Local Do's and Taboos


Local Do's and Taboos


Italians greet friends with a kiss, usually first on the right cheek, and then on the left. When you meet a new person, shake hands.


Italy is teeming with churches, many with significant works of art in them. Because they are places of worship, care should be taken with appropriate dress. Shorts, cropped tops, miniskirts, and bare midriffs are taboo at St. Peter's in Rome, and in many other churches throughout Italy. So, too, are short shorts anywhere. When touring churches—especially in summer when it's hot and no sleeves are desirable—it's wise to carry a sweater, or scarf, to wrap around your shoulders before entering the church. Do not enter a church with food, and do not drink from your water bottle while inside. Do not go in if a service is in progress. And if you have a cell phone, turn it off before entering.

Out on the Town

In Italy, almost nothing starts on time except for maybe a theater, opera, or movie showing. Italians even joke about a "15-minute window" before actually being late somewhere.


You can always find someone who speaks at least a little English in Rome, albeit with a heavy accent. When you do encounter someone who speaks English, it’s polite to speak slowly and phonetically so the person can understand you better. Remember that the Italian language is pronounced exactly as it's written—many Italians try to speak English as it's written, with bewildering results.

You may run into a language barrier in the countryside, but a phrase book and close attention to the Italians' astonishing use of pantomime and expressive gestures will go a long way.

Try to master a few phrases for daily use, and familiarize yourself with the terms you'll need to decipher signs and museum labels. Some museums have exhibits labeled in both English and Italian, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Most exhibitions have multi-language headphones you can rent, and English-language guidebooks are generally available at museum shops.

Many newsstands and bookstores stock a useful guide called Rome, Past & Present. It has photos of the most famous ancient monuments, together with drawings of what they originally looked like, and is particularly useful to get children interested in what seems (to them) just heaps of old stones.

A phrase book and language-CD set can help get you started.

Fodor's Italian for Travelers (available at bookstores everywhere) is excellent.

Private language schools and U.S.- and U.K.-affiliated educational institutions offer a host of Italian language study programs in Rome.

Language Schools

American University of Rome (Via Pietro Rosselli 4, Monteverde, Rome, 00153. 06/58330919. www.aur.edu.)

Berlitz (Via Fabio Massimo 95, Prati, Rome, 00192. 06/6872561. www.berlitz.it.)

Centro Linguistico Italiano Dante Alighieri (Piazza Bologna 1, Rome, 00162. 06/44231490. www.clidante.it.)

Ciao Italia (Via delle Frasche 5, Repubblica, Rome, 00184. 06/4814084. www.ciao-italia.it.)

Dilit International House (Via Marghera 22, Termini, Rome, 00185. 06/4462593. www.dilit.it.)

Scuola Leonardo da Vinci (Piazza dell'Orologio 7, Piazza Navona, Rome, 00186. 06/68892513. www.scuolaleonardo.com.)

More Travel Tips


News & Features
Trip Finder

Fodor's Rome 25 Best

View Details
Travel Phrases

Learn Italian phrases while you're on the go!

Download Now
Travel Deals