Italian Etiquette & Norms
So now that you’ve mastered the language of love (or not), let’s explore some of the cultural norms and taboos of Italy. Here’s how to blend in like a local. (We’re still mastering the art ourselves!)
Make your first impression memorable—and positive!
Intimate Settings: In more personal settings (e.g., a local introduces you to a close friend or relative), expect a warm, intimate embrace like a hug or an Italian cheek kiss! (Yes, guys, this applies to you and the Italian men you’ll meet. But not to worry—no lip contact applies here.) It may seem strange at first, but it’ll become so natural that you’ll bring this friendly embrace back to the States!
The Italian Hug: 🤗 When you’re going in for a hug, go for the left to avoid bruising your monkey-maker. You got this!
The Italian Cheek Kiss: 😘 When you’re going in for a cheek kiss, start to your right and a make a kissing sound, then left, then back to the right again. That’s 3 “muahs”! 🥰
General Settings: The familiar right-handed handshake 🤝 is a very common gesture, particularly among strangers and new acquaintances.
Formal “You”: When meeting someone for the first time, particularly an adult, use the formal version of “you” which is Lei—not tu, which is the informal “you.” Also, use salve instead of "ciao” to say “hello” in more formal setting.
Attire 💃Apricale tends to be a pretty casual setting where people wear comfortable, non-flashy clothing. The person inside is regarded most. And because it's an on-foot community with cobblestone walkways and steps, most people wear durable, flat-soled shoes, and we highly recommend them—even for more "formal" dinners and events.
When to Dress Up: When you think of Italy, images of high-fashion runways, haute couture, and Buccellati jewels may come to mind. But flashy, designer apparel is much more common in the bigger cities like Milan or Monaco. “Dressing up” in Apricale may be comparable to cocktail or dressy casual (e.g., dresses/gowns, button-up shirts, pants, nice shoes). And in Apricale, you may wish to “dress up” for evening dinners, events, church—especially if you’re seeking #FabFortyItaly forgiveness.
When to Dress Casual: Even for evening gatherings and events, you can “dress casual” and be fine in Apricale. You can’t beat being comfortable, especially if it’s a humid day. Apricale gets its fair share of tourists from around the globe, so the locals have seen it all. But be forewarned, there are few fashion faux pas 🚫 to note:
Shorts & Tanks: These items are typically worn if it’s especially hot/humid or if you’re going to the beach. This ain’t SoCal, brah. 🏄
Caps: Most Italians do not wear baseball caps 🧢, but it’s totally fine to wear one. It’ll be quite obvious that you’re an American tourist though—especially if you wear it backwards. So, maybe don’t wear one? You choose, boo.
Sandals & Flip Flops: You can absolutely wear these in casual settings, but you may find these kicks uncomfortable—perhaps even dangerous—on the Apricale cobblestones.
White Socks: You can wear white socks 🧦 if nobody sees them. And if you like to look silly, you can wear them with high-waters or shorts.
White Socks + Sandals: For bonus points, wear white socks with sandals. (JK. Please don’t. Like, ever.)
Most important: Be comfortable. Be you.
In the Home
Did you get invited to a local Apricalesi's home for dinner? Go, you! This is truly a special display of genoristy and kindess. By some acccounts, the Italian dinner may even be considered sacred. Be prepared for a lovely, intimate, filling, and delightfully looong experience. Here are some tips to avoid embarrassment and eviciton:
Shoes: It is customary to wear shoes inside the homes of most Italians, but you’re welcome to ask to be sure. Just don’t go barefoot in the home or your toes may freeze to the stone-based floors. Plus, going barefoot in another’s home is plain weird—unless you just got a fabulous pedicure. At minimum, wear socks or slippers.
What to Bring: A gift, particularly for il padrone della casa, is nice gesture. If the occasion is a dinner, consider bringing a bottle of wine, a side, or a dessert. If you ask in advance what you can bring, they’ll likely tell you not to bring anything. So you’re better off surprising your hosts with your thoughtfulness instead!
At the Table: Let the host serve you or wait until he or she passes the platters around the table. Don’t be surprised if you finish your plate and the hosts loads you up with more unannounced. If you’re unsure about other dining etiquette, just follow the lead of those around you and you’ll look like an Italian charm school grad. When you’re through, think again: you’re almost at the halfway point! While we may find it a kind gesture to help clean up or bus your own plates, resist the urge; a host will find this notion crazy since they invited you over to relax and enjoy. Let the host clear your plate. So set back, enjoy some post-dinner digestivi, and savor every moment con la tua nuova famiglia italiana!
P.S.: These tips totally do not really apply to the #FabFortyItaly parties at Mia's or TJ's. As such, we won’t say no to extra prosecco. 🥂
Dining & Meals
Breakfast: The American saying that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” isn’t quite true here. (This honorary title is reserved for dinner!) Breakfast in Italy is comparably small and is typically on the sweeter side with sweets, pastries, and fruit; maybe a boiled egg. Think of breakfast as a stomach-stretching, warm-up exercise for dinner.
Lunch: Except in the big cities, many retailers will close for about two hours, typically 11:30 - 13:30 (11:30am - 1:30pm). This also tends to be the only time most restaurants are open and serving lunch. See “Restaurant Hours” for more detail.
Dinner in Italy is an experience, not a meal, and it typically commences later, typically around 19:00 or 20:00 (7 or 8 pm). And don’t forget, the food is almost as important as the company! Entree sizes here are rather smaller, but don’t be fooled—there are typically many courses! A typical dinner may start with apperetivo (pre-dinner cocktail with light nibbles like olives) which may then be followed by antipasti (appetizers) like grilled veggies or bruschetta (pronounced brʊsˈketə). Then get ready for the primo piato (first—yes, first plate) which typically features a starch-based pasta or gnocchi; then comes your secondo piato—typically a meat dish. A salad, you say? Well alright then: l’insalata comes after your main courses. Finally, you can wrap it all up with dolci, or dessert. But it doesn’t stop there, my friends. The digestivo—like an espresso or limoncello (sipped, not shot)—comes last to open up your stomach and help with digestion. Buona fortuna!
Restaurant Hours: Be aware. Restaurants don’t always stick to their posted open and closing times. In fact, it’s quite common for a restaurant to close down for a day—or even a month (especially August)—for holiday or just because. Hey, we all need a little R&R, amiright?
The Unspoken Pizza Policy: Mama Mia! The pizza is so good and deliciously simple made with love and all-scratch ingredients like fresh, hand-tossed doughs, in-season organic produce, local meats and small-batch cheeses. Don’t expect to find chicken and many toppings common in the US here. If you’re craving pepperoni, don’t ask for “pepperoni” as you get bell peppers; instead, ask for salchicha piccante. Does your gut long for some roughage? Ask for rocket (arugula). Seeking spice? Read on…
Condiments (e.g., salt, ketchup, hot sauce): It is super uncustomary—maybe even insulting—to request salt. Use caution, my friends! And per l'amore di Dio, please don’t ever ask for ketchup (unless you’re ordering “freedom fries” from an American-style joint). Need a little 🌶️spice🌶️ in your life? Ask for red chili flakes (peperoncino in pezzi) or chili-marinated olive oil (l’olio di peperoncino) which is AMAZING—not Tabasco or Cholula.
Bread: If bread is served, it typically comes with dinner, not before, and it is meant to be enjoyed as is. It’s not totally weird to request olive oil, but—surprisingly—balsamic vinegar is. Craving garlic bread? Sorry, that’s a USA thang.
Beverages with Dinner: Beer and wine (oooh la la!) are the staple beverage of Italian dinner, not soda/pop/coke. Cocktails and spritzers are more common during apperetivo or after, but not as common as gold-ol’ beer and wine! And regarding water…
Water Service: Sometimes tap water is served in a carafe and is likely from the tap. Tap water in the Apricale is among the purest and safest to drink in the world. But if a restaurant doesn’t proactively serve this, you’ll need to order and pay for it. You’ll likely be asked whether you’d like still water (“l’acqua naturale”) or sparkling mineral water (“l'acqua frizzante”) served in a sealed bottle. Just don’t specifically ask for “tap” water.
Ice is not too common and some restaurants may not even have it as it is widely believed that ice-cold beverages impede the digestion process. Where available, it is most common in cocktails which are typically consumed before or after dinner.
Coffee: ☕ When you request “un caffè,” you’ll get a delicious, high-concentrated espresso made from the condensation of steamed coffee beans. (Italians take their coffee very seriously and it shows—sono magnifici!) Espressos are usually served with a side of sugar and are consumed at the coffee shop or restaurant, not on-the-go. American-style drip coffee is very rare in Italy, so the closest would be an (affectionately named) Americano. Cappuccinos are served only before 11:00 or noon and your server will scoff if you order one after noon. Oh, and if you order a “latte,” you’ll get a cup of hot milk 🍼💨 so be sure to ask for a “caffè latte”—just ask TJ. 🤣
Cheersies! 🍻 Just like in the States, it’s common courtesy to wait until each person at the table or bar has his or her drinks and and meal before initiating a toast or cheers. And just as we should in the States, look your tablemates in the peepers 👀; don’t fixate on savoring the delicious chianti—that comes next. Moreover, it’s even considered bad luck to cheers with water, but you can be the judge here. No pressure! And if you’re using plastic, don’t let the plastic cups touch while cheersing; it’s such a depressing noise. Saluti i miei amici!
Waiter Service: Restaurant servers are less proactive in servicing their patrons; so if you want service or have a question, you’ll need to summon their attention politely. Make eye contact and raise your hand, or give your Italian skills a shot!
Check: In a sit-down restaurant (which the vast majority are), a server will not bring you your check until you request it. In Italy, servers are not in the business of flipping tables. To request your bill, you can say, “Il conto, per favore.” or “Scusa, posso avere il conto, per favore?”
Tipping: Tipping is not as ubiquitous in Italy as in North America. Relatively speaking, server wages and social welfare are better here. However, you are welcome to leave a tip if you’re very pleased with your service. They may insist you not, but this is their way of showing modesty, so go ahead and leave one if it’s warranted. 💶 A typical amount for a good/great service is 5-10%.
Grocery shopping for some Italians is a prideful daily ritual. This is partly why many Italian kitchens, refrigerators, and pantries are smaller—that and Italians are not at all keen on foods laced with perservatives. How can you beat fresh-baked, homemade bread? Didn't think so.
Shopping Carts: Handcarts, pull-carts, and pushcarts are available to use at larger grocery stores. Some grocers may require a deposit for a pushcart which may seem a bit odd. But this is their way to ensure carts aren’t abandoned in parking lots. Genius! Don’t fret, you’ll get your coins back.
Produce: The fruits and veggies here are exquisite, picked at their prime, many organic and free of GMOs and pesticides. But don’t let this excitement overcome you at the grocery story or un’ anaziana may yell at you if she sees you caressing those sweet, plump pomodori 🍅 with your bare hands. Vergogna! Use the disposable plastic bags provided. Also, most grocery stores require you to place each produce type into its own bag and mark down the PLU code or weigh and print the price sticker. The produce is precious here!
Selection & Specialty Stores: Most grocery stores are much smaller than those in the US offering one or just a few varieties of any given product type. Seeking a Walmart-style one-stop-shop to pick up your hot-dog-flavored potato chips, two Snuggies, a gnome for your garden, and antacids, sorry; non esiste qui. You’ll need to stop at a few specialty stores. (Good lock with the hot-dog-flavored potato chips, though.)
Don’t mind the way Italians drive. This is their "normal."
Oh, and in case you were wondering, they drive on the right (AKA correct 😉) side of the road too. Well, usually.
(The Dreaded) Roundabout: Be confident. Be courteous. Annnd GO! That’s all.
Blinkers: God bless them, Italians are very blinker-happy drivers. World peace would be solved if we all used our blinkers like the Italians.
Passing on Two-Lane Streets: Italian drivers may seem suicidal when they’re coming at you head-on 🚘 or when a Vespa overtakes you around a blind corner. 🛵 Not to worry. They’ll zig back into their lane just in time for you to exclaim “mamma mia!”
On the Freeway (Motorway): Just like in the states (ah hem!): The. Right. Lane. Is. The. Slow. Lane. If you’re not passing, you’re in the slow lane. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Meep meep!
Honking: Don’t. Unless some idiot is going slow in the fast lane, then by all means… 🕬 Unlike in the US, Italians don’t extend a “courtesy honk” to politely let another driver know they made an honest mistake. 😡
Parallel Parking: Bumpers live up to their name in Italy. Drivers will certainly do a “bumper check” to get cozy with other parked cars.
Double Parking: They’re experts at double-parking—even backwards—in the middle of the street. Totally normal.
Paid Parking: Sometimes you’ll need to hoof it a block or two to find the kiosk for paid parking zones in downtown Ventimiglia or other larger towns. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one that works. Otherwise, hoof it another two blocks. Once you get your ticket, hoof it back to your car and place your ticket in the window. (Be sure to account for hoofing time.)
Appointments: Some Italians don’t stick to appointments necessarily, so don’t be surprised if you’re not seated till 7:30 for your 7:00 reservation.