La bella figura. This is the first thing you need to know about Italians…appearance and manner of carrying oneself is very important. As you spend more time in Italy, you will notice that Italians carry themselves with much pride and are a reserved people when in public. (Of course there are always exceptions to this, say at a soccer match, etc.) First impressions are very important and remain in the brain long after you have left someone. The easiest rule that I follow…when in “town” try to make a bit of an effort with your appearance, the Italians certainly do, and use your “inside” voice.
Saluti. I think it is nice to learn a couple of staple greetings before you arrive in Italy. When you enter a shop or restaurant, it is polite to greet the owner with buon giorno, good morning in essence, up until around 4:00 pm and after that buona sera, good evening. I might add, do not say buona notte, good night, until you are actually leaving for the night to go to bed. When you depart always say at least grazie, thank you or arrivederci, goodbye.
Non toccare! Don’t touch. This is a big one here…do not touch the merchandise in small stores…no matter how much you want to do it! Now when I say that, I mean not only in a clothing or gift store, or even a pharmacy, but with the fruit and vegetable vendors as well. Shopkeepers are very particular about their products and displays, they would like for you to ask them to help you with something instead of getting it yourself…even though we all know we are capable on our own. It is just the custom of “customer service” for them, they are truly there to assist you. So when visiting the local fruit stand, ask the owner to pick out a few apples for you, or when browsing a clothing store, ask the assistant if she has a particular style dress in blue in size x, etc. You will be very happy you did…they might even smile at you. (I might add that pointing can be a bit rude as well, but in this case it is better than touching!)