Will you be departing soon for your first holiday in Italy? The Italian culture is different than ours in the UK—and that’s part of what makes a trip there so fascinating, but it can sometimes leave us a bit confused (the case in any foreign country, really!) These are some common mistakes that tourists often make during their first visit to Italy—read on so you don’t make these mistakes yourself!
Not taking your style cues from the locals
Enduring a walking tour of Venice in high heels or a well-tailored blazer during July is not an ideal way to experience Italy—but when you’re in one of the world’s most fashionable destinations, I recommend leaving the following articles of clothing at home:
• Flip flops. Italians typically only wear these at the beach, so ladies should go with dressy sandals or ballet shoes and for gents I recommend boat shoes.
• Tracksuit tops/bottoms. Just don’t! Italy is the land of leather and great-fitting jeans—gym clothes should only be worn for exercising or to bed.
• Backpacks. Carrying a backpack will make it fairly evident that you’re a tourist, and may even attract pickpockets. Use an over-the-shoulder or messenger bag instead.
Ordering a cappuccino after 11am… and sitting at a table with it
While they are accustomed to a more languid lifestyle, Italians typically drink their coffee standing at the bar. It is fine if you’d like to people watch while sipping your caffé but just be aware that you’ll pay more to sit down at a tavolo. You may also get some strange looks if you order a cappuccino after 11am, as that’s not the norm—milk is only meant to be consumed with breakfast.
Italians, like many other Europeans, are not huge on tipping. Wage structures in Italy are different to that of the UK and those that work in the service industry don’t rely on tips. Tourists often tip too much in situations where a tip may not be expected at all. Read our guide to tipping in Italy to learn when to tip and when not to.
Hiding behind your camera lens
I can certainly appreciate how beautiful Italy is and that you’d love to capture every bit of it on your camera in order to show your friends and family back at home. But if you’ve seen more of a destination through your camera lens than through your own eyes, you’ll never fully appreciate it. So put your camera down for a bit and soak up everything that Italy has to offer for yourself.
Eating your pizza and pasta incorrectly
Italians eat their meals differently than we do. Pasta should never be cut or twirled with a spoon, and pizza is eaten with a knife and fork. And never ask for additional cheese or sauce—it’s a culinary sin in Italy!
Relying on your map too much
Part of the fun of visiting a county such as Italy is that you can usually let yourself get lost without ever being too far from something brilliant. Don’t worry too much about where you’re going and enjoy discovering areas off the beaten track. Using your map as little as possible also helps you stand out less to pickpockets.
Forgetting to put your gloves on
My first time food shopping in Italy, I learned (the hard way), that picking produce requires the use of plastic gloves or you’ll receive some strange looks. If you find yourself buying some fruit or veggies during your holiday in Italy, check to see if there are any plastic gloves around, and if there are, use them.
Italians are known for their laid-back, relaxed way of life. But this attitude can sometimes frustrate visitors, especially when it involves missed buses, closed shops, or long waits for meals. Instead of getting impatient, remember that it’s this same attitude that can make your holiday that much better. Enjoy the fact that you can take as long as you’d like to sip your wine once dinner is done and appreciate the cultural differences.
Forgetting to validate your train or bus ticket
This mistake could cost you €50! When taking the train or bus, be sure to validate your ticket. If you don’t, and a conductor comes to check that you’ve validated yours, you’ll incur a €50 fine, payable only in cash. Learn more about train travel and validating your ticket in our Italy train guide.
Assuming credit cards are accepted everywhere
Quite a few establishments in Italy are still operating with traditional tills and have no way of accepting credit or debit cards. Be sure to carry cash with you at all times to avoid being stuck. If you plan on doing something that will end up costing more than the amount of cash you feel comfortable carrying (a romantic dinner perhaps), call up beforehand to see what’s accepted.
Only eating pizza and pasta
Italy is obviously famous for its pizza and pasta dishes, and don’t get me wrong, some of the best pizza and pasta I’ve ever had were in Italy. But the country’s cuisine is so much more than that- trying regional and local specialties is when you’ll get to taste the real Italy. So when in Florence, opt for the Bistecca Fiorentina (Florentine Steak), try Tagliatelle al Ragu when in Bologna (or any of these other regional dishes) and be sure to ask any locals you meet which local dishes they recommend that you try.
Complaining about having to pay for water
We may be used to having unlimited amounts of water available to us when dining out at home, but that’s not what you’ll find in Italy. If you’d like water with your meal, you’ll need to pay for a bottle of it—and it won’t come with ice. So why not skip the water and just go with the wine instead? You’ll fit right in with the locals!
What mistakes did you make when visiting Italy for the first time? Do you have any questions about Italian culture before your trip? Let us know in the comments.