Ten Things NOT to Do in Italy

Posted by Eva Sandoval on January 07, 2013 at 12:55:32 PM EST | Post a Comment

The more time you spend in Italy, the more you'll notice that Italians love telling you what to do...whether you ask them for advice or not. Try this wine. Try it again. Pass that semi truck—you can do it! Wear different shoes. Change your hair; you're not eighty. Loosen up. Mangia, mangia! For a change of pace, here's a list of things NOT to do in Italy—a country as beloved for its passionate people as its natural beauty and delicious cuisine.

Don't....

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Head to Vatican City in a tube top

We know the desire to charm the Italians with your spaghetti strap sundress might be overwhelming, but visitors in skimpy clothing are forbidden to enter holy sights. If you can't bring yourself to wear a top that covers your shoulders, tuck a scarf or cardigan into your bag, and use it to make yourself presentable when you're on holy ground.

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Park inside the yellow lines

Or the pink ones, if you're eating for one. Or the blue ones, if you want to save a few euro. Few things are as gutting as heading back to the parking lot and finding a parking ticket on your rental car, or worse, a stark gap where your car used to be. In an Italian parking lot, the white-lined parking spaces are free, the blue-lined are paid, the yellow-lined spots are for disabled motorists, and the pink spots are for expectant mothers. As for potential parking spots that have no lines at all, be sure to look for Zona di Rimozione (Tow Zone) or Divieto di Sosta (No Parking) signs. Or just do as the Italians: cross your fingers and park on the sidewalk. Sideways.

Expect things to happen according to schedule

One of the first things any visitor to Italy will learn is that there's time...and then there's Italian time. Italian time is elastic (don't be surprised when your 4 p.m. Colosseum tour starts at 4:30) and so are business hours. Many businesses—even, bafflingly, restaurants—shut down for lunch and will also be closed two days a week, days which vary from business to business. Double-checking business hours is crucial unless you enjoy making empty treks. Public transportation is also often "out of order" or delayed, so give yourself ample padding between travel connections.

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Get fleeced by a gondolier

Taking a gondola cruise in Venice might seem like the most romantic thing on earth until you get the bill. Surprise: a gondola ride can cost upwards of $65 per person (!), and even more if you have a shady gondolier. If a $65-$130 boat ride isn't in your budget, but you still have your heart set on floating along Venice's canals, consider hopping aboard a traghetto—one of the water taxis used by Venetian locals when they want to cross the Grand Canal. The ride will be much shorter, but the traghetto boats are exactly the same as the tourist gondolas and tickets will cost around $5.

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Take that Google Maps shortcut

Should you be renting a car to explore the country, you'll probably be using a GPS or Google Maps. You might be tempted to save on autostrade tolls by taking one of the outlined shortcuts. But the farther south in Italy you go, the worse-kept the roads tend to be. Razor-narrow passages, huge potholes and an absence of streetlights can make navigation difficult for a traveler unfamiliar with Italian motorways; the SS7 (Via Appia)—a mostly-unlit winding coastside path running from Rome to Brindisi—is particularly perilous. You might have to pay a bit extra to take the autostrade, but at least they're well-kept.

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Get yourself psyched for authentic spaghetti alla bolognese in Naples

In Italian restaurants outside of Italy, all of the boot's many regional cuisines are slapped with the giant umbrella title—ITALIAN FOOD—so you'd be forgiven for not knowing that pesto was invented in Genoa and Limoncello is from Sorrento. But you wouldn't head to Los Angeles hoping for the best barbecue of your life, would you? Do yourself a favor and stick to local foods on your Italian trip. A (very) quick cheat sheet: Genoa for pesto; Naples for pizza; Bologna for bolognese sauce and filled pastas like ravioli, tortellini and lasagne; Milan for risotto alla milanese and ossobucco alla milanese; Rome for spaghetti alla carbonara, spaghetti all'amatriciana and lamb. Gnocchi, bresaola, polenta dishes, and the ultra-popular Italian dessert tiramisù are found all over the country, but are native to the northern Italian regions like Lombardy and Veneto. Prosciutto—or Parma ham—is most commonly associated with central and northern Italy.

Tip everything that moves...no matter what they tell you

Tipping is not obligatory or common in Italy. However, tourist-savvy service people may have heard that Americans are genetically programmed to tip everything from waiters to performing rabbits, so the cheekier ones might try to work you for some spare change. Unless they gave you the best service in the history of the planet, resist. They're getting a living wage.

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Ask your waiter for parmesan cheese to put on your seafood pasta

Unless you want to see a grown adult cry, that is. One of the holiest commandments of traditional Italian culinary etiquette is that cheese and seafood never, ever mix. Only very recently have certain cheese/seafood pairings cropped up—i.e., ricotta with sea bass, gorgonzola with clams—but this is considered very avant garde (the elder generation won't touch such dishes). Regardless of your age or level of sophistication, mixing parmesan cheese with seafood remains a cardinal sin, so don't even ask. And for the love of Saint Peter, don't let an Italian see you cutting your spaghetti with a fork and knife.

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Kill yourself trying to fit Rome into a crowded itinerary

Twenty regions, so much to see! Most visitors enter Italy through Rome, but if you plan to enter via Sicily or Milan and can't bear the thought of missing out on Roman ruins during your trip, take heart: the Romans were a busy bunch. Spectacular Roman ruins can be found throughout the peninsula, namely Volterra in Tuscany, Villa Jovis on the Isle of Capri, Pompeii and Oplontis in Campania, Piazza Armerina in Sicily, Verona in Veneto, and Mediolanum in Milan. Use the money you'll have saved on extra flights to fill up on wine.

Plan on conducting your entire trip to Italy in English

Yes, the movies would have you believe that any time you travel, your host country will be chock-full of citizens who speak your language perfectly, albeit with a charming accent. But Italy consistently earns moderate to low proficiency rankings on English proficiency indexes—among the lowest-rated in Europe. You'll do all right at hotels, historical sites, and restaurants in heavily-touristed cities like Rome and Naples, but set foot outside of those perimeters and, well, in bocca al lupo.

P.S. That means "good luck" in Italian.

Photo Credits: Get Fleeced by a Gondolier: Thats where I live by Saurabh Thakur Attribution-NoDerivs License; Park Inside the Yellow lines: blue like the line by Emiliano Attribution License; Get Yourself Psyched for Authentic Spaghetti alla Bolognese in Naples: Trattoria Anna Maria by Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License; Ask Your Waiter for Parmesan Cheese to Put On Your Seafood Pasta: Getty Images/Hemera; Take That Google Maps Shortcut: Appia Antica by ChrisSteph LewisBoegeman Attribution-NoDerivs License; Head to Vatican City in a Tube Top: Lisja | Dreamstime.com; Kill Yourself Trying to Fit Rome into a Crowded Itinerary: Shootalot | Dreamstime.com

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Posted in Travel Tips Tagged: Italy, Tips, Rome, Food and Wine

Member Comments (13)  Post a Comment

  • Belle_De_Journey on May 20, 14 at 08:27 AM

    Most of these tips aren't glaringly obvious to everyone, great job. I spent three weeks in Italy and would advise just one thing:

    Yes, try to get the food native to the region, but not ALL the time. The best pizza I´ve ever had in my life (and I´ve eaten several pizzas in Naples) is found in Syracuse, Sicily. It was only topped with minced meat and cheese, but was perfection. Others we tried came with broccoli, pumpkin, just crazy stuff. I wrote about that trip here: http://belledejourney.com/?p=394

  • Phyllisss on Mar 17, 14 at 10:32 AM

    Though a little simplistic, I think this article reminds us that we are tourists and need to be more open to where we are. Our group to Sicily will visit the street processions at night for the Immaculate Procession festival; we certainly need to blend in and be respectful of this holy tradition. Any suggestions from this audience for our experience Dec. 8 2014 is the date.

  • LovesVenice85 on Feb 13, 14 at 08:25 AM

    ENOUGH FALSE information about gondola rides and gondoliers! This writer has no idea what she's writing about when she says a gondola ride costs $65 per person. Perhaps it does if you book through a travel agency, a cruise or tour guide which charge a very high fee, pocket the money and then give the gondolier his/her 75-80 euro. A gondola fee starts at 80 euro for 35-40 minutes for up to 6 people! NOT PER PERSON. Gondola fees are posted at every traghetto (gondola station), and in most local guide books available in Venetian hotel rooms. AND as far as a real gondola ride being the same as a traghetto crossing, the boats used for the traghetto crossing are NOT the same as a traditional gondola. That is why those used for traghetto crossings are called gondola 'da parada'. And the traghetto crossing is 2 euro per person to get from one side of the Grand Canal to the other. more like $3.50 not $5.00. This 'journalist' really should gather more accurate information before submitting and getting an article published on a blog that is read by so many people. Because FODOR you're spreading false information.

  • larraine_welsh_7 on Feb 6, 14 at 06:37 AM

    Such a great blog and wonderful input from everybody else's. Perfect as we are visiting for a month in August/September. I would love to know (and God help me, this is a sacrilegious question)......but apart from the delicious Italian Cuisine..will we also find international food. I haven't been anywhere in the world where I haven't come across and Indian or an Asian? And I am currently enrolled in and italian class! and I totally agree as a Westerner (Australia) we should be ashamed that we only speak English. How I envy the multi-lingual

  • alexpp on Aug 30, 13 at 01:22 PM

    Very good article and very realistic.
    I am italian and I have to admit that You wrote simply the true.

    No tipping is a good advice.
    Italians, not so often, let the waiter to keep the change (when it's not so big).
    For example the bill is 23.70 Euros, You give 25 and leave.
    That would be a good solution, but not all the nights and just when You felt confortable like never.

  • tripodchaps on Aug 3, 13 at 10:15 AM

    I live in Italy and want to talk about tipping. A waiter or Waitress gets about 30-35 euros a day for work, not a whole lot. There is the coperto which could be considered the tip. Basically it the the cover charge for all the things that go on the table.

    When I go out to eat I only eat with Italians when I do go out to eat our TIPS range from 1 euro a person to 2 euros a person in the party. The tips are all collected at the night and then split up with the entire staff. So tipping is a very good thing to do. I have spoke to some of my friends that have bars and restaurants and they wonder why especially americans are no longer tipping. MY ADVICE IS TO TIPPING BUT THIS COMES FROM A PERSON WHO HAS ONLY LIVED AND WE BE LIVING IN ITALY

  • EvaSandoval on Feb 1, 13 at 04:22 PM

    I speak three languages, actually, including Italian. But my comment about the poor English wasn't an indictment; it was just to help English-speaking travelers plan accordingly. English speakers tend to believe that they'll have no trouble traveling because English is spoken perfectly everywhere. It's not. That's all.

  • L_altra_Venezia on Jan 31, 13 at 09:13 AM

    I really enjoyed this article! It's s always great fun to discover how foreigners see us!
    Just few notes:
    - We give you advice for your own sake, but we will not be offended if you're not listening ;)
    -The cost of a gondola ride is per hour, not per person, to be exact it costs € 80 for a tour of 40 minutes, so if you are two people, you pay € 40 each, if you are six, you pay about € 15 each. It is true that the gondola "traghetto" (which takes you from side to side of the Grand Canal) costs € 3 per person, but it lasts about 30 seconds ... that's not exactly the same experience! ;)
    - the matter of tipping is controversial: some people (as some waiters) are underpaid and they get surviving only thanks to the tips, therefore in this case not to give them the tip means to put them in difficulty; meanwhile other people (as some doormen of the hotels) literally become rich with the tips...
    - we do not put the parmesan on fish simply because it is disgusting! oh, and please: the cappuccino is something you eat for breakfast, and only for breakfast!
    - it is true that we speak poor English, but we speak at least 3 or 4 languages​​ in addition to our mother language (like most Europeans); Americans only speak English ... perhaps you could make an effort you too?

  • EvaSandoval on Jan 15, 13 at 03:33 AM

    No tipping! Just pay what it says on the bill and you're out of there. At least South of Rome. I've never once seen any Italian give a tip. Restaurants, hair dressers. One exception is cab drivers, but generally give just enough tip to round up the fare.

    Driving in Italy can indeed be beautiful - those small towns are gorgeous! - but if you're a newbie, it might be best to hold off until you get a feel for the driving culture. I'm thinking about your safety, folks.

  • Chris1870 on Jan 13, 13 at 10:53 AM

    ABOUT TIPPING: Is the tourist to assume that service is *included* in their restaurant check? I know the article says that tipping is not---obligatory---and I understand the living wage part. What laws are there in Italy that regulate tipping? Do the laws on tipping vary between regions? Suppose a tourist visits a usually not-visited city such as Volterra, Ivrea, or Campobasso---will they be required to tip "extra?".

    If memory serves me, the restaurant bill shows itemizes the check and clearly indicate "servizio" or "servizio incluso." But maybe memory does not serve me...:---D. I'd appreciate any insight from fellow travelers.

  • FransvanHeerden on Jan 10, 13 at 01:37 AM

    Great article from a seasoned an experienced traveller to Italy. SO well written that it got my feet tingling making me feel I have to go back to Italy. I can only agree with much stated in the article. Bravo!

  • pmrichard on Jan 9, 13 at 12:22 PM

    I agree with rickblack001 (somewhat). While driving in Italy can be a challenge and I don't believe I'd ever take on the challenge of driving in Rome (narrow streets, limited parking, traffic!!) - walking provides such an opportunity to explore and see more - driving in the countryside was an incredible experience. We stayed off the main highways and were completely captivated by the gorgeous countryside (drove from Rome to San Gimignano to Pisa). My husband (who lived in Europe for years) did most of the driving and to be honest, the roundabouts were a bit tricky on occasion and missed turns tricked us up a couple of times. BUT, we would not have missed the voyage for the world! You just can't see all that beauty from a train or bus. We also jotted down a few locations not on our map (small towns/castles) to visit in the future!

  • rickblack001 on Jan 9, 13 at 09:54 AM

    Most tourists would be well advised to avoid driving in Italy at all. Even though I lived there for quite a few years, when I return I still find situations above my skills. Like the time I had to pull both outside mirrors in to get through a Roman street with cars parked all over the place. Or the time I was driving through Oustuni looking for street signs and noticed, just barely in time, that the street ended in stairs with no barriers. Yes, the autostradas are great (but expensive), but it's just like driving US Interstates. All you see is pavement and you miss the extrodinarily beautiful country and small towns. Just be careful!

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