Home stories 7 Things You Didn’t Expect Before Moving To Italy By Marta R.

7 Things You Didn’t Expect Before Moving To Italy By Marta R.

written by M.E. Evans January 24, 2015

Ah, Italy! The very word fills us with romantic visions of white-sand beaches, medieval villages scattered amongst the Tuscan hills, wine-filled evenings and all in all la dolce vita. While Italy has all this and more to offer, it’s not always all sunshine and roses. If you’re thinking of moving to la bella Italia, you may want to learn more about the everyday side of living in this beautiful, but at times rather confusing country.



Italians take their food very seriously.

Italians don’t pay much attention to rules of any kind, but this surprisingly changes once food is involved. If you’re ever at a restaurant and begin receiving surprised looks verging on pure disgust, it’s probably cause you’re not having your food the Italian way.

Rule number 1, never, ever order a cappuccino after midday. It’s a major offence and you’ll get stared at and labeled an ignorant tourist before you even have the chance to have your first sip. Cappuccino is considered a morning drink to be had with a sweet pastry (if, God forbid, you decide to have a savoury breakfast, don’t order a cappuccino or any other kind of coffee with it – have water or juice instead).

Other no-nos which you want to avoid are: having wine with pizza (I’m still puzzled by this one), ordering coffee with a meal unless it’s breakfast and you’re having something sweet to eat; assuming that Americanised versions of Italian food, such as pepperoni pizza and chicken Alfredo’s, are authentically Italian and asking for them at a restaurant. Just don’t.


Italians don’t do queuing

The concept of queuing simply doesn’t exist in Italy. There, I’ve just made your life easier. Next time you’re patiently waiting your turn while the crowd begins to drift along from all directions, with a very liberal use of elbows and occasional screaming, do yourself a favour and do as they do if you want to get things done.

The only exceptions are post offices, hospitals, and government buildings – these places use a ticketing system to keep things in check. This isn’t necessarily a good thing – a lot of the time the ticketing system is so overcomplicated that even Italians get confused by it. Which brings us to the next point:

Italians love overcomplicating things

If something can be done quickly and efficiently, Italians will find a way to overcomplicate it and make it extra hard. Whoever’s in charge of the bureaucratic side of things in Italy appears to love red tape, which would explain the never-ending amount of papers and stamps for any purpose you can imagine. If you’re lucky enough to get to the right place and line at the right time (irregular opening times are notorious), you will then have to deal with a completely unfazed worker who will most likely tell you that you need additional documents to sort out whatever it is that you’re trying to get done.


The concept of personal space doesn’t exist

Bad news for those with any kind of a social phobias: Italians don’t do personal space. Blatant staring, intense eye contact, expressive hand gestures, standing or sitting unsettlingly close to you while the rest of the street/bus/train is empty…all this is perfectly socially acceptable in Italy. The lack of personal space isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it shows that Italians are simply more open than other European nations.

It’s Expensive

When I moved to Italy from the UK, I was expecting everything to be significantly cheaper, at least based on the exchange rate. I was right to some extent (at 2-3 euros per glass, wine is practically free; coffee costs next to nothing, and instead of splashing out on dinner you can spend 8-10 on an aperitivo buffet), however, overall, Italy is expensive, especially if you live in a city. Accommodation will be a major setback; shopping isn’t cheap either. What will set you back the most, however, if the fact that once you’re in Italy, you always want to be out and about, travelling, exploring, dining outAll this fun comes at a price!

You won’t get anything sorted at lunchtime (or on Mondays)

Italians are very passionate about their food culture. In a country where no Sunday could pass without a 3 hour long family lunch, it’s no wonder that meal times dictate the daily routine. The majority of privately owned stores (including letting agencies and some cafes) will be closed around lunchtime, between 12:30 or 1pm till 3pm or 4pm. Similarly, most privately owned stores are closed on Mondays. No one really knows why, but just take it as a given that urgent matters won’t get sorted on Mondays or at lunch. Relax and have some pasta instead!


Nothing ever happens according to schedule

The Italian way of life is much more slow-paced compared to the Northern European countries, which could potentially be the reason why Italians are so inefficient at time management. If something, whether it’s a concert, a tour, an event of any kind or even a doctor’s appointment, is supposed to start at a certain time, chances are you’ll still be waiting 30 minutes in. Just take it as a given that things don’t happen according to schedule and embrace the chaos – it’s actually fun!


Author Bio


Marta is a digital nomad and a travel blogger, currently based in Italy. She’s the creator of A Girl Who Travels, a blog aimed mainly at female travelers, dedicated to solo travel, location-independent lifestyle and travel advice. Marta hopes that her blog will inspire other women to follow their passion and discover the joys that come with travelling. You can follow Marta’s adventures on Instagram: a_girlwhotravels.


The words of guest bloggers are their words, and theirs alone. Opinions, perspectives, etc., do not necessarily reflect those of Surviving In Italy or M.E.

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robertrabbin January 24, 2015 at 10:42 am

Loved this, as I always enjoy reading about cultural differences, something many Americans have no idea about, thinking the American way is “the” way. However, I would like to playfully suggest that some of your points — not queuing, nothing happens on schedule, no concept of personal space, prevalence of red tape — have been elevated to transcendent levels in INDIA, a country I love and lived in for six years. I also lived in Italy for five years, so I have personal points of comparison.

A Girl Who Travels January 26, 2015 at 2:54 am

Thanks for your comment. You couldn’t be more right about India – I spent 3 months backpacking through this beautiful country so I did get a taste of everything that you mentioned! Sometimes you just have to get on with it and embrace the chaos (or, rather, our definition of it) – the world would be a boring place if every country was the same! Thanks for stopping by and happy travels. 🙂

Geri January 24, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Everything you wrote is so true. Some days I want to throw my hands and ask myself if it us worth it. Then I take a walk and I know why I am here.

A Girl Who Travels January 26, 2015 at 3:07 am

To me, the cultural differences is what makes my stay here more interesting! Try looking at it this way next time you’re frustrated 🙂

Joanne Jourdain January 25, 2015 at 12:24 am

You’re spot on, but would like to differ on one point and add another.

Certainly in Genova, it’s not uncommon to drink wine with pizza. When I look around, it seems to be an even split between those who prefer wine and those who prefer beer.

When friends came to visit, I always had to warn them not to take it personally when they got bumped on the street. It happens all the time and no one will bother to apologize unless they’ve knocked you to the ground. As my Italian friend says, “we would never get anything done if we had to stop and apologize every time we bump shoulders.”

A Girl Who Travels January 26, 2015 at 2:57 am

Sounds like I should spend more time in Genova then 😉 Honestly though, I love how particular Italians are about their food and what a core role it plays in their culture. I just need to make sure I keep up!

Bellavia January 25, 2015 at 5:47 am

I think this is a good list, people should definitely be. …prepared. lol.

The only thing is I’ve found the more Italians I know, the more the myth about cappuccino is wrong. It’s not ordering it after an afternoon meal. Most Italians I know and see will have their cappuccio’ on a cold afternoon as their merenda.
I think the pizza and wine thing is a great Italian divide. I know many who recoil at the thought and others who constantly order them together. Boh!

A Girl Who Travels January 26, 2015 at 2:59 am

Oh the confusion! Just when I thought I got it right… 😉

Bellavia January 28, 2015 at 8:23 am

I tend to stick with those who order wine with pizza and shun those who don’t. 😉 As for the cappuccino….my (Italian) boyfriend made a great point—IMO! Once at dinner some old ladies were sneering at American students who ordered a cappuccino as dessert. My boyfriend said “What do those old hags care about so much? We Italians order tiramisu….cream based… after dinner….why is a cappuccino so wrong just because of milk?!” lol

Ashley January 25, 2015 at 7:50 am

A couple of these points could be said about Spain!

A Girl Who Travels January 26, 2015 at 2:59 am

That’s good to know! 🙂

MLombardo January 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Right on point! In Milan, cappuccino can be taken at teatime. Personal space is one I found very unsettling indeed. My sister in law kept talking right at my face and I kept stepping backwards until we formed a circle and she still didn’t get it lol! Also, they have no way of uttering things in a more discreet manner. Very harsh indeed but I’ve overcome all that, thank God.

A Girl Who Travels January 26, 2015 at 3:01 am

Haha, yes, it takes some getting used to! I don’t notice it as much at this point.

Jessica January 25, 2015 at 3:06 pm

I think saying that drinking a cappuccino after midday is a ‘major offence’ is a bit extreme. If somebody is going to judge you that harshly because you dare to order a drink that god-forbid you enjoy at a time that is inexplicably not the norm, that quite frankly I don’t care about impressing them anyway. At the beginning of my six months in Italy, I obeyed that rule really strictly, because I was so worried that I would be seen as an ‘ignorant tourist’. But it soon became apparent that nobody really cared what coffee I drank, so I chose to have my favourite at all times of the day, and never experienced any negativity over it.

A Girl Who Travels January 26, 2015 at 3:05 am

Well of course, I meant it in a humorous way! 🙂

Jessica January 26, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Gosh, I’m sorry for getting my knickers in a twist over that. It had been a long day 😉 it just annoys me sometimes that there seem to be so many ‘rules’ that you have to obey when visiting another country, but everyone will know that you’re foreign anyway haha

A Girl Who Travels January 27, 2015 at 4:59 am

Haha no worries! Yup, being a foreigner gives us plenty of room for making social faux pas more acceptable 😉

wanderlustwilliams1 January 26, 2015 at 5:19 am

Great article Marta – bang on!
I just accept that wine with a pizza is wrong and do it anyway. Hey – have enough wine and you don’t give a toss about the funny looks anyway 😀

A Girl Who Travels January 27, 2015 at 5:19 am

Haha good point!

painterwrite January 26, 2015 at 9:44 am

The non-queuing is so true…I was nearly trampled to death by a herd of 80-yr old ladies as I was trying to get on a ferry.

Pat Terry January 27, 2015 at 1:05 am

One must not forget EVERYTHING closes in August, absolutely everything. We didn’t believe it, how could an entire country close down? Mind boggling, but true, Oh yeah, restaurants, shops, grocery stores, butchers, bakeries–everything. (Big cities have more things open because the tourist industry is so strong, but there are plenty of places on ferie.) Even our GYM, which touts its “open every day policy,” closes the entire month of August, citing, “it’s understood. We go on vacation in August.”

I celebrate the Italians and their focus on life over work, I celebrate it with them. But my gym….

Rita January 28, 2015 at 7:01 am

Some shops are closed on Mondays – or have another closure day during the week, depending on the city – because they are open on Saturdays. So people working in those sectors can have 2 days free, too (typical: hairdressers).

Harriet May 21, 2015 at 6:55 am

Very interesting facts about Italy! I have never been there but definitely want to visit! Thanks for the post! I dealt with many things since you’ve moved there… Really cool! 🙂


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