Italy is magical, and Italians are kind, charismatic, and you get to live in a history book come to life. Notwithstanding their fine personalities, I imagine (if I could read minds) Italians would like to take Americans by the hand and offer a few suggestions for visiting that fabulous country
Slow Down: You will NOT see it all
Trust me, the reason that 46 million tourists visit Italy each year is because there is so much beauty to see and things to experience: culture, art, vineyards, food, museums, and the amazing people! A lifetime won’t be enough time. So, slow down, take it all in, appreciate what you DO see….and then plan another trip.
Dress more conservatively than 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. Trust me, they look good. 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 with exposed shoulders and knees. Cover up, unless you really are spending the day on a beautiful Italian beach. And leave the stilettos at home…Cobblestone streets + high heels = America’s funniest home videos.
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 during 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 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!)
You probably won’t eat dinner before 8:00 pm
Show up at a restaurant before 7:30, and you’ll probably find the staff having their own pre-service meal and an empty dining room. Your meal will be more enjoyable in a restaurant full of happy locals and with the waitstaff ready to serve.
Most restaurants charge a “Coperto,” or cover charge, for each table. This is NOT a ploy to take advantage of you…it’s routine. It’s explained as the cost of washing the linens, dishes, and providing the “free stuff” like bread (pane in Italian) or tap water.
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 few blocks away from 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, a tight, busy schedule equals exhaustion. Who has fun when exhausted? Nobody!
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 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?
Italians speak Italian
I know this seems obvious…so why do so many Americans expect everyone in other countries 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, put your charades, drawing or acting talent to work. You’ll eventually get your point across and have a good laugh too.
Slow Service is Good Service
European restaurants are drastically different than most in the U.S. 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 the event! Relax and go with the slow flow. Remember, you must ask for the check when you are ready to leave. It’s considered rude for a waiter to bring your check before you ask because he doesn’t want to rush you.
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” all over. However, as a stranger, that might be a little bit awkward. 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.
You are in a country that has welcomed and inspired visitors for centuries, enjoy it! The Italians will be happy to share a smile with you, and you will return home already planning your return trip.