Welcome to Italy – to Rome, where the clashing of gladiators still reverberates through the Colosseum, where the Sistine Chapel stands as proudly as when Michelangelo stood before it. It is a fascinating world filled with distinguished customs. Here are 5 tips to use when visiting Italy.
Although ‘ciao’ is as famously Italian as pasta, use a different greeting. ‘Ciao’ is used as a very informal greeting amongst friends, so your best option is probably to adopt a slightly more formal alternative, such as ‘buongiornio’ – or ‘bonasera’ during the evening. To bid an Italian adieu, opt for ‘arrivederci’ (or the more formal ‘arrivederLa’), which is a win-win, being both a safe option and debatably even more fun to say than ‘ciao.’
Italians have established themselves as masters of many arts, not least among them being a unique talent for exuberantly communicating with their hands. Body language is one of our most unconscious forms of communication, so make an effort to be aware of how you are gesturing and how those gestures are interpreted in different cultures. For example, two fingers held up to form a ‘v,’ means ‘peace’ in the States, but ‘victory’ in Italy.
In the States, it is common courtesy to leave a 15-20% tip at a restaurant or a bar. Because we are aware that the server/bartender often makes the majority of their income from gratuities, we feel obligated to leave a tip – oftentimes regardless of service quality. In Italy, however, a waiter’s salary is more substantial and therefore is the primary source of income. While still appropriate to leave a tip, it is more of a compliment for exceptional service than a standard rule. Leaving a €2 tip if the tab is €20 would be in order, as opposed to €3-€5. If you take a cab anywhere, tip your taxi driver €1 or €2 if they have gone out of their way. Though you generally tip less often in Italy than in the States, that’s not the rule – don’t be surprised if you are using a public restroom and are expected to tip.
You are in the land of glorious pastas, pizzas, regional delights and some of the best wine in the entire world. So learn to appreciate it like an Italian! Loosen your belt and get comfortable, because you are about to have an incredible amount of food over a very leisurely amount of time. Dinner starts much later than the States, and the further south in Italy you are, the later they tend to eat. Around 8 or 9 pm, grab a table and order a carafe of their house wine, which is usually inexpensive and regional. The menu is going to show an array of courses. Don’t feel the need to order one of each course – the best way to order is to select a variety of the best-sounding dishes for the entire table from among the ‘antipasti’ (starter course, such as bruschetta or cold cuts), ‘primi piatti’ (first course, often pasta), ‘secondi piatti’ (second course, usually your main protein) and the ‘contorni’ (side dish, usually an accompaniment to the main course).
Remember that you won’t want to order ‘biscotti’ with your coffee or a ‘panini’ for lunch. Rather, order ‘biscotto’ or a ‘panino’ – the ‘o’ as opposed to an ‘i’ at the end of the word indicates that it is singular and you are only ordering one.
Traveling to Italy is your chance to abandon all those hyperactive time-saving efficiency-desiring energy-consuming thoughts and just be, among stunning architecture, sumptuous food, sensuous accents and gorgeous scenery. So take time to savor your food and to appreciate your company, both of which are definitely worthy of the attention. You can worry about deadlines next week. Enjoy the extra time if your platter of antipasti takes awhile to make its way to your table, and rest assured you’ll only see a check once you have said ‘Il conto, per favore’ to your server. Don’t rush to see all of the “sights,” don’t be afraid of getting lost, don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation, and don’t wait to live like an Italian.