All humans are regulated according to culture, society and tradition. Italians have their own way of doing things which hasn’t changed with the advent of globalization and isn’t likely to change. That’s probably a good thing and there are plenty of reasons why Italians do the things they do. Straying from custom however is routine for foreign travelers and makes spotting tourists easy. Here’s how to avoid being noticed and blend in with locals.
- Forget breakfast. It simply isn’t as important as it is in the Unites States. Waffles, pancakes, hash browns and scrambled eggs are unheard of except at highly starred hotels and brunch time eateries. Embrace the light breakfast with a cappuccino and pastry from the nearest bar.
- Know what coffee to order. In the morning it can be an espresso or cappuccino. The latter is rarely ordered after midday. Coffee should never accompany or immediately precede a meal and only espressos should be ordered at the end of lunch or dinner.
- Avoid strange requests. The Italian table is well regulated and whatever is on it is there for a reason. Salt is absent and unless you seek a sodium overdose get to grips with Italian flavors. Don’t expect bottles of olive oil or bowls of Parmesan, which aren’t intended to be dowsed on pasta or pizza.
- Keep calm. Rather than expecting service to be fast, expect it to be slower than back home. People take their time and you’re on holiday, so relax. It might be hard to get the waiter’s attention or that second bottle of wine may never arrive but the sun is probably shining and you are in Italy after all. A little patience along with good-natured persistence will assure you a better time.
- Eat right. It’s true Italy is full of street food but it’s also true Italians prefer to eat sitting down. That down may be a bench or a grassy park but it should never be the Spanish Steps or inside a subway. Ice cream is enjoyed outdoors in summer however Venice has banned street food from certain parts of the city as discarded leftovers were threatening city decorum. It’s possible to eat outside just do it neatly and have the resolve to locate a trash can whenever necessary.
- Consider clothes. Women can put on a sundress, sunglasses and sandals, and look Italian or at least very relaxed. Men can’t and most male tourists stick out like sore calves. Maybe it’s the t-shirts or the baseball hats, khaki pants and white socks. Whatever it is makes it instantly clear where you’re from. The French, Germans and Japanese all have their trademark styles or lack thereof. Americans are equally distinct and unwanted looks of amusement can be avoided with a little fashion sense or an Italian shopping spree.
- Break the rules. You can of course flout tradition and the time tested customs of locals but you do so at the risk of being mildly scoffed at by barmen, concierges, shop assistants and waiters who will find your foreign ways amusing. If you can live with that then hold on to your habits. Just remember that trying new things and living life differently than usual can benefit your mind, body and wardrobe.
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on your next trip to Italy.
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