1. Italians eat late and meal times are fixed. Times vary regionally so check with the restaurant beforehand. One of my favourite Italian traditions is the “aperitivo” where one meets friends for a light drink (usually a spritzer or glass of wine) and nibbles before (or sometimes instead of) dinner.
2. Shops close mid-day, often for 2-4 hours. This is a good time to have a long lunch, eat a gelato, wander small streets, visit churches or take a nap.
3. Italian churches have some of the best art and architecture in the world and are worth a visit even if you are not religious. Different churches have different rules regarding photography so check the signs. Keep your shoulders, middle and legs above the knees covered in church. Carrying a scarf for impromptu cover ups is always a good idea.
4. Piazzas are a great place for an aperitivo while people watching (although often the bars lining these squares are more expensive).
5. Summer in Italy is best for the countryside and the beaches. In August (peaking around the 15th – ferragosto) many shops and restaurants in the cities are closed as everyone is at the seaside (and if they are not they may be in a mood about it).
6. Pizzerias often only serve pizza at night, when it is cooler. If you want pizza for lunch, ring in advance to make sure they are serving pizza.
7. Bread is not served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar in authentic Italian restaurants in Italy. If they do serve this, it is a sign that the restaurant is a tourist destination.
8. Take your time. Don’t schedule too much as the best part of Italy is seeing where the day takes you. If you try to schedule too much you will only be focused on getting around and how quickly things are done. These are not strong points in Italy.
9. Kissing hello is a form of greeting in Italy for friends and family. You start with their right cheek first. Generally speaking, being friendly and trying to speak some Italian will be rewarded.
10. While coffee (espresso) is enjoyed all day long and into the evening in Italy, Italians frown on milk-based coffee drinks such as cappuccino and latte after the morning hours. There is an exception to this however, affogato (a shot of espresso poured over ice cream), can be enjoyed in the evenings without the slightest raise of an eyebrow.
11. Ancient hilltop towns are difficult to get in and out of, which was rather the point when they were built. The best are towns with escalators like Perugia and Fermo. Factor this in when planning to visit a hilltop town as you may have a journey to get in and out (particularly if you are handicapped or have small children)
For more specific information on Italian etiquette, see here.
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Here is a recipe for my favourite summer spritzer:
150 mls prosecco
100 mls Aperol
splash of soda water
Mix together and serve in a wine glass.
Optionally you can add a slice of orange.