Be Thankful For Your Friends But Avoid The Friendship Cup

The object above isn’t the holy grail, an objet d’art, vase, fancy pipe or some kind of crazy teapot, it’s a friendship cup.  As Thanksgiving approaches, one of the things we are most grateful for this year is all of the friends we’ve made in Switzerland.

A friendship cup (also known as Coppa dell’amicizia, grolla or grolle ) is a round container with a lid and multiple spouts made of turned wood.  It is used for drinking special hot adult beverages with friends.  There’s a saying, “he who drinks it alone, will choke.”  Here’s how it works.

Gather your friends, or nearby people you want to become friends (because after you finish one of these you will be.  Traditionally you have at least one more person than the number of spouts on the cup.  Why?   You end up sharing and drinking from a different spout as the cup gets passed around the table.  People don’t worry about the germs for two reasons.  First, it’s your friends.  Secondly, what they put in the cup is strong enough that it could probably be classified as some sort of disinfectant.   You pass the cup around your group, not setting it down until it’s empty.  Trust me when I tell you that this is easier said than done.

We first encountered it when we visited the Aosta Valley in Italy.  Thank goodness no one whipped out a camera that night…  The friendship cup is an after dinner (or later) tradition in Lombardy and the rest of the Italian Alps.  It comes from the “Soldats de la Neige” (which translates into Soldiers of the Snow) who acted as guides to travelers in this rough terrain.   They needed extra “energy” to survive in the cold.   Having had some, it does seem to warm you up.  The drink’s popularity spread to include everyone who needed a little pick me up to brave the cold.

What’s in a Friendship Cup?  Valdostana coffee, a liquor ( usually Génépy, but it can be plain or fruit grappa, cognac, Cointreau, red wine or cum), sugar and spices.  Sometimes people add butter and orange peels.  Just make sure you have friends around to drink it with you.  It sounds delightful.  It’s not.  It’s Trouble.  That’s right, trouble with a capital “t.”

So as Thanksgiving approaches, thanks guys, we’re raising our glasses (or beers from the snow) to you and giving thanks, just don’t expect us to bust out the friendship cup.   Here’s to you, Cheers!  Kippis!  Chin Chin!  Santé!  Prost!  Slàinte!  Skål!  L’Chaim!  Na zdrowie!

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Scams, Easier Than Working For The Money

Men with friendship bracelets in front of Milan’s Duomo wanting to make new friends

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”  – Albert Einstein   Where there are idiots, scams abound.  We’re almost all guilty of it at one time or another, turning off our brains when we go on vacation.  Heck, it’s part of the reason people go on vacation.  Because people walk around like pigeons, scammers abound in tourist destinations.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about shell games.  There are many other frauds we’ve seen or heard about anecdotally from friends.

When we were in Milan, he laughed at me when I yelled at people who would not leave me alone.    They kept trying to tie a string friendship bracelet around my wrist.  If they got it on, they would then demand an exorbitant amount for it.  If I didn’t want to pay, they would ask for the bracelet back.  Giving it back is often difficult because they will tie it extremely tightly around my wrist.  If I didn’t pay, they might rip it off and demand I pay them “compensation.”  I didn’t want any part of it.  Plus, it makes me uneasy to have something tied around me with a stranger holding the end of the string.   It would seem intimidating to have someone able to yank on my arm like that.

Later that day, someone asked him the time and then tried to make friends with him while he was waiting outside for me.  He didn’t pull his hands out of his pockets to reveal his watch and let it be known that he was in no mood to chat.  The man got aggressive, but he stood his ground and responded calmly but firmly (with a little bluff of his own that made the guy hightail it out of there).  When there are bell towers with clocks all around, someone who asks the time is trouble.

In Paris, a common scam is to approach someone in the street offering to sell a gold ring they have ‘just found on the pavement’.  This happened to a friend of ours who told them “we just saw you drop it.”  Usually, these gold rings are nothing more than a cheap piece of metal, perhaps even a plumbing pipe joint ring.   The prettier and more distracting the scammer is, the more likely an accomplice is also picking your pocket.

In Madrid, we had a friend get her purse stolen from inside a restaurant.  I thought I was being careful, but someone at the neighboring table stopped someone in the midst of grabbing mine.  We’ve had a friend lose an iPhones from her table when it was sitting right next to her coffee.  Just because you are “safely” inside a restaurant (or a museum), doesn’t mean that someone isn’t just as likely to steal from you.  We’ve heard of people using newspapers, flows, etc. to distract and cover up these thefts.  We’ve even heard of the thieves looking like fellow tourists.

Pickpockets and bag snatchers are everywhere.  They can strike at anytime, but you are an easy mark when you are distracted.  Friends got their pockets picked in Paris while exiting the subway.  Someone stood in front of them trying to get on and blocking their way.  An associate took advantage of this slowdown and distraction to remove their wallet.  Another friend had bags stolen from in front of the hotel while loading their taxi!

Sometimes the money takers wear uniforms.  Remember to validate your train passes in Italy, even if you have a specific seat number on a specific train.  A few years ago we made the mistake of not punching our ticket in the machine at the end of the line.  We’d just bought the tickets and with assigned seats on a specific line….  Needless to say that crying didn’t work, only cash was accepted by the conductor, the “receipt” was illegible, and when he came back through to discuss the problem with us, he wasn’t wearing any identification.  Yep.  I’m still sore about it.

In Geneva, I have seen the same extremely pregnant woman begging at the bus stops around town for the past year.  Although time has passed, her pregnancy has not progressed.  Her baby is probably setting a Guinness World Record for the most time in utero.

Also in Geneva, I had a woman try to show me how to work the public transport ticket machine at a bus stop.  She demanded money for her “services” and was very persistent.  In French, told her to go…  You can feel free to do it in the language of your choosing.