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