The time has come: you’re finally on your way to Italy. You’ve been dreaming of your trip for months, planning it for years, and you step off the plane with a mix of excitement and trepidation about what lies ahead.
Will the language barrier be a problem? How can I absorb the most Italian culture without standing out as a tourist? How do you avoid getting taken advantage of?
While we can’t help you learn Italian, we can help you avoid the classic pitfalls of tourists in Italy. From what shoes you shouldn’t wear to when you should (and shouldn’t) bag the fruit, here are the top tips of what not to do when traveling in Italy.
Flip Flops Are A No-Go
Outside of the beach or pool areas, Italians do not wear flip-flops. Sure, on a hot day, someone might have on a super stylish Gucci slide, but walking down the street sporting flip flops will cement your tourist status. So, what can you do during the scorching summer months? Follow the Italian culture of fashion and wear cute sandals or light sneakers like Stan Smiths.
Put Down (Or At Least Hide) The Selfie Stick
We know it’s useful when traveling solo so you can put the best possibile photo on Instagram, but after you’re done taking a photo, put the selfie stick away. Not only is it illegal in Milan (!) but pretty much nothing screams tourist more than one of these guys tied to the outside of your bag or backpack.
Speaking Of, Leave Your Backpack In Your Hotel
This is one of the things falling under what not to do in Italy that we can’t stress enough. Not only will you have to leave it at bag check at all highly trafficked spots from museums to some stores, but it makes you a super easy target for pickpockets. Also, aside from students going to class, walking around with a backpack in Italy (aside from stylish, leather or name brand ones, of course) is considered a fashion no-no.
Giving Money To Panhandlers
The Romani (aka Roma) population (derogatorily called “gypsies”) are a majorly persecuted population across Europe and Italy is no exception. There are a lot of politics behind the why and we won't get into it all here.
What doesn't help matters? A fraction of that population are involved in petty crimes like pickpocketing, stealing, and panhandling. Romani or not, what you should know is that most panhandlers in Italy have a social safety net they can fall back on. Instead save the coins for the church offering boxes or at charity events where the money is used more effectively.
Not Properly Handling Your Produce
We’d be lying if we didn’t say one of the main reasons we wanted to experience Italian culture was through the food. As food lovers, we love checking out local markets, so, in Italy we head to the local grocery story to peep all the pastas, snacks, and produce. We highly recommend you do the same and make time for a grocery store visit since it’s a great way to delve a little deeper into the culture.
However, there are two things you need to know before you go. In the produce section 1. You must wear gloves to handle the fruits and veggies (or suffer the wrath of Italians) and 2. You must bag and weigh your items. There is a scale provided and each produce has a number, so even if you don’t know the name in Italian you can easily identify it. Don’t forget this step, if you go straight to the cash register they will send you right back to the end of the line.
But Don’t Touch The Produce At The Open Air Market
Ok, we swear we are not trying to be confusing but the exact opposite rules applies if you are buying produce at an open-air market and not at a grocery store. Any time you’re at a market where there are vendors manning individual stands, it is expected that you don’t handle the produce at all. Instead, let the vendor select the produce for you and weigh and bag it. It’s not only out of respect for the vendor but also so the produce isn’t mishandled. So don’t make the mistake of walking up to a market stand and grabbing a handful otherwise the vendor will likely yell at you!
Getting Drunk In Public
One of the great things about Italy, no open container laws! You can absolutely pop open that wine, sit down in the park or on a bench and enjoy a glass with the best view around. However, while drinking in public is okay, public drunkenness is not. So, keep it to a glass or two, or risk getting a ticket from the police. Feel free to enjoy the ambiance that Italian culture has to offer, but we’re going to add tickets as a high priority on our list of what not to do in Italy.
Not Using The Euro Coins
We know, as Americans, we are not used to having coins with a value over .99 cents. However, the euro has both 1 euro and 2 euro coins. Tourists often forget to use them and instead break out big 50 euro bills (which come out of the ATM) for something a 1 euro water. Get in the habit of checking the coin pouch of your wallet first, before asking vendors to break big bills.
Asking For Ice
Alcoholic mixed drinks (Spritz anyone?) aside, Italian’s don’t do ice in their drinks. If you ask for it, they will likely provide it (although some places might not even have it at all!) but it will come with the knowledge that you’re not adapting to their cultural norms. The reason for no ice is way more varied and complex than it should be. So we’ll give you the simplest explanation, which is that Italians believe ice cold beverages hinder digestion.
One easy way to avoid unwanted attention (street vendors, pickpockets etc) is to lower your voice. Americans especially have a reputation of being super loud so make it a habit to speak a little softer in Italy. It will go a long way to help you do right by the locals and to avoid standing out.
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Opening photo by John Jason