Traveling to different countries hopefully produces pleasant surprises at the differences in cultures. The result can be either a new found appreciation and love for these different cultures — as I have had for Italy — or a deeper appreciation and love for your own culture. But some customs are just flat out shockers. Here are some of my observations about Italian life that are markedly different than the American way of life.
What You Will Not See
Coffee to go. Italians walk up to a counter and drink their coffee. Then they go. Also, please note that cappuccino is only for the morning; only espresso for the rest of the day.
Food to go. This custom relates to larger cities in particular. Italians do not buy their lunch and eat in on the way to their destination. All meals occur while sitting and over a lengthy period of time. The only quick meal is breakfast, if Italians eat breakfast at all. If they do, it is a cappuccino and something sweet. Period. And it is at that counter again. Additionally, Italians eat dinner much later than Americans, usually around 9:00pm.
Large portions of food. Food is very, very, very important to Italians. Nothing is frozen. Everything served at restaurants is fresh and in season. If you are traveling to Italy for a particular delicacy and it is not in season, you will not get it. Unfortunately, you’ll just have to travel back at a different time of the year. And while I’m on the subject of food, be aware that some food which is served in the States as a side or as a flavor are not served in Italy. For example, butter is not given with bread–only olive oil. And speaking of olive oil, only olive oil and vinegar is offered for salads–no salad dressing. Also, ice is not provided in water or sodas.
Supermarkets. Yes supermarkets do exist and Italians do shop in these establishments, but more Italians complete their food shopping at specialty markets or outdoor markets. Since freshness is of utmost importance, markets are the preferred choice and visiting these markets happens more frequently than the one day a week shopping excursion. And speaking of supermarkets, the idea of superstores in general is not something you will see in Italy. No bulk shopping there. So forget stores like Home Depot or Target. Even liquor stores are scarce. Again, Italians patronize specialty shops or enotecas, which are wine bars, to purchase their spirits.
Excessive stress. Of course Italians can have stressful lives. But there is a certain lifestyle and attitude Italians have adopted that does lessen anxiety with which many Americans seem to struggle. Most Italians seem to live, and know how to live, a slower pace of life. Yes the larger cities are more fast paced, but even Romans know when to shut it down. For instance, Italians don’t expect fast service at restaurants. They enjoy the time conversing over good food and wine. And waiters don’t rush patrons out. They expect people to linger. You’ll see groups of older men sitting around a bistro table at a cafe sharing and debating whatever topic comes to mind. Italians will even just sit alongside a statue in a piazza just people watching. The rule of thumb–just relax and enjoy.
Sweatpants. You must have anticipated fashion would be an issue here since Italians are known for their sense of style. They pride themselves on it. As a result, you will not see people in loungewear. Now that doesn’t mean everything you see will be classy necessarily. I have seen some very “colorful” outfits. But it is a planned outfit. And let’s add that no matter what the clothes are, scarves and stylish shoes are a must…even stylish sneakers.
Drunkenness. Yes Italians might be drunk at times. But like with the disinterest in bulk shopping, bulk — or as we say binge — drinking is not really done. Again, it’s about enjoying what you are having.
Tipping. Again, tipping does happen, but nothing like in the United States. A few euros and you are fine. In fact, some Italians find tipping insulting, although most Italians know, like people in other countries, that Americans are used to offering tips. But salaries for service providers are much better than in the States, so tips are not necessary.
Laziness. Italians walk and walk and walk. And many places in Italy are steep. The only people I see stopping to catch their breath are tourists. I’ve worked out on the stair climber before my trips just to get ready to walk up those hills. And get this, after a meal, most Italians take a passeggiata — which translated means a casual stroll or walk — to help digest their meal. Can you believe it?
Pet-free streets. I LOVE this. Over and over and over again I marvel at how many people I see with dogs. I see people just walking down streets, sitting at outdoor restaurants, lounging at a hotel’s pool, and taking a boat ferry with their dogs. It actually makes me melancholy because I then miss my dog and wish I had her with me. And 99% of the time I see dog owners being respectful and taking care of and cleaning up after their dogs. Of course, I always have to remember that the dog doesn’t understand me and only understands Italian. These are cultural dogs.
There are more than 10 things you will not see in Italy. The runners-up are: large cars, personal space, school sports, smoking inside of restaurants, and baseball caps.
And let’s not forget what you will see: everyone is always on a cell phone, having a glass of wine with dinner is a must, street art and artists are everywhere, taxis are only available at taxi stations, Italians use hand gestures galore, many people walk with a gelato cone in hand in the late afternoon, souvenir shops abound, public displays of affection are common, and there is a large amount of graffiti in larger cities — something which I really do not like.
Regardless of these differences, it is exactly these differences which make traveling that much more exciting. So my recommendation, look for these different customs and relish in them.
Ciao for now … THE GRAZIE GIRL ❤️