Social graces in Italy

Old Aug 27th, 2010, 05:38 AM
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Social graces in Italy

I am pretty familiar with French manners and what is expected to be considered bien eleve, which matters to me if not to everyone.

I am able to manage traveler's/tourist Italian, and I know how to dress in cities, but as we get ready for our fourth trip to Italy, I find that I am not sure what manners and customs are as important in Italy as unfailingly saying "Bonjour, madame/monsieur" and the like in are France.

The golden rule goes a long way, but I would be happier with some specialized knowledge. Could you help me?
Ackislander is offline  
Old Aug 27th, 2010, 07:22 AM
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It is always nice to know some of the language so you can greet people in their language. The Italians, particularly in rural areas are a bit more outgoing than the French and appreciate your efforts to greet them in their language. By and large, consideration and friendliness are important as they are everywhere. Not sure there is any specialized knowledge to impart.
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Old Aug 27th, 2010, 08:37 AM
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Whatever you know about French politesse applies equally to Italy, IME. Yes, always Buon Giorno (Buona Sera...), Signore/Signora upon entering and leaving any establishment. Always Grazie as well. And Piacere. And Mi Dispiace. And so forth.
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Old Aug 27th, 2010, 08:53 AM
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Yes very similar but the Italians are often very appreicative of your efforts to try and speak Italian....
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Old Aug 29th, 2010, 04:44 AM
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Pointing your finger in someone's face is an insult.
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Old Aug 29th, 2010, 05:07 AM
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I don't think there is a general answer, besides the fact that general politeness usually is a good idea.

As always, attitude can vary a lot between an upscale fashion boutique in Milan, and a family trattoria in a small town in Sicily.

If you asked for stereotypes, I'd say that in less touristy areas you can expect to be treated like royalty the first time, and like family the second time you eat there.
Eating out with kids is MUCH less of an issue in Italy than in France (or elsewhere). They are worshipped, regardless of the "noise" they make or if the tear up the whole place.
Again, don't expect this in any place, anywhere. And especially not in the overrun tourist place next to the Spanish Steps, or at a fine dining/upscale restaurant.
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Old Aug 29th, 2010, 07:17 AM
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Always ask permission before you touch items in shops.
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Old Aug 29th, 2010, 08:58 AM
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Disposable plastic gloves are provided in supermarkets for you to wear when handling fruit and vegetables. You should not treat this as an optional requirement, and other shoppers may remind you of the fact.
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Old Aug 29th, 2010, 09:12 AM
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Another bit of advice, do not sit with the sole(s) of your shoes facing outward toward others as that is considered quite rude by the Italians. If you are going to shake hands with someone do not reach across anyone else to do so. I am half asleep but when I think of more I will post back, Ackisland.
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Old Aug 29th, 2010, 09:51 AM
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Lay money on the counter or in the dish or in the indentation on the counter. Do not put it directly in someone's hand.
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Old Aug 29th, 2010, 09:52 AM
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If you are going to shop in a market (either "farmer's market" or a grocery store), bring your own bags with you. You will be charged for bags if you don't.

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Old Aug 30th, 2010, 10:56 PM
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I’ve observed this in Italy, but had not realised that handing it directly was not polite. (In Aus, NOT handing it directly would be seen as impolite.) Can anyone tell me the origin of this practice?

Peter (wanting to be polite at all times).
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Old Aug 31st, 2010, 12:24 AM
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here in Italy there is a "cultural common base" and a lot of differences between areas/regions and also between italians of the north and of the south.
Tipically the "italian stereotype" of strangers is based on the "South Italian way of life", I mean Italians from Rome to the bottom

The advices of other fodors-users are good. I suppos, in general, we we love the naturalness

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Old Aug 31st, 2010, 04:37 AM
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Good information thus far, especially on not handing money directly, exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for.

Some questions:

The French do not ordinarily smile at strangers. Do Italians?

Most French restaurants will not serve coffee until the meal is complete. Many North Americans expect coffee with dessert. It is funny to watch the tug of war. What do Italians do?

Twenty years ago, restaurant customers in Italy were required to retain receipts for a certain time/distance for possible checks by the tax authorities. Is this still the case?

What are the normal hours for businesses, restaurants, government offices, in Rome?

Is there a department store chain equvialent to Corte Ingles in Spain?
Ackislander is offline  
Old Aug 31st, 2010, 04:58 AM
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the italian "Corte Ingles" is "Rinascente".

In Italy, unfortunately, stil exists a bad habit with the fiscal recepits. You've to ask for the recipit at the end of the lunch because it's an ethical issue: all people have to pay taxes!

Coffee is usually offered after lunch, often with the dessert.

In Rome the office hours are: 8.30 - 13.30, 14.30 - 17.30

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Old Aug 31st, 2010, 05:22 AM
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The Italians don't normally smile at strangers either.

Coffee, in my experience, is more often after than with dessert, and Italians do not consider a coffee with milk, such as a cappuccino, appropriate after a meal.

Restaurants are still obliged to offer receipts, but clients have not been required to hold onto them since, I believe, 2003.

Small shops in Rome often close for longer: from 12:30 or 1 until 3:30 or 4. Larger stores are often open all day.

And I don't know if this has been mentioned or not: Most restaurants are *not* open all day. They are open for lunch from 12:30 or 1 until 2:30 or 3, then they close until dinner. The earlier they open for dinner (7 or 7:30), the more likely it is that they cater primarily to tourists.
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Old Aug 31st, 2010, 05:54 AM
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In larger cities, like Rome, quite a few shops are now open "non-stop", meaning they do not close. Same with restaurants. I agree that not all Italians smile at everyone. Drinking cappucino after about noon is typically not done, although I think you can order one. You will be offered coffee or espresso at the end of a meal. As elsewhere in Europe, breakfast is usually not the "large" affair it can be in America. If you have a full day ahead of you, yogurt, fruit, and bread or a "cornetto" (the Italian version of a croissant) is usually what is consumed. Some hotels have larger buffet-style breakfasts in which there may be meats, cheeses, and perhaps even eggs and/or cereal.

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Old Aug 31st, 2010, 11:48 AM
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I've observed the "money thing" before too.

I think the advice about being generally polite is right on point, along with speaking pleasantries and simple phrases in Italian. I studied Italian and French in college and love dusting them off again when I travel. I found most Italians that I came in contact with to be pleased if you try and speak Italian and often eager to engage you in conversation. I'm not saying this is the rule, but it has been my experience--even in other countries. (I try and learn basics of the language of any country I visit. Czech and Hungarian were the hardest so far, followed by Greek; I have Croatian coming up, but it seems somewhat similar to Czech.)
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Old Aug 31st, 2010, 02:29 PM
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And when you enter a store and the salesperson says buon giorno, they are just being polite and are not necessarily pressuring you to buy something. You should say buon giorno in return. If they say aiuto (eye-oo-to) it means "can I help you?"
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Old Sep 1st, 2010, 02:10 AM
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Be sure to check your bill before you pay. Don't be afraid to add up the meals. I've had them added up wrong and when I pointed it out, there were some red faces and a bit of copping out over what appeared to be intentional mistakes. Venice is notorious for having two menu, well one menu and two sets of prices - one for locals and one for tourists. You will be charged for the basket of bread that is brought to the table. Have it returned if you don't want it. The single price, self-serve buffet style meals are generally priced by the plate so better make sure beforehand if you'll be charged for a second plate.
You will find pizza on some menus (though most likely in tourist areas). Italians do not eat pizza with their hands but with knife and fork.
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