Many people who take a holiday to foreign countries just hop on a tour bus and settle for a passing glimpse of major tourists attractions. But most travel experts agree that the best way to experience a new place is to mingle with the locals. In most cases, this means learning some basic phrases of the language (or at least having a decent translation device) as well as the country’s customs and traditions.
If you want to experience Italy like a local, be sure to follow these tips.
No Cappuccino after 11 AM
This one might be tough if you’re addicted to caffeine. Americans, in particular, are accustomed to sipping coffee drinks whenever they need it. But in Italy, cappuccino is a beverage reserved for the breakfast hour. They shy away from it for the rest of the day because they consider it bad for digestion.
Italians can always spot a tourist from a local by watching who orders a cappuccino past the morning hours. Those seen carrying one around after 11:00 tend to get strange looks.
The locals often hear tourists complain about how all the shops close down during the lunch hour. Unfortunately, that’s just how things are done in Italy, particularly in the hot summer months. Italians prefer to hide from the midday heat, meaning not many potential customers will be out and about. So it just doesn’t make sense to keep businesses open during those extremely slow hours. Visitors are better off taking a riposino (a.k.a. nap, siesta, whatever you want to call it) and going back after the heat of the day has subsided.
Stay In a Small Town
Visiting the main cities and tourist hubs can be great fun, but if you truly want to experience Italy like a local, you have to go off the beaten path. Rent a car and get away from the public transit. There are plenty of short-term apartments available in the smaller villages, and the locals are always more than willing to share their way of life with visitors. All you have to do is ask.
Greet Everyone With Two Kisses
Italians may come off as overly touchy-feely to people from other cultures, and this gesture can be interpreted as offensive by some. But if you’re going to visit Italy, it’s important to understand that its people are an affectionate group. Regardless of gender, age, or familiarity, they always say hello to each other with a kiss on each cheek. So don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone to greet someone like a local.
Breakfast Like an Italian
Breakfast in some countries consists of heavy meals that offer lots of energy. Other places, like the United States, rely on fast food to get fueled up for the day. Italians are partial to coffee and sweets. In fact, the majority of restaurants and hotels don’t even offer cooked breakfast. So to have a true Italian morning, swing by the nearest bar, order a “caffé,” and hang out at the counter while you enjoy a cornetto (crescent-shaped Italian pastry).
Avoid Italy’s Tourist Season
By and far, summertime is the worst time of the year to visit Italy. It’s so bad, in fact, that many Italians escape to other countries during tourist season. With the summer months coinciding with school breaks and gorgeous weather, and Italy being a tourism hotspot, the country gets ridiculously crowded and prices go up on everything. Consider visiting during autumn or spring instead. The weather is still nice, prices aren’t nearly as outrageous, and the place isn’t nearly as congested.
Places like London are well known for their orderly queues and unspoken rules that even tourists are expected to follow. Italy is the complete opposite. Locals avoid it whenever they can and prefer to keep things more informal. It may be uncomfortable for visitors, but if you ever want to make it to the counter to order your lunch, you have to learn to stand your ground. Don’t be afraid to cut your way in and act like you own that spot. The locals probably won’t challenge you, simply because they likely did the same to be at the front of that queue.
Only Water, Wine, or Beer With Meals
Whether they’re eating at the restaurant or at home, Italians will almost always have one of these drinks with their meals. Kids can have sodas, but adults are expected to stay away from anything that’s not wine, water, or beer. Other beverages are believed to compromise the taste of food and affect a person’s ability to properly enjoy their meal.
Italians are a laid-back bunch. Nobody is ever in a rush. Whereas many Americans are “early to bed, early to rise” creatures of habit, folks in Italy like to sleep in and go with the flow. Everything is done later in the day. Meals are served at later hours than what many tourists are accustomed to, and locals go to bed well after dark. Ask your Italian friends to start dinner before 7:00 p.m and you’ll get an interesting reaction.
Talk With Your Hands
It’s not just a stereotype that Italians speak with their hands. It’s so natural for them to make a lot of gestures while speaking to each other that they don’t usually realize they’re doing it. So next time you’re in Italy, go ahead and try it. Throw in some gestures when you talk to a local. They’ll have an easier time understanding you!
It’s no secret that Italians love food. Besides the basic three meals a day, they’ve added a meal between lunch and dinner. Aperitivo typically takes place between 5 pm and 8 pm, with most places serving a wide range of snacks, pizzas, and Aperol Spritz. Some places have created the “aperi-cena,” where ten Euros gets you a drink and all-you-can-eat buffet. Besides being an excuse to eat an extra meal, Aperitivo is a common way of socializing it Italy. It’s a great way to hang out and get to know the locals.
Learning a new culture takes time, so don’t fret if you miss a custom here and there. You’ll be blending in with the Italians before you know it!