Albie (Adam DiMarco), his father Dominic (Michael Imperioli) and his grandfather Bert (F. Murray Abraham) are in Sicily to find their long lost relatives, and they do make a few excursions. But one of those trips was to eat at a restaurant Bert saw in a movie, while others were made out of necessity. Interactions with the locals don’t reveal even a hint of authentic interest into their food, culture, or lives. The tragic Tanya McQuoid ventures out into Palermo, too, but generally she’s too involved with her own personal dramas to think much of anything about her surroundings.
Together, the three story arcs paint a picture of a certain kind of upper class American traveler—one who is more concerned with commodifying experiences and chasing an impossible satisfaction than letting a new travel adventure wash over them.
Not every meal in The White Lotus is eaten at the resort. Portia (Haley Lu Richardson), a chronically discontented 20-something who works as Tanya’s assistant, is taken out on the town by Jack, a rambunctious Brit staying with his “uncle,” to enjoy some (stolen) arancini. Ethan, Harper, Cam, and Daphne also have a long, chaotic lunch at a vineyard. Still, Cam’s comment after sitting down to yet another White Lotus dinner—“I don’t know why they keep giving us these menus, we know them back to front by now”—is an unmissable hint that these wealthy characters’ unimaginative dining habits drive them to eat at the same place repeatedly.
For food lovers who travel to eat, it’s maddening to see the characters of White Lotus blithely ignore the spectacular Sicilian cuisine that surrounds them. And in reality, many wealthy diners love to chase exclusive reservations at new restaurants and once-in-a-lifetime dining experiences. Sure, locally made Italian food is incredible, but the soil surrounding Mount Etna, one of Europe’s most active Volcanoes, is enriched with volcanic ash which means produce in the area has a brighter, cleaner taste than vegetables grown elsewhere. Alas, Tanya would rather cosplay Monica Vitti.
Wealth and luxury, particularly as it’s expressed by Americans, wears down one’s ability to be self aware, to find spontaneous joy, and to experience the world outside of yourself. If you let it, wealth can make you into the type of person who travels all the way to Italy, only to order Aperol spritzes and arugula salads ad nauseam.