From my years of experience living, working, and traveling in Italy, I have found that the Italians are an easy-going people, happy to connect with visitors and to share their incredibly rich culture. That being said, there ARE some things that get under their skin. If you want to be considered a traveler and not a tourist, then don’t do these 10 things.
10 things NOT to do in Italy
Forget that you’re in Italy.
Don’t assume that Italians speak or understand English. Remember that you are a guest on Italian soil and you should do a little homework to be able to speak with Italians in their language. You don’t have to be fluent, but learn some of the basics:
Scusi (SKOO - zee) | Excuse me (to get attention)
Buongiorno (Bwone - JORE-no) | Morning greeting to shopkeepers, restaurant staff, etc.
Buonasera (BWONE-ah-SAIR-ah) | Evening greeting
Parla inglese? (Par-la - Een-GLAZE-eh?) | Do you speak English?
Arrivederci (Aree-veh-DEYR-chee) | Farewell (when leaving a shop, restaurant, bar)
Grazie (GRAH-zee-eh) | Thank you
Forget your social graces.
When you enter an Italian shop or restaurant, the staff expects acknowledgement with buongiorno or buona sera before you ask for a table, an item, etc. On your way out, don’t forget your best arrivederci. And, in between, express your thanks when applicable with grazie.
Drink a cappuccino after 11:00 AM (and especially after lunch or dinner).
I didn’t make this rule, so don’t shoot the messenger. Italians are sensitive to their bodies and especially to their digestive system. Too much milk after a meal blocks proper digestion. Try a caffé espresso, a caffé macchiato (an espresso with a tiny splash of milk) or even a grappa instead.
Expect to eat “Italian food” everywhere in Italy / Order the same wine you always do.
As a country, Italy is a younger than the USA. Before 1861 (and arguably still today), Italy consisted of distinct regions, each with their own culinary traditions, wine, culture and language. “Italian food” as we know it in the United States consists mostly of pizza and versions of spaghetti bolognese or lasagna. While nowadays these dishes can be found outside of their home regions, Campania and Emilia-Romagna respectively, note that these will most likely be found on tourist-trap menus. In Venice, why not try risotto or bigoli with black squid ink and a glass of Soave. In Basilicata, try the sheep stew with a bottle of Aglianico. In Piemonte, indulge in truffles and agnolotti del plin with a Langhe Nebbiolo. Not sure of what the local dishes or wines are? Just ask. Italians are very proud of their diverse gastronomy and are happy to point you in the right direction.
Wear flip flops outside of the house.
In Italy, flip flops are reserved for use inside the house as slippers or at the beach/ spa/ pool. When walking around a city or even in the countryside, Italians wear appropriate footwear. Of course, you should feel free to do what makes your feet happy, but you may cause some giggles or raised eyebrows.
Expect to pay for everything with a credit card or big bills.
For smaller sums, Italians pay with cash. As most Italian establishments charge honest prices, even at upscale restaurants, the credit card fees can really hurt their business. Even when paying in cash, Italians expect smaller bills and exact change when possible. Get to know the Euro coins well and you’ll be greeted with happy shop clerks wherever you go.
Be clueless of your surroundings.
Always be aware of what is happening around you to make sure that you are not getting in anyone’s way, and that you and your possessions are safe. Are you on a Venetian bridge where there is a thick stream of people trying to get through? Then it is probably not the best time to block the way of locals and other visitors to take a photo. Are you in a bustling piazza with possible pick-pockets around? Then make sure your bag is closed and your camera is in your hand or in a zipped pocket.
Plan too much.
Part of the beauty of Italy is enjoying the simple things: delicious meals that linger for hours, a morning cappuccino while people watching, having a conversation with an artisan in his workshop…and the list goes on. Yes, Italy, also boasts innumerable historic sites, churches, museums and activities, but try to give yourself the space and the time needed to fully enjoy them.
Eat or drink coffee on the go.
Italians always drink and eat sitting down, or at the very least standing in one place (such as at the cafe or pizza shop counter). Only tourists, order coffee to go and walk around trying to eat a drooping slice of pizza. For food, if there’s no spot available in the cafe, then find a place where you can sit out of the way of foot traffic — and remember to clean up after!
Touch the produce.
If you want to be looked at with disdain or even scolded by an Italian produce seller at a market, then go ahead: touch that orange. If you would rather do things the Italian way, you must wait your turn, ask or point to what you want and the seller will pick out a perfect specimen for your consumption. Have your change ready and then go find a nice park to enjoy your piece of fruit.
Hope you learned something useful for your next Italian adventure!
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