7 Italian Culture Tidbits

The longer I live in Italy, and the more I spend time with Italians, the more I feel much of our culture is the same. However, below is a list of 7 little cultural differences that could be quite helpful whether you are traveling or living here.

To tip or not to tip?
Often Italians never lever a tip. I’ve lived here for two years and only left it once, when I was a tourist. The tip is often included in the bill as a cover charge, or coperto. If you don’t feel comfortable walking away without leaving anything, you could leave 10% (or more, obviously). Italians aren’t used to receiving tips, so anything you’d leave would be appreciated.

Table or bar?
Often Italians grab an espresso, drink it at the bar, and are on their way. Or, if they have more time, they may order the espresso at the bar and when it is ready they themselves bring it to the table. If you order coffee directly at the table, it will often cost more or include the coperto.

Grocery shopping?
Very similar to America, except when you buy fruit or vegetables, be sure to use a plastic glove to pick up the fruit and place it in the plastic bag. Then weigh it at the conveniently located scales nearby. (Place it on the scale, click on the image, and stick the sticker that will be printed out onto the bag) When you get to the cash register, don’t expect someone to do the bagging for you. Oh no, in Italy you bag the items yourself. Also, you have to buy the plastic bags, which fortunately don’t cost much at all. (The cashier usually asks you if you need one… “sacchetto? Busta?”)

It can mean “Your Welcome” or “Please/Go ahead” Side note: Not to be confused with the real “please”, Per Favore (PER-FA-VOR-RAY).
Example 1: Door opens. Person A: “Prego.” Person B walks through, “Grazie.”
Example 2: May I have a coffee, per favore?

Pronunciation of Grazie?
Guess what? It is NOT Grah-zee! (Even though when I was tourist, I spent my whole trip saying “grah-zee”). I now know better. Instead say: GRAH-ZEE-AY 🙂

People say this is the equivalent of “happy hour”, but in my opinion, it is so much more. From about 7-10, the Italian bars set out an array of food. The way it works is you sit down at a table, a server will come by, and you order a drink. Let’s say all drinks are 10 euros. With that 10 euros, you not only get your drink, but you also get to chow down on the buffet. Fill up several plates, or have just one. It is your choice. See my page for a list of trendy aperitivo spots in Florence.

The typical course is: Antipasto, Primo, Secondo, Dolce, Cafe/Digestivo.
Translated: Appetizer, First (Pasta), Second (Meat/Fish), Dessert, and Coffee/Digestivo.
With of course wine and water in between (or just wine). You do not have to order everything. You can have just a first or just a second, or you can have both. Depends on how empty your stomachs are (and how full your wallets are). Side note: Digestivo is a liqeour that helps with digestion (not sure how much it really helps, but hey, I’m always down for some Amaro or Limoncello, which are popular digestivos).