If you’re visiting the land of la dolce vita and want to make a good impression on your first visit, here are a few tips on what not to do in Italy.
What not to do when visiting Italy
1. Order a cappuccino after 11 am
Aside from walking into a bar, grasping the waiter by both cheeks, and shouting ‘I am a massive tourist’ in their face, this is the easiest way to tell everyone you’re not from Italy – and will never understand Italy. Cappucino is a breakfast drink, enjoyed exclusively between the early hours and 11:00am. It isn’t served in a huge mug that you can nurse over the best part of an hour while you make the most of the WiFi either, it’s served in a small cup and made with espresso, milk foam and steamed milk.
Stick to drinking your cappuccinos at breakfast and never ask for one after a meal. Ask for a caffe, which is really an espresso, instead.
2. Sprinkle Parmigiano on your seafood pasta
AKA, the cardinal sin. If you’re tucking into a steaming bowl of tagliatelle al ragu or a trofie al pesto, heap the cheese on to your heart’s content. But prepare to feel the full wrath of an Italian waiter if you ask for cheese on your vongole. No one really knows why it’s such a no-no. Some say it’s because seafood is delicate and cheese is strong, so you risk overpowering the flavour of the seafood. But then that doesn’t really explain why you can’t use mozzarella or ricotta. Others say it’s because cheese-making areas in Italy are usually inland, so the two would never be paired together geographically. Whatever the reason, if you’re looking to make friends in Italy, never suggest pimping up your prawns with parmesan.
3. Forget to validate your train ticket
Most people learn this the hard way because the ticket machines aren’t very obvious. Regional train tickets in Italy don’t tend to have dates or times on them, which means if you were really lucky and never bumped into a train officer, you could use the same ticket again and again. Most people will bump into a train officer at some point though, and you can guarantee that it will be when you’ve forgotten to validate the ticket. To avoid getting stung, look for the yellow or green machines usually located on the platform and stamp your ticket before boarding the train.
4. Use a spoon to eat your spaghetti
Tables in Italy are generally set with a knife, fork and spoon, but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to use them all. Just twirl the spaghetti around your fork and bring your face closer to the plate Lady and the Tramp style if you must. You can, however, use a spoon to eat pasta in broth or soups. Italians aren’t totally unreasonable.
And while we’re on the subject of spaghetti, don’t break it up into pieces to fit it into your pot if you’re cooking it. Linguine and spaghetti is designed to be long and thin for a reason, otherwise, they would’ve made it shorter. Simply swirl the pasta into the boiling water to soften it first.
5. Hand out huge tips
Unlike the United States, tipping isn’t expected in Italy, it’s an extra. Sometimes tipping is included in the bill for larger groups, listed as servizio incluso. Note, this is different to coperto, which is a cover charge to offset the price of oil, salt and bread. As a rule of thumb, tip one euro per person, or leave around 10% for dinner at a more formal establishment. That said, if you’ve enjoyed sparkling service, feel free to leave a bigger tip.
Outside of restaurants, tipping your tour guide or porter is commonplace but it’s not customary to tip taxi drivers.
6. Touch everything you see
Shopping in Italy is a heady experience, whether it’s a weekday market or clothes store. While it can be tempting to touch everything you see, it’s widely frowned upon. If you’re in a clothes store, it’s polite to get the store assistant to handle the wares, unless you can’t find them. And if you’re buying fruit and vegetables, try and refrain from squeezing and sniffing them all – it’s insulting. The vendors will usually make an effort to display prime fruit and vegetables, so there’s no need to sift through them all on the lookout for the best. Sometimes stall owners will even provide plastic gloves for you to handle the produce. If not, there’s usually a plastic bag close by for you to slip your hand into.
7. Forget to cover your shoulders and knees in a church
This one is pretty standard in most countries, but you’d be surprised by how many people book a ticket for the Duomo, only to discover they can’t get in wearing a tank top – even if it is blistering heat. Remember to keep your shoulders covered and wear skirts or shorts that fall below the knee. Some of the larger establishments will offer ponchos and covers for a small fee if you’ve forgotten.