Being a tourist is one of those things were it has its perks and downsides…let’s be real, some people just don’t like tourists and never will. But, everyone has had their own share of experiences, whether good or bad. When I was a teenager I went on a trip to Quebec City with my family. We went to the shopping mall and I wanted to try on some clothes and see if there were different sizes out back…well, I don’t speak French (which is their primary language), so that led to a lot of hand gestures, frustration and eventually I just gave up and left.
Carrying a DSLR around your neck in a new place does have its perks though, for instances: I was in Philadelphia on a university trip walking downtown with a friend of mine. I had my Canon out taking photos of the skyscrapers, the old architecture and the monuments when I was approached by a woman who asked if I was a tourist, pointing to the “big fancy camera around my neck.” Laughing, I told her yes, I was from out of town. She told me that if I wanted a panoramic view overlooking the entire city to go City Hall before 4 p.m. because they let people up the tower. Sadly, I didn’t make it before City Hall closed, but it was a really nice gesture that I appreciated.
Now, it doesn’t bother me to completely play tourist when I’m in a new place, but others prefer to blend in on vacation. When going to a new place it’s pretty instinctive to research about it first and get to know the basics, such as: language, culture, history and customs. Every place is different, so it’s important to learn about it beforehand.
Italy is very well respected for their culture, which differs from what we’re used to. Not only does Rome have a different language from us, they aren’t on a fast-track like we’re used to. Imagine sitting down to eat at a quaint little Italian restaurant and you devour your meal…now imagine the dirty looks you’ll get from the other locals around you who are taking small bites, eating slowly and appreciating their meal. To make your trip go smoothly, follow these tips and etiquette and you’ll be blending in in Rome in no time.
Ciao! Boungornio and Bounasera
Italian is the official language of Italy and 93 percent of the population are native Italian speakers. Though in bigger cities it won’t be a problem to find someone who speaks English at the hotel. Before you head out on your trip to Rome, start practicing some basic words and phrases in Italian. If you have your trip booked months in advance, start learning the language right away–not only does this get you excited about it, it helps you develop your new language.
- Grazie — Thank you
- Prego — You’re welcome
- Per favore — Yes please
- Mi scusi — Excuse me/Pardon me
- Non parlo molto bene italiano — I don’t speak Italian very well
- Parla inglese? — Do you speak English?
- Quanto costa/costano? –How much does that cost? (sg.pl.)
Tip: First impressions mean everything to Italians. When meeting someone for the first time, don’t greet them with ‘ciao!’….that greeting isn’t used amongst strangers. Shaking hands with a smile is the most appropriate behavior between strangers. Once a relationship develops, air-kissing on both cheeks (starting with the left) is very common.
Do’s and Don’t’s of Table Etiquette
It’s fairly common for tourists to wind up going to the “touristy” places to eat on vacation. Get off the tourist path, be that person who people-watches, and learn where the locals go to eat. That way you’re staying away from tourist-packed restaurants and experiencing something most tourists don’t — all while blending in. Another option is buying local food (if you’re staying at a place that has a kitchenette).
It doesn’t matter whether you’re at an upscale restaurant or having a picnic, Italians take their dining etiquette seriously. If you want to avoid getting dirty looks, glares, and turning waiters into enemies, here are some basic do’s and don’ts that’ll help you fit in on your vacation.
- Do: Pick up cheese with your knife rather than your fingers.
- Don’t: Order coffee with or after a meal; it’s seen as a way to digest your food AFTER you eat.
- Do: Put your napkin on your lap and your hands on the table.
- Don’t: Eat bread before a meal, it’s used to soak up left-over sauces from your meal, not fill you up beforehand.
- Do: Wait till everyone else has their food to begin eating.
- Don’t: Request Parmesan for your pizza or any meal…you don’t want to know what happens…just don’t do it
- Do: Be polite to your waiter, don’t holler across the room to get his/her attention
- Don’t: Ask for tap water at a restaurant. Italians always drink bottled water or sparkling water.
- Do: Ask for the bill. A waiter will not bring it unless it is requested or it’s passed closing hours.
Dress and Sightseeing
Italy is huge on chic, European fashion and they’ll spend a pretty penny on their wardrobe. Observe the locals and what they wear and try and go with that to not stick out like a sore thumb. Women usually tend to wear feminine attire, such as dresses while men wear also be formal with suits, with and without ties (depending on the occasion). The overall trend is elegant, but conservative;old, dirty and ratty clothes are not appreciated.
That goes for being in church as well. There are many churches throughout that have beautiful works of art, but remember it’s a place of worship–you need to dress appropriately. Shorts, tank tops and sleeveless garments are taboo throughout the country, so make sure to bring a sweater to cover up. Also, you can’t bring any food or beverages inside churches, so leave that behind!
Do you dare to shed your tourist aura? Get out of your comfort zone–learn a new language, learn from the locals, it’ll enrich your vacation in a way you never thought possible.
Written by STEPHANIE JELLETT
Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
in conjunction with AAV Travel’s Italy Expert
Stefanie Pichonnat is the Italy Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at email@example.com