One sees many types of Tourists in Italy: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  We want to be the good ones, do we not?  Today I’m sharing some things I’ve learned through the years about the Italian culture.

Italians have an expression, “Fare una bella figura”, this loosely translates “To make a good impression”, but it goes beyond making an impression in a business meeting or an interview.

La bella figura is a way of life that Italians live by.  It encompasses everything from polite behavior to appropriate attire and appearance.

So, what does that mean for us?  It means not dressing shabbily.

You will never see an Italian walking down so much as a hotel hallway in pajamas, for instance.  You don’t have to wear Gucci, but keep in mind that appropriate attire is important, everywhere.  Don’t be the “ugly tourist” wearing pajamas down to breakfast.

Behavior and culture are even more difficult to grasp, which is why I wanted to write this.

Here’s what happens frequently:  An American couple goes into a ristorante and think they’ll sit down for about 45 minutes, the waiter will be attentive, the check will be brought out as soon as they’re finished.  This is good service in America.

In Italy, a meal is a social experience, and a special one.  Italians find it very rude to rush their guests, or to be rushed themselves.

You are having a romantic meal with your loved one, so the waiter poking his nose in every 5 minutes would kill the romance.  In his eyes, he is being polite and making you feel welcome.

This can frustrate Americans with a go, go, go, we have so much to see mentality.

So, if you want something quick go to a bar for a panino instead of a ristorante.  If you want the experience and delicious food and wine choose the ristorante, trattoria, etc. but take the time to sit and enjoy it.

Then there’s the language issue.  Italians do frequently speak English, as well as Spanish, German, French… on and on.

Our job is to realize we are in their country, and they are bombarded every day with tourists from all over the world expecting them to know all these different languages.

It is polite to greet someone with “Salve”, or “Buongiorno” and ask them if they speak English first.  If not, most of the time people will still do their best to help you if you are courteous.

Another thing that can be a bit unnerving is having so many people trying to figure out where you’re from.

We overheard some girls we caught staring and talking about us in Italian saying the equivalent of “Would you look at that, a man from Moscow and a Milanese!”  We still laugh about that.

Some people come right out and ask where you’re from.  It can feel a bit like being in a zoo at times, especially if you speak Italian and understand everything that’s said, but they are curious just like we are if we hear a foreign accent.  Just laugh and have fun with it.

The best kinds of tourists are the ones who take time to understand the culture and become a part of it while they’re there.  Branch out from Starbucks and go to a bar, stand with the locals and enjoy an espresso.

Take time to speak with the Italian people and really get to know them.  You just might find yourself leaving Italy with not only memories, but a few new friends as well!  Buon Viaggio!

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Lindsay Sinko, Passion for Italy Travel, USA