Polly Put the Kettle On

We’ve arrived in Balestrate in Sicily for the first week of our trip into the sunshine.  As we prepared something to drink in the evening we noticed that there was no kettle in our rented apartment.  This we found a bit annoying because everyone uses a kettle don’t they? So we asked the Italian owner of the apartment if we could have a kettle (or water boiler as our request became) to make our children’s milk and a cup of tea/coffee. This caused some confusion and stress but he accepted our request and set off to resolve the issue.
About an hour later it became clear that the issue was more complicated than we had predicted; Lorenzo had been around the local shops and had no success in any of them locating or even clarifying for themselves what a kettle actually was.  Even my wife’s use of the French word bouilloire did not help.  The situation became even more fascinating when his American wife asked us to clarify what it was we wanted because she too wasn’t clear about what a ‘kettles’ was.  She had lived more than 20 years in Sicily and was thoroughly enculturated.  When the conversation turned to whether or not this item had to be electric, we deciided to make it clear that boiling water in a small pan would meet all our needs.

There is a nursery rhyme in the English language that goes like this:
“Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the kettle on, We’ll all have tea”
Now, without making the hubristic claim that all English households were the same in my childhood, there was, if I recall well almost always a closed container with a lid in which we boiled water that we then used to make tea or wash the dishes or even to warm up the bath water when required.  These kettles would be heated on the cooker (we had the new-fangled natural – not town – gas) and, when the water had boiled, a little pressure whistle on the spout of the kettle would emit a high-pitched scream.  this would be greeted by cries of, “the kettle’s ready, make some tea”.
It’s hard for me to imagine a kitchen without a kettle, which are usually electric these days and it’s cultural joke that when moving house the last thing to go in the box is the kettle.  Otherwise how would you make the tea?
Boiling water in a pan to make tea and coffee is obviously no different from a physical point of view than boiling it in a kettle but culturally the difference even shows up in the local economy here.  Kettles, as I know them are not commonly found in the shops around Balestrate.

As my wife would say in her native French, “Vive la difference”


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