Italian culture: 10 things you should know before visiting

1. Tipping in Italy: Although depending where you are from, you might not even give this a second thought, you should keep in mind that tipping is not required in Italy and can actually be considered offensive and as a way of buying someone off! You can tip for exceptional service at a restaurant for a special celebration, but there’s no need to do so if you are ordering coffee in a bar or for a taxi ride or dinner.
2. When ordering in a bar, standing up is cheaper than sitting down: Have you ever noticed when going to an Italian bar that the locals would drink their cappuccinos or espressos standing up at the counter? This is because it’s cheaper to have your coffee and pastries this way and you would get charged for table service for sitting down. So next time you fancy a bit of Italian breakfast on the go (cornetto – Italian style croissant and cappuccino), enjoy it standing up with the rest of the crowd!

3. Cash is best: For your daily shopping and minor purchases, don’t forget to take cash with you as credit cards are still not widely accepted in Italy apart from the more touristy areas. Also it’s worth remembering that you cannot pay for anything under 10 euros with a credit or debit card in places that accept them. Always have some cash with you and a variety of notes, as if you try to pay for your 1 euro cappuccino with a 20 euro note, you’d get frowned upon!
4. Cover bare knees and shoulders when entering a church: If you attempt to enter the Duomo in Florence, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome or St Mark’s in Venice wearing shorts or vests, you would simply get turned away and asked to cover up. Basically no bare shoulders, midriffs or knees. These are places of worship and even when visiting smaller churches, make an effort to show some respect when entering them. It might be a good idea to carry a scarf with you or remembering to wear trousers or a longer skirt.
5. Eating out times: People always say that the way to find out the best restaurants is to go where the locals eat, but don’t get disheartened if you prepare yourself to eat out at about 6 or 7pm and find that most places are simply deserted! Italians don’t normally eat out before 8pm and you would actually find that most places would not start filling up till after 9pm, especially in the summer.
6. Don’t touch produce without permission at the markets: I highly recommend visiting local markets where not only you will find local produce, veg, fruit but also clothes, kitchenware, leather goods and much more. But once you are there, please keep your hands to yourself and ask for permission to handle any goods. The vendor would almost always help you select anything you need and pick any produce for you by using plastic gloves.

7. Riposo: Shops and businesses close for riposo, a bit like an extended lunch hour, between 1pm and 4pm. Please note that these times can vary from city to city and town to town, so bear this in mind when going shopping.
8. Don’t assume you can buy your train/bus ticket on board: You are required to buy your train/bus ticket before you board, so instead of trying to find a ticket machine, look for a tabaccaio (tobacco shop) to get your bus tickets and purchase train tickets at the station. If you are travelling on a Sunday, don’t forget to get your tickets ahead of time to save you searching for an open tabaccaio! Don’t forget to validate your tickets on board for the bus and before boarding the train at the nearest validation machine.
9. Il conto: When eating out, remember that you will not be presented with your bill unless you ask for it and no waiter would throw you out unless it’s past closing time. Enjoying food at a leisurely pace is taken very seriously in Italy, so if you have finished your meal and are ready to leave, ask for il conto.
10. Bring a gift: Italians are generally very gregarious and hospitable people and if you have the good fortune of being invited to dinner at a local’s home, don’t forget to bring a gift for the hostess, like flowers, pastries or a bottle of wine. If you make it flowers, NEVER buy chrysanthemums as in Italy these are considered to be for the dead and only brought to cemeteries!

Have a good trip and don’t forget that the best way to experience any new destination is to be more of a traveller instead of a tourist!

4 thoughts on “Italian culture: 10 things you should know before visiting

  1. Am I right in thinking that, as with fruit & veg on market stalls, it’s the same at the supermarket? I noticed a couple of years ago that they have disposable gloves available for customers and people do seem to use them – so we have followed suit. Makes sense.

    Great post – love to hear about all the little and big cultural quirks and differences between us 🙂 I certainly didn’t know that about Chrysanthemums!

    • Hi Helen,
      yes you are absolutely right in thinking that about produce in supermarkets as well. There are always plastic gloves for you to handle fruit and veg and don’t forget to use them!
      In future I will also be compiling a bigger list relating to all the cultural quirks about Italy. I’m so glad that I mentioned about chrysanthemums then, so I avoided you any embarrassment!

  2. Very interesting post. I have only been to Italy once and that was a hotel stay in Rome. Would love to look round the markets, makes you realise how much we should be washing our fruit and veg before we eat it if some countries encourage you to wear gloves !
    Interesting about chrysanthemums, suppose that’s like lilies here . . . .

    • Yes Jayne, I had always been used to washing my fruit as it can be covered in pesticides and other things to make it look shiny and perfect, especially in supermarkets!
      I’ll be compiling a bigger list of cultural quirks and I’m sure it will be useful for you when you go to Italy next year.

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