Planning a holiday in Italy? Then you'll want to make sure you fit in with the locals and avoid the big tourist don'ts while visiting the country.
From underdressing to ordering a cappuccino at the wrong time of day, here are a few simple rules of what not to do when touring Italy...
Not for nothing are Italians considered one of the world's most stylish nations - so get your best frock out if you want to fit in, whether you're shopping or going out to eat. Oh, and if you're visiting a cathedral or church, showing too much leg or shoulder is a definite no-no. In fact, it's only when toasting themselves on the beach do Italians happily bare their skin.
Don't order a cappuccino after lunch
Brits may drink it by the gallon both day and night, but cappuccinos are strictly a morning beverage in bella Italia: don't even think about ordering one after your lunch or dinner. To be really authentic, you need to do it standing up - Italians enjoy their cappuccinos at a bar (a coffee shop) while standing at the counter - they won't usually sit down for table service. After a meal, espresso is your only choice (and a little grappa on the side if you really want to impress).
Don't be impatient
Most businesses and shops close between 1pm and 4pm for a riposo (a break) when Italians go home for lunch. While it might be extremely annoying when you're a tourist on a tight schedule, you should use this time to do as the Italians do and enjoy a leisurely lunch.
Be careful where you put your parmesan
One of the biggest food crimes when eating out in Italy is asking for parmesan cheese for your seafood pasta. The simple rule is that cheese and fish do not mix in Italian cuisine. We don't know why. Some some chefs will tell you that fish should be eaten fresh and adding cheese will overwhelm the flavour. Others will tell you it's the mountain and sea divide, but mainly it's down to tradition. In fact, putting parmesan on pizza is often considered unacceptable. As s general rule, you should really only have it when it's explicitly offered.
Don't expect everywhere to take plastic
While most of Italy takes debit or credit cards, most small restaurants, shops and B&Bs will only accept cash so don't try to pay for a coffee with your MasterCard. The majority of taxis will only take euros and if you plan on visiting the outdoor markets you'll certainly want to carry some cash.
Don't try to have dinner before 7pm
If you're partial to an early tea, you're in the wrong place. In Italy, your evening meal is also your evening entertainment and most restaurants don't open until late. Hold out and grab a table at 8.30pm when most Italians sit down for dinner.
Don't forget to ask for the bill
It won't be automatically delivered to your table as restaurants don't like to rush their diners and believe that food and conversations should be enjoyed. When you're ready to leave, ask for il conto, per favore, (the bill, please).
Don't mention the mafia
Talking to the locals will make a big difference to your experience and Italians are very sociable people but one topic you should definitely avoid is the mafia. Foreigners are fascinated by the subject but for Italians the mafia is a very real and serious issue.
Don't handle the goods
The fruit and veg at a market might look colourful and tempting to touch but it is best to ask the trader for what you want. The same applies to clothing stores. If you see something you like, tell the shopkeeper your size and they will serve you.
Don't forget to say 'hello'
If you live in London (or anywhere Down South), acknowledging strangers may be completely alien to you but around Italy, especially in the smaller towns and villages, it is not unusual to say buongiorno (good morning) to people you don't know (as well as those you do, obviously). If out shopping or in a bar, never forget to say 'hello' as Italians believe entering a shop is like going into someone's house. Salve is a useful greeting as it can be used any time of day and isn't overly friendly or formal.
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