While it’s always great to visit other countries, it’s not always great to feel like a tourist. Being in a country you are not familiar with or in an area where you feel out of place can make you feel a little tense. After all, the last thing you want is to do or say the wrong thing by mistake and end up causing trouble or offense to those around you.
Since Italy is such a popular holiday destination with a lot of cultural differences and customs, let’s dive into how you can fit in with the locals when traveling to this stunning country so you can have an enjoyable and immersive experience.
Learn the Language Basics
Ignorance is never welcome in any country. Learning the basics such as "hello", "please", "thank you", and "how much does this cost?" will stop you from standing out in the crowd. Don’t expect others to speak English. You will find many people who don’t know even one word in English, but that’s your problem, not theirs. They will not be best pleased that you haven’t bothered to even learn a few phrases in Italian before your arrival.
And, please, don’t be loud. Despite the stereotype, most Italians aren’t that loud, so you will likely seem vulgar to people. Tourists are guests and are expected to behave politely.
Don’t Order Garlic Bread
Garlic bread is an American invention that was inspired by bruschetta. This food doesn’t exist in authentic Italian cuisine, and you will never fit in with the locals if you are trying to order a side of garlic bread with your food every night. Most places won’t even know what it is, let alone serve it, so save that particular craving for when you’re back in your home. And please don't put ketchup on pasta or pizza. It will break an Italian chef's heart. Otherwise, it's acceptable to put it on a burger or fries.
Try to avoid beach clothes in the streets, as well as the opposite: overly luxurious choices. You will not look particularly elegant, and most likely come off even a bit vulgar. Despite the clichés, lots of Italians usually wear comfortable clothes that are not very exclusive. Of course, you will notice that even when dressing down Italians are very elegant and stylish. You can also borrow some outfit ideas from them to look more like a local.
Research Local Events
Each area and region of Italy will have its special events throughout the year that celebrate special historical battles, turning points in the country's development, famous birthdays, etc. There are usually parades in the street during these events, people in costumes, fireworks, marching bands, and tables set up outside for families and locals to come together.
If you know that one or more of these events are going to take place while you’re there, then you’ll have the chance to get involved and understand what is happening. Be sure to research any important dates and follow the rules and customs of whatever events you might witness.
If you’re finding the information during your stay, don’t forget to use a VPN to keep your personal data secure while doing your research. Installing a VPN app to your phone before you travel is the simplest and most convenient way to ensure you are always protected whenever you use public Wi-Fi while in Italy.
Northern Italians call their afternoon break a "riposo". In southern Italy, it is known as a "pennichella" or "pisolino". So, many shops, museums, and other businesses close in the early afternoon, allowing the owners to eat and sometimes to nap during the day’s hottest hours. Foreigners often complain about that but try to enjoy this lifestyle. Midday napping can even be good for your health. It's not strange that the short midday sleep has been referred to as a "power nap" in some countries.
Carry Cash in Small Bills
Souvenir shops and local cafes tend to prefer to be paid in cash. Trying to use a credit card on a purchase of just a few euros might not even be accepted or, at the very least, will be discouraged. When paying with cash, don’t use large bills either. Wanting to use a 50 euro note to pay for your 2 euro I Love Italy mug will likely upset the shop owner.
This one may seem obvious, yet people will still go on holiday to Italy and think it’s funny to imitate Italian accents or ask questions about the Mafia. This type of behavior can be insulting. Avoid thinking in stereotypes, make inappropriate jokes about the culture, and never ask about the Mafia.
Speak with Your Hands
Yes, Italians gesture a lot while talking. It is not just a stereotype. Try to do the same. Invite your hands in the conversation. Feel free to throw some hand gestures - it will make you easier to understand!
Check the Menu Before You Order
Since you’re on holiday, you’ll most probably end up in restaurants and cafes aimed at tourists. These places are on main streets and close to attractions. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the food or service, you should expect to pay more than you would in a small Italian eatery hidden down an alleyway. Make sure you look at the menu carefully before ordering, so you don’t get an unexpected shock when the bills come at the end.
One more thing, if you show up at the restaurant at 5:00 pm, you will look like a tourist. Our suggestion is to not show up at the restaurant earlier than 8:00 pm: anyway, the later, the better, especially the farther south you go. This way, you will look like one with Italian culture.
Being able to fit in with the locals in Italian will give your visit a whole other dimension. You’ll feel the welcoming warmth of the Italians more than ever and have the opportunity to learn so much about this beautiful country and its incredible culture.