Traveling to Italy and not looking like a tourist can be quite tricky. Most people will notice that you aren’t from the place only for small details. And things that are normal in your country can make you seem weird.
However, there are still a few things you can do to blend in with locals. It is not a secret that tourists always make embarrassing mistakes. So, I’m here to give you 27 rules for visiting in Italy and go unnoticed.
Table of Contents
1. Greet Locals Appropriately
It is critical to know what to do when you are greeting people in Italy. You could experience a very awkward moment if you fail to do so. Usually, tourists choose the wrong words and gestures to present themselves. Here are some rules to help you greet people in Italy correctly:
- Don’t say “Ciao” to everyone: You should avoid saying Ciao to people you don’t have a deep connection with. Instead, it is best to say “Buongiorno” (from 5:00 AM to 1:00 PM), “Buonasera” or just “Sera” (from 1:00 PM), and “Salve!” (generic). When you leave someone, you could say “Arrivederci,” or “Buona Giornata/Serata.”
- Know when to kiss: Only kiss people who you already know. Most Italians give two kisses, starting from the left cheek to the right. In the south and east of the country, it may be the other way around. Just touch the cheek of the other person with yours and kiss the air.
- Give a handshake if necessary: If you don’t feel comfortable with a person, it is fine to give a handshake. You should make a smile and have direct eye contact. Also, you could say something like “Piacere” if someone presents you with a person.
- Address seniors and strangers formally: Don’t tell “Tu” to a stranger in an interaction. In this case, it is better to say “Lei,” when you are just meeting someone. As for older people, you should always use Lei, Signora, or Signore.
- Identify where you have to greet: It is proper that you greet people when you enter or leave places such as stores and restaurants. However, you are not expected to do so in some situations. For example, it is not common to say thanks to bus drivers, unlike the UK. You are free to do it if you want, but people may see you as a tourist.
2. Learn How To Dress Simple And Stylish
No one will criticize or blame you for the way you dress. You should wear things that make you feel comfortable. However, you will have a better experience if you learn to dress as locals do. Most Italians wear simple but stylish outfits during the day.
You should not wear extravagant or baggy stuff in Italy. As a general rule, you should dress accordingly in the place you are. For example, don’t use outdoor or gym clothes in the middle of the street. You can use them if you are going to hike or camp, but not as an outfit. Shorts are okay during the summer, but it is better to avoid cargo pants. You could wear chinos if the weather is too hot.
I recommend you not wear clothes with too many patterns or prints as well. Don’t use Hawaiian shirts as if you are going to a paradisiac island. Clothing items like flip-flops, hats, and swimwear are mostly used on the beach. It is fine to wear sunglasses in the city as long as they look classic.
Also, Italian women prefer not to use too heavy make-up. They like to look natural and only use skin tone colors. You should avoid using spaghetti straps as well. On the other hand, men never wear sandals with socks in public.
3. Don’t Wear Backpacks & Fanny Packs
People will know that you are a tourist if you wear a backpack or fanny pack in Italy. Most Italians use a shoulder bag to carry valuables and documents. Usually, you will see people with 30+ years old wearing them.
Backpacks may be unsafe to use in places like markets and buses. Yes, they are very handy and comfortable to use. But remember that there are plenty of pickpockets looking for a victim. Backpacks will only make it easier for thieves to steal you. If you really need to carry one, wear it in front of you. This is why I recommend you pack as light as you can for Italy.
If you are afraid of being pickpocketed, you could simply use a money belt. Just put one under your shirt, and no one will notice it. However, money belts are not so practical and easily accessible. You can also use your debit or credit card, but some small businesses don’t accept them.
Also, you can just leave your important stuff in the hotel. Simply put your valuables inside a security box or suitcase with a lock. It is usually the safest way to keep things while traveling. Don’t show your cash too much in public.
4. Don’t Shout Or Make Gestures To Call a Taxi
You don’t need to shout, make gestures, or whistle to call a taxi in Italy. In fact, cabs work in a totally different way compared to the United States. You will be seen as a tourist if you do it in front of the locals.
The right way to call a taxi is to go to specific parking lots. A driver will quickly come to pick you up when your turn comes. You can also hail a cab by phone call, online, or through the app MyTaxi. Also, make sure that there is no one before you.
Don’t accept rides from unofficial taxi drivers in train stations. They will charge you more than double the standard rates. Remember that official taxis are white and show the emblem of the city hall.
5. Learn Some Basic Italian Words
Learning some basic Italian words can go a long way. You don’t need to master the language, but just learn a few phrases. It can make a huge difference while getting around and connecting with people.
Italians are happy to hear you talking in their language. They see the effort that you are making to speak it. Most of the time, they will help you get better with your pronunciation too. Also, it is a good idea to learn a few Italian gestures. We Italians use body language a lot while communicating.
If you want to learn how to get around Italy without speaking Italian, make sure to check this post. You will find many useful tips and phrases to do so.
6. Avoid Annoying Stereotypes
Contrary to popular belief, Italians don’t speak as Super Mario does. You should never try to make the “Italian accent” in real-life situations. It will make you look like an annoying tourist trying to get attention. Also, don’t try to imitate the dialect of any Italian region. Just stick with a neutral accent always.
While using hand gestures is good, don’t exaggerate too much. You should look as natural as possible. Many tourists stuff gestures randomly with every word they say. For example, don’t make the “What?” gesture while you are reading something in Italian.
Don’t call anyone Bambino if it is not a child as well. Another phrase that tourists often say without any reason is “Mamma Mia!”. If you don’t want to look like a tourist, make sure to avoid any stereotype.
7. Don’t Order Cappuccino After 11 PM
Italians never drink cappuccino after midday. They order it only for breakfast with a Cornetto. This is not a rule, but rather a cultural preference. It is still possible to get a cappuccino in the afternoon and evening. But people will probably notice that you are a foreigner. Often bartenders and waiters look at you with a strange expression.
If you want to drink coffee with milk after your meal, you could order a Caffè Macchiato. It is very similar to a cappuccino but in a smaller size. You can order it with cold or hot milk foam.
Another thing you should not do is to have lunch with a cappuccino. Italians only drink it with sweet foods like Brioches. Never take it as a side drink with pizza or pasta. A single cup of cappuccino has around 120 calories.
8. Consider Leaving Your Camera At Home
You don’t have to bring your bulky DSLR camera to Italy. Many people are now using their smartphones to take photos. It is not fun to go around with a camera around your neck while everyone stares at you. Also, you should avoid using selfie sticks too much.
Nowadays, even budget phones have great cameras. Smartphones are easier to handle and take up less space. They will allow you to travel lighter and bring more things to your country. Many people have to pay an overweight baggage fee at customs.
If you want to take SLR quality photos with your phone, consider buying a phone lens. You can get yours today for a very affordable price on Amazon through this link.
9. Ignore People Who Approach You
Don’t get surprised if someone offers you something in the streets. Most of the time, they are there to take advantage of tourists. They will try to approach you with phrases like “Ciao bella!” or “Where are you from?”. Usually, you will find many street sellers in popular tourist places.
I recommend you do as Italians and just ignore street vendors. They will follow you all day if you start a conversation with them. You don’t have to be rude or anything, but let vendors know that you are not interested. You could simply say “No Grazie” and keep walking. Only tourists accept services from these people.
Here are some of the most common tourist scams:
- People giving “free” bracelets: You will find people giving “free” bracelets in major cities. After they put it on your wrist, they will ask you to pay. They can be very annoying if you don’t ignore them right away. People around you will know that you are a visitor if you stay with them.
- People giving “free” flowers: Don’t accept free flowers from anyone, even if they insist. Usually, they will make the excuse that you are so pretty. But after you take the roses, they will ask you for money. Remember that nothing in this world is free.
- Photo sessions with gladiators: Outside the Colosseum, you will see people dressed as gladiators. They will charge you a lot of money for a couple of pictures. Don’t make eye contact with them or smile.
- Illegal retailers: Street vendors lay down a blanket on the sidewalk to sell cheap goods. They are usually safe people trying to provide for their families. But you could get a fine if the police caught you buying from illegals.
10. Don’t Play In Public Fountains
Imagine that you are standing in line for many hours to enter a museum. It is summer, and the temperature is 105 °F that day. So, you decide to take a bath in a beautiful fountain near you for a few minutes. Is it correct?
Unlike other countries, you are not allowed to play or swim in public fountains in Italy. Public fountains are considered a piece of art and history. Also, you should not wash your hands or dip your feet in the water. It is forbidden to collect the coins under the water as well.
If you need to drink water and cool down, you will have to go to specific fountains. You can find one almost everywhere in most cities. Also, you can go to a park if you can’t see a public fountain. There is an app called Fontanelle D’Italia that allows you to find potable water fountains.
11. Carry Italian Newspapers
Some places sell famous foreign newspapers in English. However, I recommend you only carry journals in Italian. It is a great tactic to make people think you’re a local. Also, you will be able to practice the language.
The most popular newspapers in Italy are “Corriere della Sera” and “Il Messaggero.” If you enjoy reading about sports, you could get a “La Gazzetta dello Sport.” It will make you look like an Italian immediately. It is common to see people reading papers in restaurants and bars too.
12. Don’t Take Off Your Shoes
In some cultures, it is a normal custom to take off your shoes in front of people. But you should never do it whether you are in a public place or a house in Italy. Italians don’t want to see your feet, even if you are wearing socks. It is inappropriate to take off your shoes on trains and buses.
If you are in a house and want to take off your shoes, you should first ask the hoster. However, make sure that your feet and socks are clean. Most of the time, the people in the house will tell you what to do. Don’t be afraid of asking if you have any doubt.
I recommend you establish a rapport with the people in the house. If it is your first time as a guest, you are very unlikely to get asked to take off your shoes. This is because Italians consider feet as dirty and antigenic. Most houses have ceramic floors that are easy to clean.
13. Don’t Buy Everything While Shopping
In most cases, Italians visit stores just to spend some time. What they do is to see the showcases and the items without buying anything. Often they do it to get an idea of the products available and return on another occasion.
You may be tempted to buy everything you see if you are a tourist. However, I recommend you resist the urge to get things. You don’t want to buy products that will only occupy space in your house. If you start shopping like a crazy tourist, you may not have room in your luggage for the things that matter.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying to be stingy and don’t buy anything. Quite the oppositive, I encourage you to buy as many Italian products as you can. If it is your first time shopping in Italy, it is normal to feel excited. But remember not to overreact and shop smartly.
Also, make sure to visit more stores besides Zara and H&M. Most tourists only shop in popular places. There are many other stores with good quality items. You don’t need to spend a lot of money and follow other tourists.
14. Don’t Take Photos With Pigeons
Often tourists put some corn in their hands to take photos with pigeons. Yes, I know that doves are cute and funny animals to see. But if you don’t want to stand out as a tourist, you should not do it.
Doves are also a plague in many major cities in Italy. This is why some municipalities banned feeding pigeons. They regularly litter the streets and tourist attractions. So, you will be helping the monuments and people’s health. Their poop can bring serious illness as well.
Usually, you will find many pigeons in town squares. Most of the time, only kids and tourists give them food. In some places such as Piazza Duomo, you could get a fine if you do so.
15. Don’t Eat or Drink While Walking
You are very unlikely to see Italians eating or drinking while walking. Most people prefer to stay outside the bar and enjoy the food in groups. They go to a nearby park to sit down on a bench or in the establishment.
However, it may depend on the type of food you are eating. For example, you will see many people eating Focaccia and Sgagliozze in the streets of Bari. But it is not common to see someone eating a burger and chips while walking. In general, you should avoid foods with too many condiments. I recommend you don’t eat large portions of food as well.
If you are eating outside a bar, make sure you don’t block other people’s way. In some historical centers, you may not be allowed to drink and eat in the streets. This is because tourists were occupying all the space.
16. Don’t Picnic Everywhere
You should never eat on the steps of monuments in Italy. It will seem that you don’t care about the culture and the people who live there. Many tourists end up littering the streets and historic buildings. Remember that churches and museums are not areas for having a picnic.
Italians rarely sit on the steps to eat or take a break. Also, you should avoid sitting on the sidewalk. It is best not to stop until you find a bench. You could get dirty if you sit on the stairs too.
Also, I recommend you avoid eating food in some public places. It is not usual to see someone having lunch inside buses. But you can do it perfectly fine on trains without any issue. I even bring my cutlery to eat Parmigiana when I’m on board with my family.
17. Eat At Trattorie And Family Restaurants
You should eat where the locals do as much as you can. Usually, you will find tourist traps in the city center and near popular attractions. They will charge you a lot of money for mediocre and poor quality food. You won’t get a great deal if you go to the first restaurant you come across.
If you want to eat authentic Italian food, you should look for Trattorie and family restaurants. You may have to do some research to find them, but it is worth it. You will get a better experience while paying so much less.
Here are some tips to help you spot tourist traps:
- Advertisers outside restaurants: Tourist traps have someone outside trying to get clients. They will invite you to get a seat and eat their food in a friendly way. Good quality restaurants don’t need to do that. Make sure to check some reviews online.
- Menus outside in different languages: Be careful if you see a menu in a language other than Italian outside. It is a sign that most of the customers are tourists. Most of the time, authentic restaurants have only English translations on it. I recommend you see if their clients are locals or tourists.
- Foods on display: Don’t eat in restaurants that display fake dishes. It is a strategy to attract people who don’t know Italian cuisine. Often their meals don’t look the same in real life.
Also, I recommend you avoid eating at fast-food chains when in Italy. Italians don’t consider them as real restaurants. It is not worth it to eat food that you can find in all countries. If you are staying for a short time, you should try as many Italian foods as you can. You won’t have the same experience anywhere else in the world.
18. Learn How Tipping Works
Unlike the United States, you are not required to tip in Italy. Italians only give a tip when the service is great. Nobody will blame or criticize you if you don’t want to give it. Most workers don’t even expect to receive a small bonus from each client.
However, it is a good practice to leave a tip if you liked the service. Usually, people give around 10% and 15% of the bill. If you give more than that, it might seem offensive and not so elegant. Just use that range as a guideline and not as a strict rule.
Make sure to be kind when you are tipping as well. Don’t do it like you’re doing a favor or a charity. For example, you should not put money inside the pockets of the worker. Remember that employees can live without tips.
Also, you should not tip everyone who offers you a service. Italians only give it to certain workers such as waiters and bartenders. If you are American, you will have to get used to the culture and leave that habit.
If you want to know how tipping works in Italy, make sure to check this post. You will find useful information that will help you do it correctly.
19. Don’t Order “Unofficial” Italian Foods
Some foods are not really Italian, as you might think. In fact, they are recipes from people who emigrated to other countries like the USA. No one knows these dishes in Italy except tourists. Here is a list of foods that you should never order in Italy:
- Spaghetti with meatballs
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Marinara sauce
- Chicken parmigiana
- Pineapple and pepperoni pizza (ask for Diavola)
- Pasta with chicken
- Garlic bread
- Italian dressing
- Rainbow Cookies
You won’t find these dishes in any restaurant unless it is for tourists. Many locals find them as an insult to Italian cuisine. We don’t like heavy foods with too many condiments. If you don’t know what to order, you could simply ask the waiter: “Cosa mi consigliate?”.
20. Don’t Put Ketchup On Everything
Ketchup and condiments in general are not very popular in Italy. Italians only put it on foods such as hamburgers, fries, and hot dogs. We prefer to feel the real taste of each meal without adding extra sauces and flavors.
If you want ketchup, you will have to pay for it in most places. It is not free even in International fast-food chains like McDonald’s. A small cup of ketchup will cost you around €0,50 with fees. Also, sandwiches in bars rarely include ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.
One of the biggest crimes that you can commit is to put ketchup on pasta. It screams out that you don’t know anything about the culture. I recommend you stick to the condiments the waiter brings you.
21. Don’t Put Parmesan On Fish-Based Foods
You can’t mix cheese and seafood without disturbing an Italian. All fish-based foods, including clams, don’t pair with parmesan. You may scare the people around you if you add some on your plate of Spaghetti Alle Vongole.
The taste between fish and cheese is too different to combine. You should only put parmesan on meats (NOT chicken), sauces, and some vegetables. If it is not on the table, it means that you don’t need it. Plus, make sure to smell the parmesan to identify if it is fresh or not. It must not have an acid smell.
22. Don’t Try To Pay With Foreign Currencies
One of the worst things you can do is to pay in a currency other than the euro. Not only will you look like a tourist, but you will also lose a lot of money. Most places don’t accept currencies like dollars and pounds. And if they do, you probably won’t get a great deal.
Only a few places and services take foreign money, such as hotels and tours. However, I recommend you always pay in euros. The best option is to withdraw cash with your debit card at ATMs. You will get more favorable rates if you do so, and no one will know that you come from another country. Make sure to have some euro coins as well.
Also, paying with traveler’s checks is not a good idea. No one takes them anymore, besides some tourist places. They will only help you waste money and make you look weird.
There are many other things to consider when exchanging money in Italy. So, I inspire you to check out this post to avoid spending more than necessary.
23. Don’t Get Drunk In Public
It is not a common practice to get drunk in Italy. It only happens at discos and specific bars. Italians rarely get drunk intentionally in public places. But if you do, you may don’t be able to socialize and connect with people.
It is one thing to get drunk and another to enjoy a glass of wine with meals. If you are a young person, it is way better to make some friends.
You don’t need to drink in order to feel good and enjoy life. When you learn to feel great from the inside out, I can guarantee that your life will change. This is why I decided to follow God at a young age.
24. Don’t Occupy Other People’s Seat On Trains
If it is your first time using trains in Italy, you may end up sitting in the wrong seat. You can’t choose one randomly when you are already on board. The seats are reserved from the moment you buy the ticket. They have a number, and you can only use the one that you paid.
Often tourists have to get up from their seats and look for the right one. It can be very embarrassing when someone comes to you to claim their place. So, make sure to know your seat number early on.
You should not put your luggage on the seat of other people. Even if nobody is sitting, it is better not to do it. Some people may get angry with you.
25. Learn How To Handle Your Luggage
If you are a visitor, you may struggle to carry your luggage. Often the sidewalks are very narrow and badly maintained. And you could stumble, or the wheels of your suitcase may get stuck. I recommend you only use luggage with four wheels.
Most of the time, no one will help you lift your baggage on trains. You will have to find an appropriate place on your own. Also, you are responsible for your luggage all the time. It is better to pack light and not bring too much stuff.
Make sure to check this post to avoid having any issue with your luggage in Italy. It is very important not to be caught quite unprepared if you are a tourist.
26. Don’t Pull Out a Map When You Get Lost
The chances are that you will get lost one way or another if you are a tourist. All the streets and buildings look almost the same in Italy. So, you may be tempted to pull out a map to solve the problem. This is a short recipe for looking like a tourist anywhere you go.
Instead of staring at a map, you could simply use a GPS service like Google Maps. No one will notice that you are using your phone as a navigator. However, you will have to download the map if you want to use it offline. You may only be able to use driving directions, but it will be enough. You can get a prepaid SIM card if you need an internet connection.
It is a good idea to save some pictures of the places you plan to visit. This will allow you to get directions more quickly. I recommend you keep photos of your hotel, train station, and the places you want to see. Then ask a person something like “Scusi, come posso arrivarci?” while showing the image. If you don’t want to use your phone, you could print the pictures in advance.
Nobody can restrict you from using a map, though. But it is best to don’t stand in the middle of the street looking at one. You can go to a bar or a store to avoid getting attention from people.
27. Drive Manual Cars
You are very unlikely to see an Italian driving an automatic car. In Europe, people mostly use manual transmissions. However, you can still get an automatic car if you want. But it will cost you a lot more, and people may notice that you are not from the place.
Many Italians consider automatic cars as a “toy.” If someone sees you with one, they might think that you don’t really know how to drive. You may hear some expressions like” Automatic cars are for lazy people” or” It is just an American thing.”
However, there is nothing wrong with automatic cars. You don’t need to learn to drive manual transmissions. But remember that they are not the first choice of Italians. Just choose what is most comfortable for you.
If you don’t have enough experience, it is way better to get an automatic car. Most Italians tend to drive very fast, and parking may be a problem. But if you already know how to drive a manual car, go for it.