Where I work in Rome, there’s a large cafeteria that serves the obvious coffee but also these things called cornettos. Now, to an Australian or New Zealander, a cornetto is an ice-cream. Maybe to Americans too, I’m not sure. But in Rome, a cornetto seems to be the generic word for what I’d call one heck of a big doughnut.

I continue to be intrigued by the Italian ability to eat a sweet pastry or two for breakfast and have no weight issues. The big thing at work is to get there by 8.00am so you can grab a cornetto. The cornetto in question is a very large sugared doughnut with some sort of custard inside. I haven’t had one, so I can’t tell you. I’m avoiding them so as not to gain 50 kilos.

There is one woman in the cafeteria who has made it her personal mission to teach me Italian. I buy my lunch at the canteen, which is adjacent to the cafe. You grab your tray, knife and fork and away you go – choosing from an amazing selection of salads, pasta, meats, baked veges, fruit salads, creme caramels, cakes and so on. I try my very best to stick to salad with bread (and no butter). Cost is Euro 3.00.

The Italian woman is generally on cashier duty when I appear for lunch at 12.00pm. The people I work with describe me as “very English” because I go to lunch at 12.00pm every day. I am not English but true to say I am a creature of habit, as my mother would say. I eat lunch and dinner fairly early and at roughly the same time each day. Note to self: stop being quite so predictable and boring.

Back to the Italian woman. So at the cash register she says Buongiorno signora and rattles off the price of my lunch. Should I not understand that she has said Euro 3.50 or Euro 4.00, I am lectured (pleasantly). A colleague translated for me the other day and told me the Italian woman is suggesting I learn Italian, pronto.

So I appear for coffee at 7.45am the other day and here she was in the cafe. I was glancing at the large doughnut, contemplating getting one and I heard her utter the word cornetto in the string of words she was saying to me. This was the first time I’d heard the word cornetto in reference to a doughnut, so was momentarily confused. The Italian woman then stepped up to the cake display and with arms gesticulating this way and that, proceeded to explain (as I later found out) that all the pastries on show are cornettos. It’s the generic name for breakfast pastries.

She started to get the large doughnut out of the cabinet but I managed to rattle off no, grazie and coughed up my 75 cents for a cappuccino. I then fled to a table to enjoy my coffee, congratulating myself for avoiding what could only be described as a massive sugar overload.

And speaking of the coffee, as good as it is here in Italy, I’ve had to adapt to two things. Firstly, cappuccinos (and I presume other forms of coffee) are not served piping hot. They are on the warm side. The cafe staff know that foreigners generally like their coffee molto caldo but I just take it whatever way I get it. The other thing is that Italians don’t generally have cappuccinos after lunch.

This is an extremely large sugar-coated doughnut that I have avoided to date. I plan to try it before I leave Italy. In the morning, they are usually all gone by 8.00am.

The Italian woman is telling me that all of these pastries are referred to as cornettos.