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.
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 out… All 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!
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.