Italy is, by far, the European Country requested the most by my clients….in fact, over 46 million tourists visit this amazing country every year. They come from all over the world for many different reasons, and many will return again and again for that magic that only Italy can deliver. Italians are very kind, outgoing, family-centric and extremely patient (unless they are driving!). The Italians realize how blessed they are to be the safe keepers of some of history’s most magnificent relics and art treasures and they are happy to share them. However, there are a few things that most Italians want Americans to know before we arrive in their country.
Here is “See More Sunsets Travel’s” list of the Top 10 ways to best blend in with Italian Culture:
1. Slow Down: You will NOT see it all!
Trust me, the reason that 46 million tourists attack Italy each year is because there is so much to experience: culture, art, vineyards, food, history, religion, museums and the amazing people! I’ve been to Italy 6 times and don’t even come close to feeling like I’ve seen it all. So, slow down, take it all in, appreciate what you DO see….and then plan to return!
2. Dress more conservatively than you do at home.
Miniskirts, short-shorts (they are for the beach!); halter tops and saggy jeans will not live up to the classic fashion taste of Italians. You don’t have to be formal and uncomfortable…just neat, put-together and a little more modest. Some Cathedrals (including the Vatican) will not let you enter if your shoulders and knees are not covered. Cover up, unless you really are spending the day on a beautiful Italian beach. And leave the stilettos at home…Cobblestone streets and high heels don’t go together!
3. Cappuccino and Café Lattes are morning-only drinks!
A true Italian would never dream of ordering one after late morning, or especially after a meal! If you need a caffeine pick-me-up later in the day, stop in a coffee bar and ask for an espresso. They drink lots of expressos! Did you know that Italy is one of the only countries that doesn’t have a Starbucks? They are illegal there because the Italians are so proud of their coffee culture. Italian coffee is superior and should be enjoyed as the real Italians enjoy it.
4. Dinner is not usually served earlier than 8:00pm!
Showing up at a restaurant before 7:30 will probably get you funny looks from the staff and a totally empty dining room! Your meal will be more enjoyable in a restaurant full of happy locals and with the wait staff ready to do their thing! Most places charge a “Coperto”, or cover charge, for each table. This is NOT a ploy to take advantage of you…it is routine! It is explained as the cost of washing the linens, dishes, and providing the “free stuff” like bread (pane in Italian) or tap water.
5. Simplify your schedule!
Leave time in your day to just wander around and poke your head into the real Italy. If you just get a couple of blocks away from some of the most famous tourist sites, real Italian life will be right in front of you. Stop to listen to a street performer (and do tip them!), stop into a neighborhood café for a glass of wine or a coffee or relax and enjoy a gelato with the locals.
6. You need to call for a taxi, or go to an actual taxi stand.
You cannot just hail a taxi off the street in Italy, and many Italian taxi drivers get their entertainment from watching tourists try to do so! As an alternative, familiarize yourself with the public transportation systems in town. Buses, subways, trains and boats are remarkably efficient and manage to get millions of Italians where they need to go every day.
7. Italian is the official language of Italy!
I know this seems obvious…so why do so many “ugly Americans” go barging in to other countries expecting everyone to speak English fluently? Just learning a few common words and phrases in the local language will make a big difference in your experience. Instead of yelling “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” at someone (they aren’t deaf…just Italian!) try “I’m sorry, but my Italian is poor…Parla l’Inglese?” (Par-la Een-glace?) Even if you find yourself in the rare circumstance with no English-speakers, Italians speak with their hands, so go back to your charade talents and you will get your point across and have a good laugh doing so!
8. Speaking of waiters in restaurants, slow service is good service!
European restaurants are drastically different than most restaurants you find in America. When you take a table for a meal, it is yours for as long as you want…waiters are NOT trying to “turn tables” fast so they can make more tips. (tips are not required in Italy, but a small gratuity for good service is always welcomed) Waiting tables is a respected profession in most of Europe and they are paid well. Italians enjoy their mealtimes and are not in a rush to dash off to a movie or other event. Dinner is an event for them! Relax and go with the slow flow! And you must ask for the check when you are ready to leave. It is considered rude for a waiter to bring your check before you ask because he doesn’t want to rush you.
9. Everyone in Italy doesn’t want to kiss you!
Italians are very welcoming people, but there is a certain etiquette for reaching out and saying hello! You will see friends, family and even acquaintances kissing each other on the cheeks and saying “Ciao”, however, as a stranger, that might be a little bit “overboard”. When you meet an Italian, take their lead…but a smile and a firm handshake is probably the most appropriate until you get to know them a little better. And, if someone is introduced as Signore (Mr.) or Signora (Mrs.), it is best not to address them by their first names until they request it.
You are in a country that has welcomed and inspired visitors for centuries! Enjoy the people, the beauty, the art, music & literature. The Italians are happy to share their country with you and you will see that in their smile. Every time I return from Italy, I am already thinking about what I want to see and do the next time I’m there! I just can’t get enough!