Italians are an easygoing bunch from what I’ve found, so take this article with a grain of salt. If you want be a cultural chameleon though and fit in as much as possible, here is a list of what not to do in Italy.
- Don’t go in August. Not only is Italy very hot in August, but it is also a popular month for Italians to vacation, which means restaurants, shops, and other venues may be closed.
- Don’t rent a car if you can avoid it. Many cities in Italy have limited access and you can get a big fine if you drive into a ZTL (zono traffico limitato). Italy has an excellent infrastructure in the tourist areas for public transportation. If you do have to rent a car, make sure to get an international driving permit from AAA/CAA.
- Don’t sit down at the caffè for your morning espresso. If you want the lowest price for your coffee, stand at the counter and have your drink there. There is a higher price for those who take a seat. If you do take a seat though, take your time and enjoy your drink and the view.
- Don’t tip excessively. Servers get paid a living wage and don’t count on tips like they do in the United States, so they only expect you to round up slightly for a bill…if at all.
- Don’t ask for a doggy bag. If you find that Italian portion sizes are too big for you, especially if you plan on ordering several courses, ask for a half portion (mezza porzione) of your primo course.
- Don’t forget to check the hours of opening. Many businesses and churches close in the afternoon for a few hours. Restaurants, too, open for lunch then close and reopen for dinner at 7 or 7:30. Make sure to check.
- Don’t bare too much skin in church—covering shoulders is standard in most churches and some request that knees be covered, as well. If I’m wearing a sleeveless top, I carry a scarf or lightweight sweater to cover my shoulders.
- Don’t order pineapple on pizza. This is a good rule, in general.
- Don’t ask for steak sauce or—god forbid—ketchup on a Florentine steak. The bistecca alla fiorentina is a national treasure. Restaurants will serve it at the doneness that they think is perfect (rare to medium-rare, generally). I don’t know a self-respecting restaurant that would serve it with steak sauce or ketchup.
- Don’t cut your pasta…twirl. Cutting pasta is something done for a child. Italians have mastered the art of twirling long pasta around a fork and effortlessly consuming it. If you want to fit in, you will…
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