Customs and Etiquette in Italy: 15 Things Every Visitor Should Know

Posted by Fodor's Editors on February 15, 2010 at 3:02:00 PM EST | Post a Comment

Only the lucky few ever truly shed their tourist aura. But what can you do to minimize those awkward gaffes? Read on!

Greetings

1: Upon meeting and leave-taking, both friends and strangers wish each other good day or good evening (buongiorno, buonasera); ciao isn't used between strangers. Italians who are friends greet each other with a kiss, usually first on the left cheek, then on the right. When you meet a new person, shake hands.

Sightseeing

2: Italy is full of churches, and many of them contain significant works of art. They are also places of worship, however, so be sure to dress appropriately.

3: Shorts, tank tops, and sleeveless garments are taboo in most churches throughout the country. In summer carry a sweater or other item of clothing to wrap around your bare shoulders before entering a church.

4: You should never bring food into a church, and do not sip from your water bottle while inside. If you have a cell phone, turn it off before entering. And never enter a church when a service is in progress, especially if it is a private affair such as a wedding or baptism.

Out on the Town

5: Table manners in Italy are formal; rarely do Italians share food from their plates. In a restaurant, be formal and polite with your waiter—no calling across the room for attention.

6: When you've finished your meal and are ready to go, ask for the check (il conto); unless it's well past closing time, no waiter will put a bill on your table until you've requested it.

7: Italians do not have a culture of sipping cocktails or chugging pitchers of beer. Wine, beer, and other alcoholic drinks are almost always consumed as part of a meal. Public drunkenness is abhorred.

8: Smoking has been banned in all public establishments, much like in the United States.

9: Flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of wine are appropriate hostess gifts when invited to dinner at the home of an Italian.

Doing Business

10: Showing up on time for business appointments is the norm and expected in Italy. There are more business lunches than business dinners, and even business lunches aren't common, as Italians view mealtimes as periods of pleasure and relaxation.

11: Business cards are used throughout Italy, and business suits are the norm for both men and women. To be on the safe side, it is best not to use first names or a familiar form of address until invited to do so.

12: Business gifts are not the norm, but if one is given it is usually small and symbolic of your home location or type of business.

Language

13: One of the best ways to avoid being an Ugly American is to learn a little of the local language. You need not strive for fluency; even just mastering a few basic words and terms is bound to make chatting with the locals more rewarding.

14: "Please" is per favore, "thank you" is grazie, and "you're welcome" is prego.

15: In larger cities such as Venice, Rome, and Florence, language is not a big problem. Most hotels have English speakers at their reception desks, and if not, they can always find someone who speaks at least a little English. You may have trouble communicating in the countryside, but a phrase book and expressive gestures will go a long way.

Posted in Travel Tips

Member Comments (9)  Post a Comment

  • Tempome on Nov 16, 12 at 04:57 PM

    I just want to know why everything under 'sightseeing' is about churches. I'm going sightseeing, but definately not at a church.

  • Mikifanti on Feb 19, 10 at 05:01 AM

    I am Italian and I must admit I love to have my cappuccino any time of the day...it's a matter of taste :) however after your meal you should have only an espresso!! True: Chrysanthemums are only for funerals. "Aperitivo-time" is "still" the most spread custom all over italy: time: from 18.00-20.00, it varies from norht to south, along with "the happy hour" where you receive fine appetizers, this is very common in trendy places. In Italy we do kiss on the left and right cheek, but only twice, three time is the custom in France, and Switzerland and maybe in other countries. I cannot think of any other customs...your article covered them all! Thanks for it!

  • PotenzaRon on Feb 17, 10 at 09:33 PM

    I question the comment about never ordering a cappucino after 11 am. More than one friend of ours (Italians) have done so without any retort from servers, etc.

  • kttyldy on Feb 17, 10 at 03:57 PM

    Chrysanthemums are for funerals. I learned this after presenting my hostess with a large bouquet of mums, such as we would wear to a homecoming football game. This lovely lady knew that I had no idea what a gaffe I had made, and barely suppressed her laughter.

  • ladymissmba on Feb 17, 10 at 12:06 PM

    16. Never ever ever order a cappuccino after 11 am. I learned this the hard way by shocking my Italian boyfriend’s family when I asked for a cappucino following a big lunch. It was as if I committed a crime, they were so stunned!! Cappuccinos are for breakfast only. Any other time it’s espresso only!

  • bfrangipane on Feb 17, 10 at 11:31 AM

    Speak quietly in restaurants. Relatives may kiss three times, Left, Right, Left. Always be on time, but don't expect a Venetian to do so. Many men will hug you, even if you are a man (get over it).

  • evanjva1 on Feb 17, 10 at 10:02 AM

    Be careful what variety of flowers you choose. Some remind people of death and must be avoided. I believe carnations fit that category.

  • Trekker5211 on Feb 17, 10 at 09:17 AM

    I would also modify number 7 to note that many Italians will sip limoncello or some other alcoholic beverage to celebrate something, or just to have almost as a dessert.

  • sdale80 on Feb 17, 10 at 08:54 AM

    These are all excellent suggestions. I would, however, modify number 7. For quite a number of years there has been a custom of an aperitivo, at least in Rome. After work, anywhere from 17-19:00 bars are filled with people having a drink and a snack, a boccone, literally a mouthful, but actually small morsels of food. Sort of like a tapas idea although far far less ambitious than Spanish tapas

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