Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Italy is, by far, the most popular European Country requested 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 A2Z Travel Design’s list of the Top 10 ways to blend right in to Italian Culture:
1. Slow Down: You will NOT see it all! Trust me, the reason that the 46 million tourists attack Italy each year is because there is so much beauty to see and experience: culture, art, vineyards, food, museums and the amazing people! A lifetime isn’t even enough time! 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 get along very well!
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 for a quick shot of espresso. 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 do...Give it a “shot”! (Pun intended!)
4. Dinner is not usually served earlier than 8:00pm! Showing up at a restaurant before 7:30 will probably get you a view of the staff having their own pre-service meal 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. Get used to it!
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 is in front of you. Stop to listen to a street performer (and tip!), stop into a neighborhood café for a glass of wine or a coffee or slurp a cone of gelato with the locals. Plus. If you are always trying to keep up with a tight schedule, you and your travel companions will just plain get grumpy!
6. You need to call for a taxi, or go to an actual taxi stand. (Uber is only available in Rome and Milan) 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 your town. Busses, Subways, Trains and Boats are remarkably efficient and manage to get millions of Italians where they need to go every day...Why not you?
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 screaming “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 here 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, 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 usually the event! 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! Get the picture???
9. Everyone in Italy doesn’t want to kiss you! (Especially in 2021!!!) 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” all over, 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. Also, Italian culture respects its elders 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.
10.Smile! You are in a country that has welcomed and inspired visitors for centuries! Enjoy the people, the beauty, the art, music & literature. You are one lucky duck...and don’t forget it! The Italians will be happy to share a smile with you and you will return home already planning your return trip in your mind! And remember...A2Z Travel Design specializes in custom-crafted authentic Italian vacations! Let us help you plan your next adventure to put these newly learned skills to use!