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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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