Bar owner Cristina Mattioli put up a sign asking patrons not to talk about COVID-19.

At this Roman bar, talk about anything. Just not COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic comes with a heavy psychological toll. So, Cristina Mattioli, a bar owner in Rome, banned talking about it to encourage her customers to focus on more positive things.

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Bar owner Cristina Mattioli put up a sign asking patrons not to talk about COVID-19.

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Courtesy of Cristina Mattioli

Dealing with COVID-19 can be traumatic — and hard to talk about. That reality is what motivated the owner of a bar in Rome to try something different. 

Cristina Mattioli, who owns Bar Feeling, recently posted a sign above the bar banning any talk of COVID-19 among customers. 

“I want my customers to talk about anything — like gossip, like history. Everything, but not coronavirus,” she said.

That means no talking about COVID-19, no speculating about upcoming rules and restrictions, and no discussing lockdowns or the government’s response to the virus.

But the rule doesn’t mean Mattioli wants people to ignore the coronavirus. 

“It’s important to follow the rules: masks on our face, keep their distance and be careful. But we need positivity, no?”

Cristina Mattioli, owner, Bar Feeling

“It’s important to follow the rules: masks on our face, keep their distance and be careful,” she said. “But we need positivity, no?”

Italians likely do need some positivity. Italy has been hit hard by the pandemic: Its death toll has reached more than 58,000.

Related: Italy's coronavirus response was a model for Europe. What went wrong? 

Mattioli says as a bartender, she’s used to being a sort of therapist for her patrons. But she says that a lot of conversations became weighed down with heavy talk about the pandemic. So, she hung the sign — both to encourage customers to talk about other things, and to acknowledge the psychological toll that constantly focusing on the pandemic can have on people. 

“If we talk about it too often, we’ll never get out of it,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s OK to give ourselves moments of serenity.” 

Related: The pandemic has disrupted how we grieve. The effects could be long-lasting.

So, if not the pandemic, what should people talk about? Well, Mattioli has a few suggestions. 

“Actually, we have 'Big Brother,'” she said.

She encourages patrons to gossip about the hit reality show. She says another big topic of conversation since she hung the sign has been soccer. And the conversation isn’t always light: After Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona died last month, customers gathered to reflect on his life. 

Mattioli says her main goal is to bring peace to people during an unprecedented time in Rome.

“The pandemic has canceled all the other things that are in our lives,” she said. 

“In my opinion, that’s not good.” 

So, she hopes her customers will take her up on her offer of a break.

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