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How To Avoid Sticking Out Like a Tourist in Italy

It’s not difficult to differentiate between locals and tourists on vacation. We’ve all seen the stereotypical sightseer—the large camera hanging around their necks, maps of the local area open wide in front of their faces, and perhaps nowadays even a selfie-stick. To help you blend in, we’re breaking down 6 things you should know for your next trip to Italy.

No Cappuccino After 11:00AM

By far, this goes down as the number one rule in the Italian handbook. It makes them cringe - literally. Think twice before strolling over to the nearest café and ordering a cappuccino as the clock strikes noon because you will most definitely stand out like an American who isn’t in ‘the know.’ Take our advice and try a shot of espresso… or on the hotter days, a crema di caffé or “coffee cream”. Italy offers so many delicious types of Italian coffee—and cafés or bars typically serve their preferred brand—so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Cheese And Seafood Do Not Mix

While many pasta dishes call for cheese as an ingredient or welcome you to sprinkle over top ‘til your heart’s content, it is highly frowned upon to add cheese to any dish which includes seafood. Even if you love the combo of flavors, try not to let yourself be seen sprinkling some Parmigiano onto your food from the sea. It’s a flat-out “what not to do” rule in Italy. Chefs take great care to select the variety of ingredients in their carefully prepared delicacies, so it’d bode well to enjoy each one in the very way it arrives at your table. When it comes to a carbonara or cacio e pepe, that is the perfect time to indulge in some formaggio.

Don’t Out Think The Room

It’s quite a simple notion to follow, really. Red wine goes best with meat and white wine goes well with seafood. This isn’t necessarily an Italy-only thing but is commonly suggested in most places around the world. The notes in red wines pair best with red meats and red sauces, and similarly the notes in white wines pair best with fish, chicken, or a white sauce. It all comes down to how the flavors in your meal and your beverage best complement each other. This isn’t the worst rule to break when abroad, but just a tip to tuck away in the back of your cap.

Embrace the Culture and Customs

This is less of a decree to adhere to, and more of a fun ritual to partake in. And you know what they say… “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” Italians believe in a before-dinner drink, un aperitivo, and an after-dinner drink, un digestivo. The aperitivo is said to help open one's appetite, or stomach, readying it for what’s to come, and alternatively, the digestivo is intended to close the appetite or help you better digest your food. Widely enjoyed aperitivi are the Aperol Spritz and Negroni, and popular digestivi are amari or bitter liqueurs. Although many would argue the steadfast truth behind both, look at each as an excuse to extend the dinner hour and mingle with those in your midst a bit before the food arrives and long after it has been consumed.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Italians value respect, especially from foreigners visiting their country. In the Italian language, there are proper ways to address the different people you meet and talk with, and store owners, waiters, and natives alike should generally be spoken to using the ‘Lei form,’ or in other words, a formal greeting. An example of this would be “Buongiorno, vorrei un caffè per favore.” This is the equivalent of saying “Good morning, I would like a coffee please.” Depending on how the person you’re speaking with responds, you’ll know if you should continue with the formalities, or loosen up the reins and chat more informally, such as “Come va?” or “What’s up?” A little respect goes a long way, and the locals will really appreciate your effort in showing them these things matter to you too.

Speak Italian!

It’s always useful to learn some basic phrases in the local language to help you get by. “How much does this cost?” “Where is the train station?” “What time is it?” This may seem like the most obvious suggestion on our list, but it’s essential to helping make your experience in Italy a bit easier. With some phrases in your back pocket, you will be able to communicate with Italians, and likewise may be able to find your way around much easier. Buy yourself an Italian basics book or travel guide, and check inside for phrases and words you need to know before traveling to Italy.

Sarah Talarico

Sarah Talarico is a writer at heart, with a deep passion for all things Italian. Much of her writing inspiration comes from her Italian American roots that trace back to her father’s beloved hometown in Calabria. Southern Italy holds a special place in her heart, right next to homemade sauce and cappuccini. Sarah has a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and English and a desire to use her writing skills to share the timeless charm of Italy and that ‘dolce far niente’ feeling. In her downtime, she finds joy in filling the plates and seats at her dining room table.