Millions of tourists visit the boot-shaped peninsula every year! They travel from all over the world to immerse themselves in the magic that only Italy can offer.
“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” – Anna Akhmatova
Italians are very kind and patient (driving aside). They are the sentinels of some of ancient history’s most valued treasures. Italians are used to sharing these treasures with the rest of the world. My Italian friend, Maury, and I thought we would share a few things you might want to know before you visit Italy.
1. Dinner is later. Depending on where in the country you are, dinner times vary. Usually, there is a difference in dinner times between Northern Italy and Southern Italy. It also depends if you are in a touristy area or not. In the north, you may start dining from around 7 to 9p. In the center and south, you start a little later, probably closer to 8 or 8:30p, to as late as 10:00. In the most touristy places, you may be able to find something to eat all day long, late into the evening. In busy areas, the tourist season sets the hours. On weekends, reservations are usually required, especially in fancy restaurants. While there is not a dress code, it is important to dress properly for the restaurant, especially for the high-end restaurants.
2. Coperto e servizio. Coperto is the amount charged, per person, to sit down at a table. Servizio is an additional fee for the service. It’s not a ploy to take advantage of tourists, and servizio is not the same thing as a tip. Tipping in Italy is not required, as servers are usually well paid. A tip may be given if the service is very good, or the waiter is especially nice, but it is not mandatory and is never more than 5-10 percent of the check. When the bill is low often people will let a server “tenga i resto” (keep the change).
3. Aperitivo. In Milan, Turin, and Genoa, you may find an aperitivo. This is where you buy a drink and then help yourself to a free, all-you-can-eat appetizer buffet. The drink may be expensive, but the food is free. In Venice and Venetia, there is a slightly different spin. You pay for the drink and any appetizers you take at a fairly low cost.
4. Bread isn’t served with oil and balsamic vinegar. Unless the restaurant caters to Americans, bread is not usually served with pasta. It’s only used to “fare la scarpetta” (make a little shoe), to mop up the sauce. Basically, bread is provided to accompany an appetizer.
5. Ask for the Check. The check 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. Servers won’t rush you. When you have finished and ready to leave, ask for the bill, “il conto.”
6. Simplify Your Schedule. Make time to wander the old crooked streets. Just a few steps off the beaten path, day-to-day Italian life is unfolding. Leave the crowds. Take time to listen to buskers. Stop for a gelato, coffee, or have a traditional meal with the locals. Slow down. There is so much to see, but you’ll miss so much if you are trying to cram it into a couple of days. There is a plethora of culture, art, vineyards, food, and museums and you won’t be able to get to it all. Take time to appreciate the little things and let it soak in.
7. Taxis. You cannot hail a cab on a street in Italy. Call for a taxi or head to the taxi stand. You can’t just hail a cab like we do in America.
8. Make an effort to speak Italian. Learning a few words and common phrases will enhance your experience. Rather than speaking immediately in English, and assuming you will be understood, it’s polite to ask, “Parla l’Inglese?” It is easier to find people speaking English in Venice, Rome, Milan, Florence, Cinque Terre and the other touristy places.
9. Take the train. The Italian territory is connected by a network of trains. You can find regional trains that stop everywhere to high-speed bullet trains. Whether you buy your tickets online or at the automatic machines, often you can find great offers, especially during off-peak season. It’s a great way to see the country without having to navigate the crazy drivers.
10. Football (not American Football) is the national sport. It is called “calcio” and it’s one of those things that brings the country together. You can find a game almost every day. If you have never experienced a soccer game in Italy, it’s worth the price of admission!
If you are Italian, what else do you wish Americans would know before visiting your country? If you have visited Italy, what do you wish you had known before going? Share with us in the comments below.