6 Ways to Travel Like an Untourist in Italy

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Editor’s Note:

This post was written by guest blogger, Samantha DuBois. She is the author of the blog TravelGirlSeesWorld.com and has recently returned from a semester abroad in Padova (Padua), Italy, where she lived with a host family and took all of her classes in Italian. We hope you enjoy her writing as much as we do!

Follow these tips and your trip to Italy will play out like a scene from “La Dolce Vita”–not “The Tourist.”

Common Courtesy

Always greet Italians and respond to their greetings. To ignore someone is considered rude, and a simple “Salve” or “Buon giorno” to shopkeepers, bariste, and hotel concierges will keep you in the locals’ good graces.  Be respectful by preparing some common phrases, especially if you are visiting smaller towns in Italy where English is not as common.  Unless you are meeting old friends, you should address everyone formally with “Lei” (an Italian phrasebook will elucidate how to use the formal tense).  Make sure your thanks don’t go to waste by pronouncing “Grazie” correctly as “Gra-tziay.”

Transportation Guidelines

Taking the train is the easiest way to get around Italy, and tickets can be purchased at electronic booths in every station.  However, when buying your ticket, always double-check that you’ve chosen the correct fare and destination.  Riding the wrong train or taking it further than your fare allows can get you kicked off the train or fined.  Before proceeding to the platform, find a yellow validation machine and stamp your ticket.  An unvalidated ticket can also warrant fines.

Flying from one Italian city to another?  Play into Italian superstition by applauding when your flight lands safely.  Whenever you hear someone clap at the end of a flight, you can bet he’s Italian.

“In Moda”

They don’t call Milan one of the world’s fashion capitals for nothing.  You will never see an Italian wearing sneakers, flip flops, or a baseball cap–unless they’re all designer brand.  Comfort is understandably key when you’re spending hours touring a city.  If you can’t sacrifice your sneakers for the day, at least change into a nicer outfit for dinner out of respect to the restaurant staff.

Italians hate precipitation, so they’re never caught without a sleek raincoat or umbrella when the sky looks threatening.  Avoid being the only person in Italy who is drenched by sporting proper rain or snow gear if the forecast predicts there may be bad weather.

Portion Control

A light meal of espresso and a couple biscotti is the typical Italian breakfast, and lunch is usually pizza or a panino. Dinner begins around 8 p.m. and many restaurants are not even open before this time.  Menus are separated by appetizers (antipasti), first (primi piatti), and second (secondi piatti) courses, but you are not obligated to order more than one dish.  In fact, primi piatti are generally large or filling enough to constitute a meal, and they are also cheaper than secondi.

Other food tips:

Many Italians use a knife and fork to eat their pizza, and they order a whole pizza for themselves.  Take out is possible, but usually frowned upon.

If you order un caffe’, you will get espresso.  Although we Americans love our foamy drinks, Italians order only espresso after lunchtime.

Metal bins signify that gelato is homemade.  Good gelato will always appear smooth and fluffy, never grainy.  If you pay more than 2.50 Euro for one scoop, you’re paying too much. (The best gelato I’ve had cost no more than 1.20 Euro for a scoop.)

Money Matters

Italian cashiers hate making change and can be rude if you deny their request for exact coins. Use your larger bills for larger purchases and save your 1 & 2 Euro coins for gelato money. If you shop frequently at the local grocery store, be advised that you can be charged up to 10 centime extra for requesting a plastic bag.

Unlike tourist-friendly Paris, Italian museums rarely offer any discounts on entry.  BUT if you happen to visit Rome at the right time, entrance to the Vatican Museums is free on the last Sunday of every month.

Speaking of museums…Many visitors to Italy are unaware that you must make reservations at least a month in advance if you want to see Da Vinci’s The Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery in Milan.

Read more of Samantha’s travel tips on her blog, Travel Girl Sees World.

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