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Italian culture shock!

Are you planning a tour of Italy soon? Here you can find some Italian culture shock that might surprise you.

Here are the 10 things that might shock you but they are perfectly normal in Italy! Also will give one bonus tip that will save you some major embarrassment!

Number 10: regionality!

Well, folks if you think that Italy is a country that is the same from one side to the other well think again! In fact, Italy has 20 regions that are very very different from each other!

Even more than that sometimes every municipality has its own food, tradition, and dialect that is somehow different from the next town a few kilometers away!

Italy 20 regions

For this reason, we strongly recommend you to do a little research about the area you are going to visit in order to have the best experience! Let us give you an example: Pasta Carbonara, this is a dish that is typical of Rome and the surrounding area. If you are visiting Venice don’t expect to find the best carbonara on the menu! 

Number 9: Liquor law

The drinking age in Italy is 16 for beer and wine and 18 for hard liquor. However, is not strictly enforced. You can buy wine and beer in every supermarket, convenience store, and grocery store. Drinking on the street is legal. Coffee shops sell wine and liquor by the glass everywhere. 

Despite this relaxed liquor law getting drunk for Italians is not common. Even though they drink wine with their meals, it is always consumed in moderation and mostly as a way to enjoy and socialize not to get drunk.

Wine is a huge part of the Italian culture and again every town, city, village farm has its own one and they are very proud of it!

House wine

Number 8: Italians are very affectionate! 

This was very true in the pre-COVID era, in the future it might change we don’t know. 

Until one year ago the most common greeting among friends was one kiss on each cheek and a gentle hug.  Physical contact was not just common but expected. 

Italians are also incredibly social and they can sit and talk for hours and hours. More on this when we talk about restaurants. It is also common for a family member to show up unexpectedly at someone’s house for coffee.

This way of greeting might be a bit of a colture shock for non Italians but you will get used to it.

Number 7: People dress up all the time!

It is no secret that Italy is the land of fashion and many high-end clothing brands come from Italy. 

Italians always dress up before leaving the house. This is just part of the Italian culture. Italian women, in particular, are always perfectly dressed, even to take out the garbage. 

The only time you see an Italian, older than 17,  in jogging pants is when they are actually going jogging!  

Number 6: store hours!

If you are coming from North America it is quite common for you to think that stores are always open. Not in Italy! At least small non-chain stores.

The small family ran stores, in a non-touristy area, open around 9 in the morning, and close for lunch between 12:30 and 3:30 pm. In the afternoon then they close at 7:30 pm. They are also close on Sundays and for about 2-3 weeks in the summer. 

Shopping malls, outlets malls, supermarkets, chain stores, and tourists area have a more North American type of opening hours. 

Number 5: Bathrooms!

Bathrooms in Italy (and for the most part in continental Europe) are REALLY different from the North American standard.

First of all, in small coffee shops and restaurants, you rarely find a separate men’s and women’s bathroom! In most cases, it is one single bathroom for everyone. Some other time, for bigger venues, you have one room with sinks and separate stalls for men’s and women’s.

Secondly, it is quite common to have toilets with no toilet seats. People in Italy do not like to sit on a toilet that someone else used. So they rather not sit at all!

Lastly, if you need to use the bathroom in a city you can not just walk into a coffee shop and ask for the bathroom. Bathrooms are for patrons only. You will need to buy something, even a small bottle of water, in order to use the facilities.  This might be a bit of a culture shock for you.

In every city, downtown, you always can find public bathrooms. They are usually very clean but they are not free. Make sure you have some small changes with you to use them.

Bathroom sign in downtown Venice

Now all the next few tips are all about restaurants, food, or coffee shops! Yes, food is a huge part of Italian culture and there are some big differences between Italy and the rest of the world!

If you want to know more about The real Italian food you can read more here.

Number 4: Dinner time!

When Italians go out for dinner, either at a restaurant or at a friend’s house they always go no earlier than 8:30! So if you go to a restaurant at 7pm, like you are used at home you will find it empty! 

Italians also have a saying to describe people that eat early “Cenare con le galline” means having dinner like chickens. 

Another very important thing to remember is that restaurants usually have only one seating because people like to stay at the table for hours to talk and socialize. The only exception to this is Pizzeria that is usually fast and they can have multiple seatings in one night. Sitting with friends is a huge part of Italian culture.

Number 3: coffee has its own rituals and rules!

In Italy espresso is king! When you ask for “Un caffe’” you’ll get one shot of espresso. The barista will deliver it to you in seconds from the time you order!

Let’s see the variations from the basic:

  • Un Macchiato: means one shot of espresso with a drop of foamy milk
  • Caffe’ Ristretto: is a smaller shot of espresso! Yes, it can get even smaller!
  • Un Caffe’ lungo: it is one shot of espresso a little (and the keyword is little) bigger. 
  • Caffe’ corretto: this is espresso with a shot of booze of your choice (usually sambuca or grappa)
  • Un deca: just a decaf espresso
  • Caffe’ d’orzo: this is not really coffee but it is roasted barley toasted, grounded, and brewed. This is becoming really popular lately and it can also be enriched with ginseng. To make this even more confusing you can ask for it in 2 different ways Tazza grande (big cup) or tazza piccola (Small cup). 
  • Espresso is always a single shot, a double shot doesn’t exist in Italy.

Lastly, if you get invited to an Italian house, especially if the owner is older, you might get un caffe’ di moka. This is a coffee made with the traditional stovetop coffee maker. It has a peculiar taste that Italians love. 

We know it is confusing, so follow this link in for a printable cheat sheet! 

Now you are in Italy, you had lunch and you feel that you should have a cappuccino. Natural right! Wrong! In Italy cappuccino is a breakfast item and NOBODY would drink it past 11 am! Just tourists would ask for a cappuccino after that time, and believe me, Italians make fun of them!

Don’t ask for coffee to go, it is not something common in Italy. Mind now with the covid regulation this changed, but in normal time you drink your espresso either at the bar or sitting at the coffee shop table, never to go!

This was a big chapter we know but it is very important in Italian culture.

Number 2: Tap water in Italy is not served.

Tap water is perfectly fine to drink in Italy BUT nobody drinks it. Especially at restaurants, they will never serve tap water. When you ask for water at a restaurant you are faced with the choice of naturale (Still water) or Frizzante also called Gassata (Sparkling). 

Another big difference is that ice, or lemon,  is not common at all for water. If you want ice or lemon in your water you’ll have to ask. 

Some tourists are quite surprised that they have to spend 2-3 euros on a bottle of water at the restaurant. Especially considering that the house wine is usually around ten euros a bottle!

Number 1: Waiters at restaurants do not bother you!

When you go to a restaurant in Italy waiters come to you when you have to order, when they bring you food and when they have to take plates away. Other than that you will have to call them otherwise they leave you alone! 

Italians go out to eat to socialize and to enjoy their friend’s company and they do not want to have a waiter interrupting them all the time with a stupid question like “How was your food?” That is actually considered a bit rude. 

Another no for a waiter is to bring the bill to the table if nobody asked for it! As mentioned before people sit at the table for the entire evening and bringing the bill before someone asks for it is considered a way to get rid of the customer!

Bonus Tip the Bill (Il conto)

Now remember at the beginning we told you about a bonus tip here it is. In Italy, the bill is usually per person. Does not matter who ate or drank what. The bill is always divided by the number of people at the table. Asking for a separate check is not an option and you would receive a very mean look sometimes. 

You are not required to tip. The service is already included in the bill. However, it is customary to leave a couple of euros to round up the bill. If you see a restaurant that asks for a tip, that is a tourist trap.

Lastly, it is not unusual for Italians to fight for who pays the bill. Yes that is a way of saying to a friend “I enjoyed your company and I would like to spend more time with you” 

Well folks we hope you enjoyed these few tips on how to handle Italian culture shock. If you have any questions leave a common below. 

See you next time.

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