Are you planning your trip to Italy?
It’s almost summer. If you are lucky you are ready to pack your bags and jump on a flight to lovely Italia. Maybe you have been dreaming about it for a while and your dream is finally coming true.
Well, it will be a trip of a lifetime, trust me! Italy can change your life – as many people say. You’ll see amazing monuments, enjoy la bella vita and do some people watching while sitting at a bar with a glass of wine, You’ll be immersed in history for all your trip and taste awesome food as well. Who could ask for more?
But a trip abroad is not only made of dreamy moments and easy life. There are some practical things you need to figure out if you want to make your trip run smoothly and hassle-free. Or simply some things you need to know to avoid feeling uno straniero (a foreigner) or to end up eating the wrong thing – just like me when I ordered pepperoni pizza the first time I was in New York thinking that it was a vegetarian dish.
So I believe that there are some general things it may be useful to know before coming to Italy. Nothing vital, just some very easy things which will give you a deeper knowledge of the way this crazy country works.
1.Tipping is not mandatory
Yes, you got it right. You do not have to tip anyone in Italy. Your bill will always be final and no one will expect a tip from you. Well, given the fact that you are a foreign tourist, waiters may actually expect it, but keep in mind that it is not needed. Never. Some people may even consider it mildly offensive.
2. Cash is king
Do you pay your coffee at Starbucks or a salad at a grocery store with your credit card? Forget about it in Italy. Small expenses, especially in bars and grocery stores, will always be cash-only. It would be great if you had small change as well, as paying a coffee with 20 Euro bill may cause you being frowned upon.
You won’t have problems in most restaurants or big chain stores if you want to pay with your Visa, but keep in mind that some restaurants are cash-only as well. If you absolutely want to pay with a credit card, always check the stickers on the door before entering a place and you’ll be safe.
3. Don’t forget your receipt
Speaking of restaurants, bars and stores in general, always keep lo scontrino (the receipt) they give you after paying. You may get a fine for not having such scontrino, if tax police stop you after leaving the shop.
4. Always validate your ticket
If you travel around Italy, you’ll surely end up using trains and buses. Tickets are rarely sold on board (only in very few cases) and must usually be purchased in advance. Before getting on the train, look for green and white machines and validate your ticket. You’ll end up getting a fine if you fail to do so. If you use the bus, validate the ticket directly on the bus itself.
5. Be patient when using public transport
Regarding trains and public transport, it may happen that trains or buses are late. It doesn’t happen that often, even if Italians never stop complaining about that, but keep in mind that it may happen. Be careful especially if you have to book trains and have very tight connections.
6. Shops and restaurants have strict closing hours
This may not apply to big cities and tourist places, but usually shops and restaurants have very strict closing hours. Shops are usually open from 8.30 to 12.30 in the morning and from 3.30 to 7.30 in the afternoon – it will be almost impossible to find shops open in the evening in small towns. Restaurants usually open from 12.30 to 2.30 for lunch and then from 7.30 to 10.30 for dinner service.
7. You can’t bring home leftovers
Doggie bags are not so common in Italy. Things may be different in big cities and tourist places, but it is quite rare to ask the waiter to pack your leftovers in small town restaurants. This is probably either because servings are not as huge as in the USA, for example, and people usually eat all that’s being served or because people do not want to be considered cheap if they bring food home.
8. Be careful when you shop for groceries
There are a few things you need to know: if you shop at open-air markets, you can’t touch food and you must wait to be served. If you buy vegetables in big grocery stores, you have to wear plastic gloves to choose your food. Nobody will put your stuff in the bag, you have to do it yourself. And pay for the plastic bag as well.
9. Restrooms are for customers only
Entering a bar just to go to the restroom is considered quite rude. Better if you buy a bottle of water or a coffee and then ask the waiter “dov’è il bagno?” (where is the restroom?).
10. Frappuccino does not exist
I know, I am sorry.