As they say, “When in Rome…” But what does it mean to “do as the Romans do”? Quite literally, the phrase means that it is advisable to follow the customs and conventions of the area you are visiting.
When visiting a new place, considering the culture is just as important as the climate. I got to tour Italy as a chaperone on a high school trip a couple of years ago. I gained some insights, but no one could confuse me for a local. For the inside scoop on how to act like an Italian, we went to an expert.
Introducing Steve Perillo, CEO, President, and third-generation family owner of Perillo Tours, America’s leading tour company to Italy. Steve’s such an expert on Italy that he can tell you the average temperature on a given day in any region. Here are more than a few tips for acting like a local in Italy, according to Steve.
10 Best Ways To Avoid Looking Like a Tourist in Italy
1. Dress Nicely
Italian women as well as men tend to dress much less casually than we do in the States. Let’s just say that wearing shorts is a good way to advertise that you’re a tourist. So are flip-flops. Steve suggests that you wear clothes that fit the occasion” and making sure you present yourself neatly. “Italians take a lot of pride in their appearance and usually follow the dress code for any kind of public outing. Even when going shopping, Italians dress nicely,” he says.
2. Keep Your Shoes On
In some cultures, it’s appropriate to take your shoes off when entering one’s home. Steve says in Italy, it comes down to personal preference: “Some Italians find it rude to take off one’s shoes in front of others. Some, though not many, expect you to take them off.” Be attentive to what others are doing with their shoes, and when in doubt, ask.
3. Shoulders And Knees Must Be Covered In Church
Largely Catholic, Italy has an inordinate amount of ornate churches that you can tour. However, it is important to keep in mind that while these churches are attractions, they are still considered holy places. Show respect by dressing conservatively. Don’t wear sunglasses. If you wear sandals or flip-flops, they may not let you into a church.
4. Don’t Call During Pisolino
If you need to call on someone between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., think again. You may interrupt their “pisolino.”
“Pisolino refers to a nap that most Italians take after their mid-day meal each day, also known as a siesta,” Steve says. He advises that if you must call during these hours, you “first apologize for disturbing the household at this time.”
5. Punctuality Is Not A Priority
You may be used to being on time down to the minute, or even showing up early, but Italians don’t answer to clocks as much as Americans do. Steve says, “It is acceptable to arrive 15 to 30 minutes after the designated time. If you complain, you will look like a tourist”
6. Italians Don’t Wait In Line
“Unlike Americans, Italians don’t really believe in standing in lines,” says Steve. “The unspoken rule is whoever is the most aggressive and gets to the front first, goes first. Lines are simply not respected.”
7. Fare La Bella Figura
As you may have gathered, impressions mean something in Italy. Fare la bella figura literally translates as “to make a beautiful figure,” but it means “to make a good impression.” We always want to look nice on vacation anyway, so leave the messy bun and yoga pants at home and get your bella figura on!
8. Familiarize Yourself With Campanilismo
Steve explains, “The best way to describe campanilismo is a strong sense of pride for one’s local area. Sometimes people will even define themselves right down to the particular quarter of the city they live in. Italians are more proud of being Toscano (from Tuscany) or Romano (from Rome) than being Italian, so try to avoid doing that.” Even speaking Italian but with a different regional accent may be frowned upon.
9. Do Your Shopping Before Sunday
Prior to 2012, “all stores, except supermarkets, were always closed on Sundays in order to give workers time to spend with their family and go to church,” Steve says. More stores are open on Sundays now, but don’t count on it!
10. Only Carry Essentials
If you don’t need it, don’t bring it — especially your passport. Backpacks are very handy and comfortable to use, but they can be unsafe because you will look like a tourist if you wear one. You can wear a shoulder bag or fanny packs like many Italians do to carry valuables and documents, or, alternatively, if you are afraid of being pickpocketed, you can use a money belt.
Steve offers these tips to visitors to avoid being pickpocketed in touristy areas:
- Always keep your hand on your bag that’s hanging on your shoulder or keep your bag in front of you.
- Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket.
- Use a cheap luggage lock that you can use to lock the zippers on your backpack or purse in busy areas.
- At restaurants and cafés, leave your purse in your lap instead of hanging it off of your chair, and don’t leave your phone on the table if dining outside.
Why Are Americans Obsessed With Italian Culture?
There are more than 16 Million Italian Americans in the US, which has certainly had a big impact on American culture. Whether it’s the movies that show the mafia and immigrant experience at the beginning of the 20th century, Italian food around every corner of the US, or Italian-American artists and politicians that have become popular in the US, the influence is meaningful and can’t really be compared to almost any other immigrant group in its scale.
Am I Expected To Tip In Italy?
No, you do not have to tip in Italy. Italians only tip when the service is great and you won’t be criticized if you don’t want to give it. Most workers don’t even expect a small bonus from clients. However, you should leave a tip if you liked the service. Usually, people give around 10% and 15% of the bill. If your tip is bigger than that, it might seem offensive and not so elegant.
What Are ‘‘Unofficial’’ Italian Foods You Should Not Order?
Contrary to what you may think, some popular foods are not really Italian. Unlike seafood pasta, Spaghetti with meatballs, Fettuccine Alfredo, Marinara sauce, Chicken parmigiana, Pineapple and pepperoni pizza, or Garlic bread are just some of the recipes that didn’t originate in Italy. No one orders these dishes in Italy except tourists. Moreover, many locals find them as an insult to Italian cuisine.
Is It Alright To Pay With Dollars When In Italy?
Probably the worst thing you can do is to pay in a currency other than the euro. Not only will you look like a tourist, but you will also lose a lot of money. Most places don’t accept dollars and pounds. Even if they did, you would probably get a bad deal. There are only a few places and services that accept foreign currency. However, I recommend you always pay in euros.
Does It Matter If I Drive An Automatic?
Not really, but If someone sees you, they might think that you are a bad driver. Italians love stick cars so expressions like ‘‘Automatic cars are for lazy people” or ‘‘It is just an American thing’’ are common. In Italy (and other European countries), people mostly use manuals and many Italians think of automatic cars as toys. Automatic will cost you more, but if you don’t have enough experience driving a stick, it is way better to rent an automatic car.