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  • Writer's pictureCarol McKee

Top 10 Tips for Travel to Italy

Italy is, by far, the European Country most requested by my clients and especially as a first timer’s trip to Europe. And truly I love Italy in a way that makes it hard to compare to anywhere else.

Certainly recent events have made us all long for travel and seeing the graceful and philosophical way that the Italian people handled their pandemic crisis just made me want to plan for a return visit even more. Italy is a very popular place to travel…in pre-pandemic times over 46 million tourists visited this amazing country every year. They come from all over the world, for many different reasons, but Americans make up a large chunk of those visitors. Many will return again and again for that magic that only Italy can deliver. Italians as a whole are a very kind, friendly, very family-centric and extremely patient people unless they are behind the wheel on the open road! The Italians realize how blessed they are to be the safe keepers of some of history’s most magnificent relics and art treasures and they are happy to share them. However, there are a few things that most Italians would want Americans to know before we arrive in their country. Here is McKee Travel’s list of the Top 10 ways to blend right in to Italian Culture: 1. Slow Down: You will NOT see it all! Trust me, the reason that the 46 million tourists attacked Italy each year is because there is so much beauty to see and experience: culture, art, vineyards, food, museums and the amazing people! A lifetime isn’t even enough time! So, slow down, take it all in, appreciate what you DO see….and then plan to return! Take a region and really exploring it is so much more satisfying than trying to ‘see it all” in a typical vacation of ten days. 2. Dress more conservatively than you do at home. Sun dresses, Miniskirts, short-shorts halter tops and saggy jeans will not live up to the classic fashion taste of Italians. You don’t have to be formal and uncomfortable…just neat, put-together and a little more modest. Some Cathedrals (including the Vatican) will not let you enter if your shoulders and knees are not covered. While this can easily be solved for the ladies with a scarf or a shawl, the guy wearing shorts will simply be barred from entering. So cover up, unless you really are spending the day on a beautiful Italian beach. And leave the stilettos at home…Cobblestone streets and high heels don’t get along very well! 3. Cappuccino and Café Lattes are morning-only drinks! A true Italian would never dream of ordering one after late morning, or especially after a meal! If you need a caffeine pick-me-up later in the day, stop in a coffee bar for a quick shot of espresso. Did you know that Italy is one of the only countries that did not have a Starbucks until 2019? The Italians are so proud of their coffee culture that they have been unwilling to accept any change to it. Italian coffee is superior and should be enjoyed as the real Italians do…Give it a “shot”! (Pun intended!) 4. Dinner is not usually served earlier than 8:00pm! Beware of restaurants serving dinner at 5 PM. You will find that restaurant full of American travelers and less than the authentic. These places are tourist traps and the time they open for dinner is your best clue as to the quality of what you can expect. Menu’s in English (and also maybe Chinese) are another clue to if you are in a place that locals would go. Showing up at a restaurant before 7:30 will probably get you a view of the staff having their own pre-service meal and a totally empty dining room! Your meal will be more enjoyable in a restaurant full of happy locals and with the wait staff ready to do their thing. Know that most places charge a “Coperto”, or cover charge, for each table. This is NOT a ploy to take advantage of you…it is routine! It is explained as the cost of washing the linens, dishes, and providing the “free stuff” like bread (pane in Italian) or tap water. Get used to it and be aware that tipping is not required but rather an expression of extraordinary service and then only a few Euros. So in the end it all evens out in my opinion. 5. Simplify your schedule! Leave time in your day to just wander around and poke your head into the real Italy. If you just get a couple of blocks away from some of the most famous tourist sites, real Italian life is in front of you. Stop to listen to a street performer (and tip!), stop into a neighborhood café for a glass of wine or a coffee. Eat gelato as often as you can and there you will find the locals doing the same. Relax and slow down. Italy is to be savored not gulped down in a rush. Plus remember that if you are always trying to keep up with a tight schedule, you and your travel companions will just plain get grumpy! 6. You need to call for a taxi, or go to an actual taxi stand. You are not in New York and you cannot just hail a taxi off the street in Italy. Many Italian taxi drivers get their entertainment from watching tourists try to do so! As an alternative, familiarize yourself with the public transportation systems in your town. Busses, Subways, Trains and Boats are remarkably efficient and manage to get millions of Italians where they need to go every day…Why not you? If you are thinking you will simply use Uber or other ride share services while in Italy consider the facts. While ride shares are not illegal in Rome only the more expensive Uber Black and Lux are available. These services are much more expensive in Italy than you might believe and using them might actually cost you more than taking a cab. 7. Italian is the official language of Italy! I know this seems obvious…so why do so many travelers go barging in to other countries expecting everyone to speak English fluently? Just learning a few common words and phrases in the Italian will make a big difference in your experience. Instead of asking “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” at someone try “I’m sorry, but my Italian is poor…Parla l’Inglese?” (Par-la Een-glace?) Because tourism is a big part of the Italian economy many people do speak English especially those who work in the tourism sector. Lttle bit of Italian show that you respect the listenera and their culture and will definitely garner you better service and a better experiens. So learn the basics of politiness in addition to how to ask some one if they speak Englsh (see above). Thank you = grazie, please = per favore and your welcome = prego. Even if you find yourself in the rare circumstance with no English-speakers, Italians speak with their hands, so go back to your charade talents and you will get your point across and have a good laugh doing so! 8. Speaking of waiters in restaurants, slow service is good service! European restaurants are drastically different than most here in America. When you take a table for a meal, it is yours for as long as you want…Waiters are NOT trying to “turn tables” fast so they can make more tips. (as I mentioned above, tips are not required, but a small gratuity for good service is always welcomed) Waiting tables is a respected profession in most of Europe and they are paid well. Italians enjoy their mealtimes and are not in a rush to dash off to a movie or other event. Dinner IS usually the event! Relax and go with the slow flow! And be aware that you must ask for the check when you are ready to leave. It is considered rude for a waiter to bring your check before you ask because he doesn’t want to rush you! 9. Everyone in Italy doesn’t want to kiss you! Who knows if this tradition will survive the Covid-19 era but the Italians are historically very welcoming people who sometimes great each other with a kiss on the cheek. But there is a certain etiquette for reaching out and saying hello that way! You will see friends, family and even acquaintances kissing each other on the cheeks and saying “Ciao” all over. However, as a stranger it is quite unlikely that you will receive a kiss as a greeting. When you meet an Italian, take their lead…but a smile and a firm handshake is probably the most appropriate until you get to know them a little better. Also, Italian culture respects its elders and, if someone is introduced as Signore (Mr.) or Signora (Mrs.), it is best not to address them by their first names until they request it. 10. Smile! When in doubt smile. A smile can get you through a lot of awkward situations because it is the universal language of we human beings. When you travel to Italy you are in a country that has welcomed and inspired visitors for centuries. Enjoy the people, the beauty, the art, music & and especially the food! The Italians will be happy to share a smile with you and you will return home already planning your return trip in your mind! And remember… McKee Travel specializes in custom-crafted Italian vacations. In fact my daughter was married in Italy, that shows how much we love that beautiful country in our family! Let us help you plan your next adventure to put these newly learned skills to use!

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