I mentioned briefly in my last entry that I recently had lunch with some very special southern girls. They decided to stay within the walls of our little town for a week in April to truly capture and integrate themselves into the life here…and live the life they did. As we sat down to lunch I was asked many questions about the customs and culture of this little place I call home. I have heard many times from stranieri, foreigners (Americans especially) that life here in Italy is different…and almost opposite of what you would expect based on what we are told about Italians from abroad.
The Italians are deeply routed in their traditions and manners, and for lack of a better way of putting it, tend to frown on those who do not know to follow their rules. In talking with my friends, I was reminded of the very things I learned along the way. They were so interested in making sure they did things “the right way” (I truly believe their southern manners were leading them). I was really struck and touched by this, as I have witnessed so many tourists arrogantly stumble around without a thought of custom or culture. In a nutshell…we are all people, but our customs can be very very different. So in tribute to these very conscientious women, I thought to write a series about ‘things you need to know before you arrive in Italy’, you know the stuff the guide books do not always mention. With the spirit of un buon consiglio in mind, here are just a few:

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.

. 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!)

There are thousands more…I could go on and on and on, but I will save them for other entries. I think my next list must be about differences in food, eating, table manners, etc. Cannot wait to share that with you…it will be a long one. And a quick grazie to those ladies who reminded me that I am not that strange, that most people care as much as I do about “fitting in” with the locals…even if only for a week.

Interested in more?