to assist an English-speaking table because the other waitresses were unable to communicate with them. I would chat with them about the nearby beaches, and pointed them in the direction of the best spots to get cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate) and nutella filled cornetti, the Italian version of a croissant, for their breakfasts in the morning.

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As it was a restaurant in Europe, we did not expect any tips, and when we did divide up the euro or two left on the tables at the end of the night, it added up to four or five Euros each, tops. I didn’t care, I wasn’t there for the money, but rather to immerse myself that much further into the culture, and also, of course, for the free food.
Odissea, the cook, was Greek himself and could put together the most delicious Gyros in under two minutes flat. There was tiny window attached to the kitchen where people could order `food to go`, and when the restaurant was full, Odissea was slammed with orders from all sides, his tiny bald head producing fat beads of sweat which he wiped off constantly with a huge roll of paper towels. He was forever yelling out table numbers in Italian, and I would drop whatever I was doing to take as many plates as I could to the hungry diners seated outside.
I became more comfortable with the Italian and eventually was able to take tables on my own, answering questions about my origins after the locals saw that I was not a native speaker. “Sono della California”, I would say and suddenly we were best friends and joked about our lagging economy.
Overall, it was one of the more challenging experiences, but with many rewards. I learned how hard Italians work, and how little they are paid for it, and also that they are always happy to accommodate you, no matter what time you come in to eat, whether it be five in the afternoon or midnight. It is just the Italian way.