Italy, like most Mediterranean countries, is welcoming, proud of its own fine culture, and utterly friendly toward visitors. So, you will probably fit in like a local perfectly even the first time you visit Tuscany, and Italy, in general. However, it won’t hurt to do some basic research on Italian Etiquette to help avoid embarrassing situations and awkward moments that might make you look like an obnoxious tourist during your stay. Here are some gentle cautions and suggestions on what to avoid, what to do, and how to act.
- Dress inappropriately when visiting Italian churches – Try to dress modestly when visiting religious sites. This means no shorts (applies to both men and women), short skirts (bare knees, in general), and bare shoulders. If you don’t need these requirements, you won’t be allowed to enter the cathedrals, churches, and monasteries in Italy, Tuscany including. The rules are particularly strict in major religious sites, such as St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome.
- Say “Ciao” at first sight – Ciao is a phrase used to greet friends or acquaintances. It is best to say “Buon Giorno” or “Buona Sera”, which mean “good morning” and “good afternoon/evening”, respectively. Admittedly, Italians absolutely love it when visitors try to speak some Italian with them, even if that means using the bare basics!
- Eat or drink at important landmarks – Having a picnic at fountains, cathedral steps, monuments, and other sites is frowned upon. In some cases, you might be called to pay a fine of a couple of hundred euros. You may get shooed off as well, always in a polite manner, of course. Relaxing at a sidewalk cafe or strolling with your gelato is much more preferred.
- Assume you have the right-of-way as a pedestrian – Be extra careful when crossing streets because most Italian drivers will not stop and wait for pedestrians waiting at the crosswalk to cross the street. So, always look both ways before you decide to cross the road. The best way to cross the pedestrian walkway safely is to make a hand gesture or eye contact with the oncoming driver. This will make them stop for you.
- Try to walk around Italy in flip-flops – Wearing comfy shoes while exploring the Italian regions will save you from a lot of foot pain after you are done. This could be sneakers or another pair of shoes that won’t burden your feet. Many streets in Tuscany and other Italian areas are cobbled, especially the historical centres. Flip-flops are not the right choice for long hours of walking.
- Get upset if Italians cut in line – Italians are rather casual about timing and rarely maintain long lines. Also, schedules are fluid, and rigorous queuing is not their cup of tea. Better be patient in such cases.
- Expect ice in your drinks – If you want ice in your soft drink, you will need to ask. However, it is more preferred to order wine or water with your meal instead. The local fizzy water (“fizzante”) and the locally produced wines accompany every meal perfectly. Plus, they enable you to get the local version.
- Leave your belongings unattended – Ensure you put your wallet in a front pocket (or a waist wallet, for men) or your purse (for women – best to carry it in a bandolier case or similar). Pickpockets are everywhere, including Italian cities. The same goes for your other valuables – make sure you put them someplace safe when carrying them around with you.
Luckily, the list of Dos is much more fun than the one on the suggestions and dont’s while visiting Tuscany! Here are some things to take into account when traveling to this beautiful Italian region (or any Italian region, so to speak).
- Smile when greeting people – Italians are very friendly and happy, from salespeople to taxi drivers and waiters. It would be lovely just to give it back!
- Talk with your hands – Italians are distinguished by a fiery Mediterranean nature. When speaking, they use all of their body to enhance speaking, including their hands! You can either sit back and enjoy their gestures or do the same. You can use your hands to pantomime the word you have in mind should an Italian does not speak English.
- Compliment Italy to locals – Italians do not like criticism, especially when foreigners constantly compare their home country with Italy. So, try to praise their country if you can, even if they don’t do things the way you are used to or as you do (i.e., the internet at my house is much faster).
- Carry some cash with you – Not all Italian shops, taxis, or restaurants take credit cards. In fact, in some cases, cash is not only required but also appreciated much more than plastic money. Just ensure you keep it in pickpocket-proof arrangements.
- Try an Italian coffee – No, it is not just another cup of coffee. Italian coffee is very different from the other coffees you have probably tasted elsewhere. A cappuccino or espresso prepared by the hands of an Italian barista is something worth experiencing for sure!
- Learn some basics – It would be super fun to attempt a conversation with the locals, even if you obviously know just some basics. Italians love that. Plus, you make navigating around cities and speaking to locals much easier, as not all Italians speak English.
- Have enough time to visit Tuscany – If you only want to explore Tuscany, you will need a few days to see the whole of it. You can walk around the green pastures, visit iconic landmarks, taste local wines, sip an aperitif in a Tuscany cafe near a piazza, stroll cobbled streets, and many more. So, ensure you have plenty of time to enjoy every bit of it. And, remember that life is slower paced in Tuscany than in other major cities in Europe. So, slow down and relax.
Time to savour the many unique and wonderful cultural differences (and not only) that a visit to Italy can offer. Have all the fun you can and let yourself immerse in Italian culture. You won’t be disappointed.