Travel, regardless of the destination, usually has a few simple and overlapping components. This can include creating a packing list, organizing a budget, preparing the house and anyone staying behind for your departure, and making all your travel arrangements, as well as making it safely to your new destination.
But for those who travel overseas, being conscious about foreign customs and etiquette can become one of the most important elements of a "before I take off" list.
Many world travelers are almost painfully aware of the stereotypes of culturally insensitive travelers—those who give all travelers a bad name by ignoring local customs, missing common etiquettes, and trampling across a different set of manners.
Luckily, if you’re planning a trip to Italy, there are very simple etiquette tips you can follow to avoid being categorized as such a visitor. Italy is a country full of amazing people and a fascinating, storied culture, and basic manners go a long way when dealing with both.
Italy is a country that is very aware of social graces and respect. Acknowledge anyone who you're going to be striking up a conversation with by saying say buongiorno (good morning) or buona sera (good evening). When introducing your party, begin with the most senior member, followed by any women. Remember that Italians take first impressions very seriously (as do most people)—you want to fare un bella figura (leave a good one)!
Additionally, as tempting as it may be to mention the mafia, this should never be done. Unless you are close friends with those that you know in Italy, it's not a polite topic of conversation to be brought up from a non native. While much of the world may think of the Italian mafia only as a fantastical element in movies, it's an actual problem that caused plenty of heartache throughout the years.
Not to mention, Italians have so much more positive culture to offer the world; it's just insulting to focus on something from an American movie.
Unless you're fluent in Italian, don't try to impress the locals with your limited language skills—it may come across as patronizing. Basic manners, such as greetings, please, and thank you are always welcome and appreciated.
Keep also in mind that Italians are generally a rather reserved people. While movies and TV may portray them as chatty, remember that the real people behind those shows are often very different. Don't be offended if locals reject your attempts to strike up a conversation.
Vulgarity, likewise, is looked down upon. Tourists are seen as guests in the country, and should behave as such. This is especially true if you are visiting holy places. Always remember that you are not just visiting sites that the world revels as beautiful and worth seeing—you are visiting places that many people use as their local places of worship. Speak respectfully, in quiet voices, and avoid all profanity when in these locations.
While it might be hard to find a happy medium, don't over- or underdress. If you're concerned that you might be doing either, then that is probably the case. For me, a nice shirt tucked into pants is often fine—no tie or jacket needed unless for business. For women, a sundress or slacks with a nice shirt is also perfectly fine. If you are going somewhere that is nicer, such as a nice restaurant, then dressing up is acceptable.
If you are in a beach town, do not assume that it is appropriate to wander straight off the beach and into shops while still in your bathing suit. This is generally frowned upon. Bathing attire is for the beach, not the street. It's also generally expected that if you'll be going out at night, there will be a wardrobe change. Daywear and nightwear are not the same.
When visiting churches or other holy places, you should think of them the same way you would nicer restaurants. Avoid shorts and tank tops. Dress nicely and respectfully.
When eating at your first Italian restaurant, you must resist the urge to just pick out a pasta and a sauce and combine them. Unlike in much of America, where this kind of à la carte eating is allowed, it is extremely frowned upon in Italy. Italian pastas are designed to hold particular sauces—it's not common to ask that a dish be substituted with a different sauce or pasta than what the chef has chosen.
It is never a bad idea to ask the waiter or waitress to suggest something local, fresh, or on special. You are in a different country, after all. Part of the adventure is enjoying the true delicacies that it has to offer.
Finally, remember that for most of Italy, tipping/gratuity is not expected, especially not in the same arena that is done in the United States of 15-20% per table. If you are unsure, ask your hosts for guidance. Italians, as is with the most of western Europeans, will only tip in a case of remarkable service.
Whether you are shopping for clothing, accessories, or groceries, there is one rule that carries over all areas: don't man-handle the goods. Picking up what you want is acceptable, but rifling through every garment or peach until you find the one is absolutely non va bene.
Ask the shopkeepers questions and tell them what you want. You aren't being bossy; you are being courteous both to them and to future customers.
Wherever your travels in Italy take you, be mindful of where you are. Don't compare cities to one another, especially not in a negative light. If you are in the South, don't praise the North, and vice versa. Italians take pride in their particular areas and the cultures between them vary greatly.
As difficult as it may seem to catch up on, you'll also find that customs may change as you move from city to city, province to province. If you make especially large moves (especially moving from one side of the country to the other), you'll want to be aware of these social changes.
Italy is a breathtaking country full of interesting sights, sounds, tastes, and people. It’s no wonder why it remains one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. If you’ll be visiting il bel paese any time soon, be sure to add these awesome driving roads to your itinerary!
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