If you’re planning a trip to Italy, you’ll know that it is a country of rich tradition and culture. Cradle of the Renaissance, birthplace of one of the most beloved cuisines on the planet, home to some of the most important artists in history, there’s no question that Italy is one of the most popular destinations for travelers. It is a culture focused on living a quality life. To help you blend in, read on for the cultural dos and don’ts in Italy:
1. DO Master the Greeting
Italians take their social customs seriously. It’s common for friends and families to kiss each other on the cheek in greeting, regardless of gender. If someone older or senior to you enters the room, it’s considered polite to stand to receive them. If you’re meeting with someone outside of a restaurant or other building, it’s customary to hold doors for women and older people, and allow them to enter first.
2. DO Dress the Part
Italy is not the place to don your finest sweatpants. Feel free to feel your fashion fantasy while you’re there (this is the home of fashion capital Milan, after all), just maybe leave the athletic wear at home. When in doubt, stick to neat, classic, quality basics, and you’ll never feel out of place.
3. DON’T Forget the Rules of Visiting
If you’re lucky enough to be invited to the home of someone in Italy, it’s customary to bring a small, quality gift to show your appreciation – a bottle of wine, box of chocolates or flowers does nicely. If you’re visiting right before dinner time, the expectation is that you’ll be staying for the meal, so plan your time accordingly.
4. DO Learn the Basics of Italian Table Manners
It’s customary to wait until your host sits to begin sitting at the table and waiting until they state Buon Appetito to start eating. Once you do sit and begin the meal, keep your elbows off the table, your hands out of your lap, and don’t stretch your arms while at the table. It’s completely normal for meals to last hours on end, to enjoy lively conversation with your companions.
5. DON’T Empty your Glass
Wine is almost always drank as part of a meal in Italy. If you’re done with your wine, don’t drink it to the last drop. It’s customary to leave your glass at least half-way full when you’re done drinking.
6. DON’T Expect a Big Breakfast
While dinners are an EVENT in Italy, breakfasts are almost non-existent. If breakfast is taken at all, it’s typically an espresso or cappuccino and a brioche, and it’s eaten quickly. Many people don’t eat breakfast at all. Needless to say, don’t bother looking for bottomless brunches in Italy.
7. DON’T Look for Early Bird Specials
Dinner is the event of the night in Italy. It’s rarely a prelude to further festivities. Most restaurants won’t even open until 7 PM, so be sure to plan accordingly for the later dinner hours. If you’re feeling hungry earlier, you can participate in the art of appertivo – drinks and small bites.
8. DON’T Order Cappuccino After 11
In Italy, cappuccino is strictly a morning drink. If you’re looking for an after dinner coffee, order a caffe’ macchiato. At a cafe, before you order your typical latte, know that in Italy, that simply means plain cold milk, so read the menu as much as you can.
9. DO Ask for the Check, and DON’T Overtip
Unless you’ve outstayed closing time by a good margin, your server won’t bring your check until you ask for it. Remember, when you pay the check, that service is included in the price (you’ll see this on the check as “coperto“), and servers are paid fair wages. If you’ve had exceptional service, feel free to leave a few extra dollars, but no need to leave a larger tip than that.
10. DON’T Show Up on Time
When it comes to cultural dos and don’ts in Italy, this one might come as a bit of a surprise. You can feel free to live a little looser on Italian time. “On-time” could very well mean 15 or 30 minutes late. Hosts expect that extra time, so try not to show up exactly on time or early and let them have that time to prepare.
11. DO Enjoy the Cultural Sights, Respectfully
Spectacular churches and cathedrals are all over the place in Italy, but remembering that many of these are Catholic institutions, you’ll want to be sure you’re dressed appropriately, with your shoulders and knees covered.
12. DO Carry some Cash
While many places around Italy will accept credit cards, and some places today are even accepting mobile payments, if you’re planning on visiting smaller shops or venturing out into the countryside, you’ll want to be sure to have cash on hand. Check out our guide to using money in Italy to be fully prepared.
13. DON’T Share your Food
While you’ll find most Italians to be quite relaxed in most settings, dining rules tend to be on the formal side. Sharing food from your plate is generally frowned upon.
Even if you don’t know the language, these cultural dos and don’ts in Italy can help you blend in with the locals, and have an overall smoother experience during your trip!