After a perfect month abroad, I am now nestled safely at home between blankets and crying whenever I look at pictures of my trip. I went to Italy for a month to study and it couldn’t have been a better experience. I had been four times before this with my family, but this is the first time I ventured out on my own to my second home. Though I, myself, am Italian and speak the language, there were definitely some things I noticed while in Italy this time around that I hadn’t been entirely aware of the last few times. For those of you planning a trip to this beautiful boot-shaped country, there are a couple of things you should know before you book those tickets.
Here are 14 important things you need to keep in mind when you visit Italy:
- Pick-pocketers are everywhere. The thieves there are tricky and they can snag your wallet from your front pocket without you noticing at all. I don’t care what city you’re visiting, always keep an eye on your belongings. Carry your backpack in front of you if you have to. Be aware of your surroundings and definitely don’t keep your phone, keys, or money in your back pocket where you can’t see it.
- Not all bread is good bread. “What?? Not all the bread in Italy is God’s very own crafted masterpiece?” Surprised? I was too. I studied in Florence (up north), and many of the breadbaskets that adorned tables were full of hard, tasteless bread. It could have been a poor choice of restaurants on our part, but one thing is for sure: nothing beats southern Italian bread. My mom lived in the south her whole life, so I know good bread when I taste it.
- Salad dressing and condiments are very different. Salad dressing is just oil, vinegar (usually balsamic), and salt. I use this even at home in America, but just keep in mind that you’re not going to see ranch dressing if you go. Ketchup exists, but don’t expect to see mustard, and most importantly, don’t ever expect to see butter with your bread because that’s an American custom.
- Don’t tip your waiters! Tipping in the United States is essential because waitstaff doesn’t get paid the minimum wage, but instead rely on tips. In Italy however, the waitstaff gets paid handsomely. Tipping is actually considered impolite and many waiters will get offended if you try to hand them a euro or two for their service. To them, they’re just doing their job.
- Push the door to enter, pull the door to get out. You kind of just have to always pretend that it’s opposite day in Italy. I will never, ever get used to this.
- You have to pay to use public restrooms. Yes, you heard that right. Just like in the musical Urinetown, many public restrooms there require a euro to use the bathroom. Make sure you always carry some change on you just in case.
- You must also pay for your grocery bags. Bring a few extra coins to the supermarket because no matter how many groceries you purchase, they will always only provide one plastic bag. You either have to bring your own or buy a few more from them.
- “Bar” is what they call their cafés, and “pub” is what they call their bars. This might get a little confusing for those of us in the U.S. Going to the bar to unwind after work means getting drunk, but going to the bar in Italy means having a coffee and a croissant. Try to remember the difference or you’ll get espresso shots instead of tequila shots.
- Many shops close from about 12 to 3 for lunch. A lot of Americans go out to grab a quick lunch, but Italians treat lunch like Americans treat dinner, and leave their shops for a few hours to sit at home and have a meal with their families. We had a lot of trouble finding authentic places to eat during lunchtime, so make sure you know what’s open when you’re hungry.
- A lot of the Italian meals you’re used to are not actually Italian. Chicken parmesan, baked ziti, penne vodka… All-American customs. Italians’ first course is usually pasta or rice, and the second course is meat or fish. So spaghetti and meatballs for example would be served separately, not with the meatballs on top of the spaghetti. Bottom line: don’t ask for these dishes, you’ll have American written all over you.
- Beach etiquette is different. There are no such thing as topless beaches because in Italy, every beach can be a topless beach. There’s really nothing you can do about it. Not only that, but expect to see a lot of speedos because that’s a normal swimwear for Italian men, and nobody but us finds it funny, so please stifle your laughter and be polite.
- Always, always, always validate your train ticket at a validation machine before stepping on the train. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t get caught with an invalidated ticket or your only options will be to pay $60 on the spot, or get off the train.
- Soccer is “football” or “calcio.” Do not under any circumstances refer to it as soccer.
- Give your best effort to communicate in Italian. I know that this is unrealistic for those of you who have never spoken a word of the language in your life, but if you know even one or two phrases, make the effort. Italians can be condescending towards Americans who bluntly assume that all Italians speak English. If anything, learn how to ask them if they speak English before you say anything else.
If you try to remember all the things on this list, then you’ll definitely be ready to go. These tips are essential in having a safe and culturally rich trip. Most importantly, make new friends, drink good wine, and enjoy lasting memories in the most beautiful country in the entire world (I’m biased, sorry not sorry). Buon viaggio amici!
Featured Image via Author.