What’s in this article
As a native Italian blogger, I thought I’d share some of my insider knowledge on fitting in like a local.
Now we all know Italians have a reputation for being a bit lax when it comes to following rules – whether that’s on the roads or waiting in line.
But there are definitely some unspoken social norms that we take very seriously. And trust me, if you don’t adhere to these standards you’ll stick out like a sore thumb as a tourist!
Most of these norms unsurprisingly have to do with food, dining etiquette, and mealtimes.
So if you want to feel truly Italian and act like a local in Italy on your next trip, pay close attention to these top tips.
You may also want to read this article about “Do’s and Don’ts in Italy.”
How to act like a local in Italy
Don’t mess with Cappuccino
One thing that always causes confusion is the great cappuccino controversy.
Now cappuccino is a delicious way to start the day, but in Italy it’s considered a morning drink only.
You’ll see locals ordering one with breakfast or if they have time to linger over a chat.
However, try ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon and you’ll get some funny looks!
Apparently it has no place later in the day.
The good news is you can get a “caffè macchiato” (espresso with a dash of milk) any time, so don’t feel limited if you’re craving a creamy pick-me-up later.
So in summary – cappuccino for breakfast, macchiato whenever.
Follow that simple rule and you’ll blend right in with the locals.
Getting Your Coffee Fix the Italian Way
When stopping for a quick caffeine hit in Italy, things work a little differently than what you may be used to.
As Italians, we don’t usually drink coffee on the run. If you’re in a hurry, you can have it at the counter for a more authentic experience.
To do so, first place your order and pay at the register, be sure to take your receipt. Then head to the counter, repeat your order to the barista and show your receipt. They will quickly prepare your coffee.
It may seem like extra steps, but it keeps the lines moving smoothly.
More often than not though, our quick coffee breaks in Italy are impromptu stops that follow a chance encounter on the street.
Whether after shopping or lunch in town, it’s normal for us to have one or two of these short coffee breaks each day.
And there’s an unspoken rule around who pays – it’s always the person who extended the invitation.
So don’t even think about battling your friend at the register once the bill comes.
If you weren’t the one who proposed grabbing a coffee, you can’t be the one to pay for it either.
Just accept the coffee and save your cash for next time!
And be sure to learn how to order your regular coffee in Italian too.
For example, if you ask for a “latte,” you’ll just get a glass of milk.
Instead, say “latte e caffè” or “caffè latte” to get that milky coffee we all love.
And if visiting Northern Italy, you have to try a “marocchino.”
It’s an espresso blended with chocolate powder and steamed milk – totally worth it!
Choosing the right drink at meals
When it comes to choosing drinks with Italian meals, it really doesn’t need to be complicated – water, wine or beer will do the trick in most cases.
A nice red wine is always a perfect pairing for meat-centered dishes like Bistecca Fiorentina.
Meanwhile, a crisp white is your best bet for seafood pasta dishes or simply grilled fish.
You’ll also often see us enjoying a chilled beer alongside our pizza.
Reaching for a Moretti or Peroni is really the way we enjoy one of our national dishes.
However, there are some drinks you’re very unlikely to see us ordering with a meal.
Sodas, fruit juices, and hot beverages like coffee, tea or cappuccino just don’t typically accompany food in Italy.
While Americans might drink a Coke with a burger or fries, we Italians stick to water, wine or beer at mealtimes.
If you pull out a can of Sprite at the table, you’ll definitely stand out from the crowd!
The only exception seems to be kids – they’ll often be given an icy Coke or iced tea if they want something other than water to drink.
Don’t share your Pizza
When it comes to pizza, we take our slices very seriously.
There are certain rules about what can and can’t go on a pizza, how it should be cooked, and the proper way to enjoy it.
One thing we’re very strict about is the pizza-to-person ratio.
In Italy, we believe everyone deserves their own whole pizza – sharing just isn’t really done.
So if you want to eat like a local, be sure to order a pizza just for yourself rather than expecting to split one.
Now we’re not completely unwilling to trade slices.
It’s common to swap a piece of your pizza for one from another pizza, as long as the slices are of similar size.
This lets you sample different options without fully committing to a whole pizza.
Just make the trade fair – no one wants the tiny scrap slice while you got a huge piece!
As long as the slices are of equal value, most Italians will gladly trade to expand their tasting experience.
I will say that my husband and I have found a compromise where we’ll often trade half a pizza.
That way we each get to enjoy two different types without over-ordering.
The Pineapple Pizza Debate: Should you order Hawaiian pizza in Italy?
I’ve heard there’s been some debate about ordering pineapple pizza in Italy.
While traditions are important to many Italians, times are also changing.
Here are my thoughts on the topic:
Food is so personal – what one person loves, another may dislike.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong here.
If someone wants to try pineapple on their pizza, more power to them!
And if others prefer keeping things traditional, that’s fine too.
Italy is well known for its regional cuisine and ingredients.
But cuisine has always evolved over time as new flavors are discovered.
Who’s to say pineapple can’t someday become a more widely accepted topping here?
Perhaps the best approach is an open yet respectful one.
If in Italy, I’d avoid demanding pineapple pizza at a small, family-run pizzeria clinging to tradition.
But a larger chain might welcome experimentation.
And no one should yell at others for their topping preferences!
Overall this seems like a lighthearted debate, not a serious issue.
Food brings people together more than it divides them.
As long as we all enjoy what’s on our own plates, does it matter so much what’s on others’?
The best thing may be for all of us pizza lovers to just get along.
The Aperitivo as a way of life
Did you know that in Italy, aperitivo isn’t just for after work like in other places?
We also enjoy it before lunch on a regular basis.
Now usually we associate the pre-lunch aperitivo with weekends, when you have time to savor a Spritz without worrying how it might impact your afternoon performances at work.
But lots of Italians also work it into their weekday routine too.
The concept is that instead of a big sit-down meal, you can make aperitivo your light lunch.
As long as you pick the right spot serving snacks like pizza, focaccia sandwiches, cured meats, cheeses, and of course drinks.
Suddenly that hour set aside for eating becomes a much more civilized, leisurely affair.
You get to relax and socialize with friends or colleagues over some appetizers and an Aperol Spritz.
Much better than wolfing down a sandwich at your desk in a rush, right?
The Italian way of a lunchtime aperitivo – a classy tradition I hope catches on more globally.
It’s the best of both worlds – drinks and nibbles all rolled into one.
Don’t Leave Food in Your Plate
As food lovers, finishing what’s on our plates is a big deal for us.
Leaving food shows you didn’t enjoy the chef’s work, and that’s just not polite!
We’re known for our hospitality and using food to make guests feel welcome.
So when you visit someone’s home here, cleaning your plate is expected – even if it is a challenge after multiple courses.
Portions are generous because who doesn’t love a mound of delicious pasta and sauce?
But man, it’s no easy feat finishing a full Italian spread sometimes, especially after multiple starters plus giant dishes.
Even so, don’t dare leave a single crumb behind!
If your host is a sweet little old lady, well… let’s just say nonne have been known to get feisty with kids who didn’t finish.
You might end up with a playful smack upside the head, just like in the old days!
So tuck in and enjoy – but save a little room to do us all proud at the table.
Don’t Stress About Being Late
When it comes to timekeeping, things are a bit more relaxed in Italy than what Americans are used to.
Showing up about 15 minutes after the agreed-upon meeting time is generally no problem at all.
This little flexibility built in is what we call the “quarto d’ora accademico” or academic quarter hour.
It comes from the old school days when professors would give students 15 minutes to stroll in before starting class.
But these days we apply it to all kinds of plans – waiting an extra quarter hour is considered polite.
Now, some of us are definitely more punctual than others.
But we get that delays happen sometimes, like hitting a bit of traffic or missing your bus. So we give each other a 15-minute grace period to account for little snags.
After that though, look out!
You’ll earn yourself a “cafone” label for being so rudely late.
And we may not even wait around for you if you push it too far.
So show up within the academic quarter hour and you’re golden.
But much later than that and you’ll be on your own, friend – we know how to roll with flexible timing, within reason of course!
Fare Bella Figura
When visiting Italy, you’ll want to put your best foot forward from the start.
We have a saying – fare bella figura – which means making a great first impression. Even if you’re just relaxing on vacation, we place importance on appearance.
So pack some of your nicest casual clothes that will still be comfortable for sightseeing.
Leave the messy buns and lounge wear at home – we really do dress to impress.
We love fashion, so think flattering colors and styles that compliment your features. You don’t need to go full formal, but a little effort to look polished shows respect for our culture.
With la bella figura, you’ll feel confident exploring and meeting new people from the get-go.
Don’t Venture Out With Wet Hair
Something else foreigners often don’t realize about Italian culture is that we rarely venture out with wet hair.
Now I know Americans tend to shower in the morning before starting their day, but Italians are much more likely to clean up at night.
There may be a practical reason for this – our showers tend to be smaller so it’s easier to bathe when you’re not in a rush getting ready for work or school.
But I also think it’s because our grandmothers drilled into us at a young age that going outside with damp locks would make us prone to getting sick!
They claimed the cold air would give us a cold or worse.
Even on sweltering summer days when a shower would feel amazing, you’ll find most Italians waiting until their hair is completely dry before leaving the house. Walking around with wet strands is seen as unhygienic and risky for your health. The only exception is if you’ve just come from a dip in the sea – then any dampness is assumed to be from swimming rather than a lack of proper drying off.
So if you want to blend in during your visit, make sure to take the time to towel dry your hair thoroughly before stepping foot outside.
Clean hair, nicely fitted clothes and cute shoes will have you fitting right in with the locals.
How to act like a local in Italy: In a Nutshell
These tips may have opened a gateway on adapting and understanding Italy as an Italian.
It is a lovely country which is rich in old traditions associated with an easy going lifestyle.
It’s possible for you to enjoy an authentic experience by learning just a few of Italian customs.
Slow down, learn to enjoy life’s little things, and take your time where possible please!
Wander along the little, narrow paths; linger at long-drawn dinners with your buddies or relatives, and do not hesitate to question natives about their preferences if you wish.
Italy is a place where strangers easily become friends over good food and conversation.
With a little guidance from a local, you too can feel like one of the neighborhood!
Ciao and Happy Travels!
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