Every time I visit Italy I still find certain Italian customs need a bit of explanation. I just got back from eleven days visiting friends and family in Northern Italy and I’ve had time to take in some of my observations. Here are a few things that I think are worth knowing before you take your next visit.
How exactly do you do the important Italian greeting kiss?
Many people still don’t know how to kiss Italian style and find themselves in awkward situations. It’s simple, left side first! Depending on your familiarity with the person, the kiss can be just cheeks touching or actual kisses. But remember, Italians usually only kiss twice, unlike many other cultures that give three cheek kisses. It’s also important not to kiss everyone, a mistake foreigners often make. Italians don’t go around kissing strangers, so if you don’t know the person you shouldn’t kiss them when you first meet.
Fa lo scontrino!
In some cafés you pay for your coffee before you order, in others you pay after. How can you tell? If you see a sign that says fa lo scontrino (get your receipt) you must head to the cash register first!
If you’re a dinner (or lunch) guest, clear your plate!
To Italians, not finishing your food is a sign that you didn’t enjoy your meal. Make sure to eat everything and tell your Italian host or hostess that the food was wonderful. At restaurants this is less important, but it’s rude not to finish if you are being treated to the meal.
Speaking of food, know your regional specialties before you go!
Take time to research the regional specialties of the cities you plan to visit. If you’re headed to Rome, order pasta alla carbonara (pasta with bacon and egg) and if you’re headed to Venice, order fritto misto (fried mixed fish).
On this vacation I spent most of my time in Emilia Romagna which is known for prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, cappelletti in brodo, pasta Bolognese and fritto gnocco. Italians love their food and each region prides itself in its specialties.
Remember, wine is part of the meal
Wine is part of the meal in Italy, and Italians consider it equally as important as food. Always drink local wine when you’re in Italy!
Enjoy a large gelato panino
You know that Italy is filled with gelaterie, but did you know that Italians also enjoy gelato sandwiches? Italians call it gelato in a brioche and it’s a perfectly acceptable lunch on a warm Italian day.
Stamp your train ticket!
If you’re traveling by regional train don’t forget to validate your ticket by stamping it in one of the many yellow machines. In busier stations, the old machines are now increasingly being phased out by newer green and gray machines. If you have an assigned seat for your train you don’t need to validate your ticket-this is usually the case for Frecciabianca, Frecciarossa and overnight trains.
Coffee and fruit liqueurs are the norm
Italians love coffee, fruit and hazelnuts, especially in liqueur. Find out which ones are made in the regions you plan to visit.
Don’t be surprised to see Italian coffee liqueur for sale at soccer stadiums!
Lots of cigarette smoking
Smoking is more widespread in Italy than the United States. While Italy has laws against indoor smoking, some bars have separate indoor smoking rooms.
Expect language and cultural misunderstandings
Like any foreign country, misunderstanding will happen on your trip. Be patient with Italians, especially with the English language. Try to understand where the speaker is coming from. If your waiter says something in English that sounds a little off, try to understand that when certain phrases in Italian are translated into English, they might have slightly different connotations.
Buon viaggo for your next trip to Italy!
Written by OSIA National Office Intern, Carol Cummings. Cummings is a senior at American University, majoring in print journalism, with a minor in Italian.