As you may already know, Italy is a very popular tourist destination. Especially in summer, people from all over the world come to visit every corner of “the Boot”. Whether it’s to swim in the crystal clear waters of Sardinia, to go shopping in Milan, to wander around the Tuscan countryside, hike along the coast in Cinque Terre, or explore the history and architecture of Rome, millions of people travel to Italy. Each country has its own culture and traditions, and exploring them is part of the beauty of travelling. However as Italian, I wanted to share with you a quick list of things I think you should know before you head over to Italy this summer. Disclaimer: yes a lot of them will be about food, we feel very strongly about our culinary culture.
1. If someone doesn’t speak English, raising your voice won’t make them understand.
Some Italians speak English, others don’t. Especially if you’re travelling to certain parts of Italy, don’t be surprised to find that the old lady that works at the local bakery doesn’t understand you. Now this might seem hard to believe, but raising your voice won’t make a difference. Instead, why don’t you embrace the Italian way of speaking and try some hand gestures, you will probably have a lot more luck being understood!
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2. Unless you’re eating a burger or chips, do not ask for ketchup, it is not an acceptable condiment for anything else.
This is a very important one. The idea that Italians hate ketchup is a misconception. There is nothing wrong with ketchup as a sauce, it just depends on what you want to put it on. Burgers and chips are the only type of food that you can accompany with ketchup. Please, if you’re in a restaurant don’t ever ask a waiter if you can have ketchup to put on your pizza, or even worst, pasta! It will break his and the chefs’ heart.
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3. A fork is the only acceptable utensil for eating pasta.
While we’re talking about food, let’s talk also about what you should be eating it with. Unless you’re under 10 years old and are really struggling with spaghetti, in which case we can allow you to cut them with a knife, the only utensil you should be using to eat pasta is a fork. Again, an Italian persons’ heart breaks every time you ask for a knife to cut your pasta, or even worst, a spoon!
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4. Don’t go looking for garlic bread. It doesn’t exist here.
Don’t even get me started on the garlic bread. I don’t know where this misconception came from, but it is not an Italian thing. Every time I go food shopping in London and see the “Real Italian garlic bread” packages at Sainsbury’s, I just shake my head in sadness. Garlic bread does not exist in Italy. The closest thing you can get is probably an onion focaccia (and trust me, it’s even better than garlic bread)!
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5. Unless you’re happy with a glass of milk, do not order a latte.
A latte doesn’t mean the same thing in Italy. Latte just means milk. Italy is far away from the world of Starbucks frappuccinos and pumpkin spiced lattes, the only acceptable forms of coffee here are espresso, macchiato or cappuccino. If you order a latte, you will get a glass of milk, nothing more.
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6. Do not ask for a cappuccino any time after 11am.
11am is the latest acceptable time for a cappuccino, after that, you can only have an espresso. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink. Don’t ask for one after 11am unless you want people to think you had a wild night the day before and only just woke up.
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7. Do not interrupt the “riposino” after lunch.
This is a sacred time of the day. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked around an Italian city any time between noon and 4pm, but it can get VERY hot. Especially in summer. Italians know it, which is why this time of day after lunch is reserved as our daily break. Depending on where in Italy you are it is very likely that shops will be closed during these hours. Embrace it. Don’t try to fight it by heading out in the heat of the Italian sun, just to moan that the local supermarket round the corner from your AirBnb is closed. Go there after 4pm and you have better chances of finding it open.
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8. If you’re visiting a beach destination, don’t go swimming after having eaten.
As Italian I recognize that this one is probably not medically accurate (or so my flatmate in her fifth year of medicine will have me believe). However we are taught from a very young age that you cannot go swimming in the sea whatsoever for at least two hours after you’ve eaten. Which probably contributes to the strict “riposino” hours, who would want to be out in the heat of the midday sun if you can’t even refresh yourself in the sea? So be careful if you choose to go swimming after lunch, as there are going to be less people around to save you if you get congestion.
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9. Any time before 7pm is not an acceptable dinner time.
In total honesty, restaurants will probably still be closed, no point even trying. The day starts later in Italy, which means it also ends later, especially in summer when the days are longer. I usually have dinner around 8pm and my other Italian friends always ask what’s wrong with me. When travelling to Bali or Thailand I used to have huge breakfasts at the buffet in hotels, so I that I could then spend the whole day at the beach, skip lunch and the have an early dinner. I would never think of doing that in Italy, the food is so good, why would you even want to skip a meal?
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10. Pepperoni does not mean the same thing in Italy.
Don’t order a pizza with pepperoni unless you really want to eat a pizza with peppers on it.
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There you go, you are now an expert on what to do and what not to do if you travel to Italy this summer! Most important of all, enjoy your holiday! Italy is the most beautiful country on Earth (totally unbiased opinion here) and despite the little things foreigners do that might bother us, us Italians are friendly people! What do you think? Have you ever noticed these behaviours in Italy? Or are you Italian and have other things you want to warn future travellers about? Let me know in the comments below!
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