8 key tips to help you survive in Italy
As the USD and British Pound gain in value on the Euro, many travelers are planning a trip to the land of sublime art, exquisite cuisine and breathtaking panoramas – Italy. While we all entertain certain notions about the country and its culture, the first meeting with Italians and their curious habits might cause a cultural shock. Prepare for it, especially if, like me, you have a thoroughly northern soul.
When I mention to others that I live in Italy, I usually receive glares full of jealously and sighs expressing some unfulfilled dreams. Why does Italy seem idyllic to so many people I meet? This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now, and I think I finally found the answer. Italians are proud to be Italians and they do everything to cultivate their strong national, regional and local cultures.
Here are 8 essential tips to help you survive the Italian peculiarities, strange habits and a daily dose of the absurd.
- Choose the right time to have your meals
Unless you’re hanging around a highly touristic zona, you should be aware that in Italy, restaurants are either full to the brim or completely empty. You see, Italians are very particular about their eating schedule and follow it religiously.
That’s why if you’d like to have a genuine Italian lunch, visit your ristorante or trattoria around noon – that’s the best time to snatch free seats. The same goes for dinner – don’t expect restaurants to be open before seven or seven-thirty. If you come in and order a table to be set out for you outside of these hours, expect the waiter do throw his arms up and complain: ”Sti turisti!’
- Be aware of the Italian schedule
The knowledge of the Italian schedule is crucial not only when it comes to grabbing a bite at a local trattoria, but for every other thing you might want to do and won’t be able to because everyone, and I mean everyone, will be out having their lunch.
Whether it’s a bank, an office or a service point located outside of touristic districts, you will find yourself in a ghost city – all shops closed and not too many cars on the otherwise busy streets. If everyone is munching on their pranzo, why shouldn’t you?
- Never, ever order a cappuccino after lunch or dinner
This is the single most common mistake that takes a tourist straight from being just another customer to the unwelcome land of the typical tourists, who think they can just stride in, have their meal and then transgress a rule that was in power ever since the first coffee beans arrived at the Venetian harbor. Be respectful of this long-standing tradition and just order an espresso or, if milk is absolutely indispensable, a short macchiato.
- If you can’t speak Italian, at least learn the gestures
Let’s set one thing straight – most Italians you’ll meet will be happy to help you (unless you’re in Florence, that is), but don’t expect them to speak English. Age plays no role here – generations of young Italians have been brought up on the marvelous art of doppiaggio, so it’s a fair chance that they’ve never ever heard the real voices of famous Hollywood actors.
To top it all, every famous American actor has their own doppiatore – imagine the outrage when the Italian counterpart of this peculiar relation dies and Italians hear a brand new voice instead the one they expected. I still remember the scandal brought by the alteration for Al Pacino.
But that could be a topic for another conversation. Instead of trying to master Italian – and believe me, it’s way more difficult than Spanish – try to master the Italian gestures and just go with the flow. Italians are excellent communicators and if you read (and mimic) their body language, you might even have a decent conversation. Just don’t ruin it by mentioning Berlusconi!
- Have cash ready anytime
This is a key aspect of visiting Italy that every tourist should be aware of. Italians just don’t like the plastic – be it a restaurant, a service point or a shop that isn’t part of a chain, you might find your card rejected, no matter the amount of the transaction.
Just have some cash on you and you’ll see how easy it is to blend in with the crowd. At the same time, be careful of pickpockets – they usually hang out at train stations or incredibly crowded touristic places. Rome is their mecca, so watch out and keep your cash close.
- Expect your train to be late
It doesn’t matter if it’s the ultra-fast Freccia Rossa or the leisurely Regionale – it will either arrive late or depart late from the station. This goes especially for mornings, when the amount of trains that pass through main stations in Italian metropolias clearly surpass the abilities of those stations to manage them.
For maximum certainty when traveling by train, I suggest the private high-quality operator called Italo – it has great service, information point at every central station and a ticket machine which is unoccupied most of the time.
- If you need anything, just go to the nearest tabaccheria
If there’s something you need but have absolutely no idea where to get it, just got to a tabaccheria. You can buy here all kinds of tobacco products, but also stamps, lottery tickets, sweets and treats, drinks, transport passes, top-ups for your cell phone – you can even pay your bills there. There are not many things that a seasoned tabacchiere cannot do!
- Be patient
Finally, just be patient. What would be a simple formality in your home country, in Italy might grow into a bureaucratic task of enormous proportions. Just chill out, have an afternoon espresso with a sweet snack and look around – you’re in Italy, so it’s likely that you’re surrendered by sights, architecture and stylish people you won’t see anywhere else. Don’t let the complexities of Italian reality overshadow the country’s beauty!
All in all, I came to the conclusion that what really is responsible for the incredible fame and charm of Italy as the ultimate place to visit, are not only the artworks, buildings and sights, but those peculiarities that are so uniquely Italian. Look at the swarms of tourist visiting Italy every summer, it’s clear many people simply find them irresistible.
About The Author: This article was shared by Torri Myler who works as a project manager at http://www.bankopening.co.uk/ – an online UK bank opening times database. Torri is a green living addict, a travel passionate with a special love for Italy and an eco-friendly individual. But she is very much engrossed in new technologies, internet science plus anything tech-related and often lectures on using their power for personal and professional development.