11 Things In Italy That Will Give You Culture Shock

There is no doubt that Italy is one of the most beautiful countries on this planet! However, some things are done quite differently here.

When I first moved to this gorgeous country it took me a while to fully embrace all of Italy’s customs simply because I didn’t realize what they were!

Here is a list of some things that are pretty common throughout Italy that someone visiting from another country mind find… well, a bit strange!

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1. Pizza etiquette

What? But it’s pizza! There is no etiquette for eating pizza! Guess again!!

Here in Italy they don’t cut the pizza into perfect triangles making it easy for you to pick up and bite into. In fact, they don’t cut the pizza at all!

So how do I eat it?

Well, with a fork and knife of course! It is more appropriate to use a fork and knife to cut out pieces of the pizza rather than using your hands to eat it by the slice.

However, some more Americanized places will ask if you want it cut (tagliato) or they will even bring you a pizza cutter so you can do it yourself!

2. Red lights

In Italy the traffic laws are a little blurry. And by that I mean, the rules are that there are no rules!

If you stop at a red light and there are no people crossing the road or no oncoming traffic turning in front of you, it is more likely that you will be in an accident.

How?

The person in the car behind you will just assume that you are going to continue driving. It’s more likely that they’ll rear end you if you stop at the red light if there is no reason to do so!

Overall, the rules for the red light are – it’s more of a suggestion than a law.

3. Coffee

We all love it! We all gotta have it!

But do you usually grab yours on the run? Maybe, in the drive-thru?

Here in Italy there is no such thing as a large take away iced-coffee or a drive-thru coffee-only establishment.

They value their beans and expect you to savor them.

How do I do that? Do as the Italians do!

Order an espresso, cappuccino or cafe macchiato and stand at the bar (where you order it) and sip it. Take your time. Enjoy the moment of stillness where you can simply be and drink your coffee.

These beverages are quite small so they should not take you more than 5 minutes to consume. If you choose to eat a snack while you are at the cafe, grab a table and sit outside but beware of the coperto! (See next point.)

4. Coperto

What is coperto?

Essentially, coperto is a small fee that is added to any bill for patrons who choose to sit outside at an establishment.

This fee actually has a really amazing origin story that links back to the Middle Ages. During those times many people used to stop at inns but in order to save money they would bring food from home. Therefore, these establishments started charging a per-person fee for everyone who visited.

You Deserve a Vacation!

This fee still exists today! It’s usually less that €5 for two people but of course it will be higher depending on how many people are with you.

The nice thing about coperto is that you don’t need to worry about tipping. (See more about that in the next point!)

5. Tipping

Nope, tipping in restaurants is not customary in Italy. Thanks in large part to the coperto fee.

However, if you are dining at a 5-star Michelin restaurant, it is likely that they will not charge a coperto fee and therefore expect a tip. These types of restaurants are not typical Italian – they are the exception, not the rule.

As far as other businesses we typically tip in the States such as, hairdressers or nail techs, it is completely up to you to tip them if you use these types of services while in Italy!

It is not customary, but if they do an exceptional job then you may go ahead and give them the standard 10% of the total as a tip to show them you appreciate their work.

6. Smoking

In Italy, smoking is still the cultural norm. More people smoke than don’t smoke.

Therefore, when you choose to sit at a table outside while dining in a restaurant, bar, or cafe – be aware of your surroundings.

If you are not a smoker, you may choose to sit inside rather than out. The outdoor seating in Europe is actually meant for people who smoke!

It can make for a truly uncomfortable meal if you are a non-smoker trying to enjoy your dinner sitting next to a table full of smokers!

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7. Speedos

The most fashionable swim attire for men in Italy are speedos!

You will never see an Italian man at the beach or at a lido with swim shorts or swim trunks, only speedos.

The women’s bathing suits look exactly the same as ours do in the US, it’s only the male swim suites that are different – but boy are they different!

8. Portion sizes

In the States we are used to fairly large portions of food when dining in restaurants. In Italy, the portions are much smaller.

It doesn’t matter what dish you order either!

It can be a pizza, a bowl of pasta, or a steak. The portions are made for one person and they typically aren’t accompanied with any “sides”.

A basket of bread will be provided for the table but if you order a steak, that is all you will get! No potatoes, salad, or anything like that unless the menu states otherwise.

9. Parking

Likely one of the first things you’ll notice about Italy is that people park wherever they want!

On the sidewalks? Sure!

In the middle of the street? Why not!

This is usually because they are running into a store to quickly grab something and there is literally no where else to put their car close to the establishment. If they are in the way for whatever reason, simply honk your car horn and they will appear and move their car right away.

10. Riposo

What you might know as siesta in Spain is a common practice in Italy too!

It is a break time in the afternoon where most businesses close down to give their employees an afternoon rest.

This break ranges from business to business, but typically the break lasts anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours between 1:30pm and 4pm.

In Sicily, most businesses are closed from 3-7p! In Southern countries, there tends to be more relaxed rules when it comes to hours of operation.

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11. Dinner time

In Italy, most restaurants open for dinner between 7pm and 8pm.

It is rare, but in Sicily some restaurants do open at 6pm. I think it is to appease the summer tourist crowd. You will also find this “earlier” opening hour in most tourist destinations like Venice and Milan.

However, if you do show up right at 6pm or 7pm when the restaurant opens; be prepared to wait.

Typically, the employees aren’t ready to start serving and the cooks aren’t quite ready to start cooking until about a half hour after the restaurant opens.

And if you do show up right at 6pm or right at 7pm, you’ll likely be the only ones in the restaurant for the first hour.

Typical Italian dinner time is 8pm-10pm and it consists of an appetizer, a first course (pasta), a second course (meat or fish), and possibly a dessert. Each dish comes out separately of course! The meal is meant to take its time so you can properly socialize with your company.

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Have you ever visited Italy? Can you think of more things to add to this list? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Let me know in the comments!

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24 thoughts on “11 Things In Italy That Will Give You Culture Shock

  1. Yep, I totally went through the same culture shock. I would add market etiquette. I found out the hard way that one is not supposed to touch the fruits and vegetables at the weekly open air market. It was strange to have the vendor pick out my produce.

    1. That’s a good one! I totally forgot about that!! Thanks for sharing 😘

  2. Great tips! I will have to remember for my honeymoon next year 🙂

  3. Thanks for the back story on the coperto.

    I grew up in England, although I live in the US, and you eat pizza with a knife and fork there, too. Along with pretty much everything else, lol.

    Right after smoking was banned in cafes and restaurants in Paris the outside suddenly got popular. Took me a couple of days to realize Parisians hadn’t suddenly become fresh air fiends.

  4. Great list! Many of these I did not know! Thanks!

  5. Interesting 🧐

  6. Haha, regarding the traffic, I grew up in India, where you need to slow down even at green during intersections, because the cross-traffic might still go through despite a red-light on them.

    First thing I learned in a California DMV is go full-speed at a green-light and not slow down, otherwise you’ll get rear-ended.

    1. Haha it’s so interesting how the traffic is different in other countries! It definitely takes some getting used to

  7. I am Italian. Most of the things you wrote are true. However do not take it as a general rule. It drsamatically depends on the area of the Country you visit. I am from the north – based in Torino. and things are very different here: traffic rules are taken very seriously, but yes, we do park everywhere, but this due to the fact that our cities are 2000 years old, conceived and built in a era with no cars, thus it is very difficult to roam around and find good parkings around in the city centres. Coperto: yes it roots back to the middle ages and it’s controversial nowadays here too, but if you paid 5 euro you were definitely at a very touristic place as Coperto is usually 1.5 Euro. Dinner time: it depends on where you are are: in the north we eat around 8 while in the south they eat a lot later as the heat won’t stimulate your appetite until 09.30 ot 10.00 pm.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment!! I have lived in the US my entire life so after living in Italy for a few years these were the top things that took me some getting used too 😝 But that’s what makes Italy so unique and different from the US and why it’s the most visited country in Europe ♥️

      1. Thank you Megan. We all hope that after the pandemic The country will take back it rule as the european tourism leader

  8. Loved reading these and being reminded of my time living in Milan (20 years ago!). I’m trying to think of any others … Something I struggled with was how shocked the Milanese were that I had moved to Italy by myself (I was 21 and had already lived for a year in Honduras and then 2 years at university). They kept saying what a baby I was, and didn’t my family love me?!
    One of my favorite Italian customs is the ‘aperativo’ – cocktail hour drinks with a little bowl of nuts or olives on a sidewalk, watching the world go by!

    1. Haha what?! That’s so interesting! But YES OMG aperitivos are my fav part of Italy!! 😂

  9. Wowww! This makes me want to go to Italy more than ever! It seems like it is a little bit more laid back in terms of rules, etc. it also seems like a slower pace of life. Hopefully we get to go in 2021 at the latest!! Such a great blog post <3

  10. I grew up in England, and you eat pizza with a knife and fork there too.

  11. Good list! The coffee practice is the same in France and, me being an iced coffee fiend, it was really hard getting used to. You at least have excellent coffee in Italy; here it’s nearly always burnt, so I actually gave up altogether and just make the coffee concoctions of my dreams at home.

    1. hahaha oh no! I’m sorry to hear that but I’m glad you’re able to able to make some delicious coffee at home ♥️

  12. A very informative post!!

  13. I learnt the hard way about the pizza after thinking it’d be great to get a take out pizza and eat in the harbour in La Spezia. Except, when I opened it, it hadn’t been sliced haha! But all of these points made me have a little laugh because I’ve found the same things!

    1. Haha yes exactly!! I’m glad you made the most of it ♥️

  14. A great (very true) list! The lack of dryers!

    1. Yes! Always hanging the clothes outside that’s a good one!

      1. They always feel… crunchy!

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