There is something about Italy. There has always been something about Italy, which is probably why over 46 million tourists visit it each year. Whomever you speak to seems to have a romanticized dream of visiting or will happily share their memories of their latest visit.
As Samuel Johnson said, "A man who has not been to Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see." Italian are very kind, and even more friendly. Simpatico is their adjective for friendly, and it is how I would describe them best.
They are the guardians of some of history's most magnificent treasures, and they are used to sharing them, Hoewever, there are a few things Italians want tourist (Scandinavians and Americans, I'm talking to you) to know before you arrive in their country.
1. Dinner. It's between 7:30-22:00. Pressing your hungry face in the restaurant's window at 6:00 p.m will not change that. Calling for a reservation and dressing up for dinner, however, will be greatly appreciated.
2. Skin: show a little respect. If you visit Italy during the summer months it will, most likely, be very warm. By all means, dress down all you want, but if you're planing to visit museums, cathedrals and especially the churches, please try to cover your knees, shoulders and feet. Grazie!
3. Bread: It won't be served with butter. This one took me a while to get used to. Eating bread without butter? Not eating bread with pasta? What? Basically, you receive a little bread with your appetizer and that's pretty much it. It's also used to "fare la scarpetta" or "make a little shoe" to clean the plate of any residual sauce. To do so in a restaurant is a debatable point, so i'll leave that decision up to you.
4. Afternoon closings. Many shops will close down for the afternoon from 1:00 - 4:00 p, especially outside of the city centers. Italians go home to enjoy lunch as a family and relax. Try it!
5. Il caffè! In Italy you drink cappuccinos and cafe lattes in the morning. The rest of the time it's espresso all the way. Know that when you enter a bar and order a "coffee" you will get an espresso. Specifically ask for a filtered coffee if that's what you prefer. Also, ordering a 'latte', when you want a cafe latte will just get you a glass of milk.
6. Don't rush it! This one goes out to my fellow Swedes and German friends. Punctuality does not exist in Italy. It doesn't exist when you are meeting someone for lunch (hi dad!) and it doesn't exist when you are waiting for the bus. There is no use to get stressed or upset about it because they just won't care.
7. Simplify your Schedule: Leave time to wander the crooked, ancient streets on your own. Often, just a few blocks away from the main attractions, day-to-day life is unfolding. Plan some time where you can get off the well beaten path for a gelato, coffee, or traditional meal with the locals. Besides, if you over schedule, you just get grumpy.
8. Italian: It's what is spoken! Learning a few words and common phrases will make a big difference in your experience. Rather than launching immediately in English, and assuming you will be understood, it's polite to ask, "Parla l'Inglese?".
9. Coperto: The amount charged, per person, to sit down at a table. It's not a ploy to take advantage of you because you are a tourist. Coperto is not the same thing as a tip, which you'll be expected to leave as well. 5-10 % is usually good.
10. Ask for the Check: It won't be automatically delivered to your table after a meal in a restaurant. That doesn't mean you are being ignored. Food and conversations are to be enjoyed, not rushed. When you are ready to leave, ask for the bill, "il conto."
11. Slow Down: You can't see it all. Trust me on this one. The reason 46 million tourists descend on Italy each year is because there is so much beauty to see and experience. A plethora of culture, art, vineyards, food, and museums -- a lifetime is not enough. So, slow down, savor and appreciate what you do see.
12. Smile: You've made it to a country that has inspired visitors for centuries. Melt into its beauty and lifestyle, its art, music, and literature. Trade smiles with Italians and take home memories of a truly magnificent country, unlike any other in the world.
Now you're ready to explore the wonder that Italy has to offer! Buon Viaggio!
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