Italy is full of interesting, strange, delightful, and brilliant cultural nuances.
Below is a list of just thirty of these that I noticed from my time spent in Italy.
Enjoy the loveliness + the oddities.
1.) Shopkeepers from Venice will warn you about casanovas, only because they’re casanovas themselves.
The owner, Luigi Frizzo, of the bookstore Acqua Alta in Venezia, which you’ve seriously got to visit as it’s awesome, told me that he would give me all of the books that I had chosen for free if I went on a date with him. Although I seriously considered doing so for free books (the things I’ll do for free literature), there was the small difference in age of about fifty years. He then warned me about casanovas in Venezia and even said, “All the men in Venezia are Casanovas.”
Consider yourself warned.
[photo credit: Heather Sutta]
2.) Italian youth have a slight obsession with ellipsis.
This is so weird. I have never seen so many ellipsis (puntini) while texting or messaging anyone in my life. It’s like they refuse to acknowledge pauses of silence in the conversation and opt for small dots instead. Even though I asked about this more than once, none realized that they were committing this odd grammatical act. They’re also pretty punctuation happy in general with messaging. Question marks and exclamation run rampant.
3.) A ton of Italian men think Italian women are bitches.
Sad, but true. While I didn’t meet any Italian women that I thought were mean, there were some who would give me disapproving looks as I walked down the streets. The truth is, Italian women just don’t smile as much as American women. Speaking of…
4.) Italians can pick out American girls based solely on the fact that we smile so damn much.
So if you’re trying to blend in, retire the grin. (ha. rhyme!)
5.) Halloween is growing in popularity, but it’s still pretty low key.
When they do dress up, which isn’t common, they only use really scary costumes. This isn’t the bare skin holiday we know and love in America.
6.) Befana is a kind old witch that you leave pasta & wine for.
Honestly I wouldn’t mind taking up post as Befana. Every year, on January 6, is “La Befana” (the Epiphany). You leave her pasta and wine, and she brings toys & sweets for the children who have left out socks to be filled up.
If you’re bad, you get coal. Oddly enough, they sell the coal in pasticceria’s around Italy as candy. It’s pretty deadly though and is reminiscent of glass. I wouldn’t try too hard to find it or eat it.
[photo credit: Divina Cucina]
7.) Supplí and arancini exist.
Even if you don’t like fried food, which I try to avoid as a super uppity health conscious person, I probably ate supplí 5 out of 7 days every week. It’s rice in marinara sauce deep fried with a huge glob of mozzarella in the middle.
[photo credit: prima_stella]
There’s also it’s family member arancini, which has meat in the middle and is more circular in form.
[photo credit: kennejima]
8.) You can buy really huge ones in Verona, Italy.
[photo credit: Heather Sutta]
9.) Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy is a “sticky” scene.
Forgive my bad joke. Really though, the walls when you walk into the balcony area are COVERED in gum from people using it as an adhesive for their love notes. It’s gross. But also cool.
The couple locks next to the wall make up for the unsanitary environment.
[photo credit: Hannah Jackel]
10.) Christmas presepe bring small figurines to the next level.
They have the most elaborate nativity scenes that I’ve ever seen in my life. Stunning is the best word for them.
[photo credit: Raffaele Sergi]
11.) Italian youth really love Latin music.
12.) Roman slang is cute.
Instead of saying the ‘Dove andiamo?’ (Where are we going?), they’ll shorten it to say ‘Do ‘namo?’
Another one is ‘Che facciamo?’ (What are we doing?’) ? ‘Che famo?’
This one is particular to the Lazio region of Italy.
13.) Italian cellphones need to be ricaricare’d.
They run on a system where you buy the cellphone and then you buy a certain euro’s worth of ‘charges’. If someone is outside of your cellular provider, say PosteMobile or TIM, you get deductions from the money you put on there for each text message and phone call.
14.) Italian graffiti is simultaneously awesome & ugly (Just like in America!).
There are some walls that say ‘Buongiorno principessa!’, ‘Ti amo, giulia!’ and ‘Ti voglio bene! <3 Alessio’, which every lady wants to see at the start of her day and some that just say less romantic phrases like ‘Roma merda!’
[photo credit: Richard]
[photo credit: Robert Larsen]
I also ADORED this one in Florence.
15. There are two ways to say I love you in Italian.
You use ‘ti amo’ with romantic lovers, and you use ‘ti voglio bene’ with friends, boyfriends and girlfriends that you’re not all that serious about, and family. Although in the South of Italy, you’ll tend to hear ‘ti amo’ used with family.
Both phrases mean ‘I love you’, but ‘ti amo’ is stronger than ‘ti voglio bene’.
16.) You’re going to hear the phrase ‘Tranquilla’ a lot.
I don’t know if you like being told to calm down, but I sure don’t. Despite my dislike of this, I was still told to ‘tranquilla’ all of the time.
Really though, the phrase ‘tranquilla’ is a nice way to ‘don’t worry.’
17.) Eating pizza at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele is the closest you’ll get to a religious food experience in Italy.
This was the pizzeria featured in Eat, Pray, Love, and it really lives up and beyond its hype.
Battling the craziness of Naples is worth it.
18.) Naples is pretty insane.
Whenever people ask me about Naples, my two favorite phrases are ‘There are no rules there’ and ‘Che casino!’ (kay ka/zee/no). The latter means ‘What a mess’ or ‘What a shit show!’
Bag snatchers run rampant in this city and the mafia is a huge influence. Trash lines the streets thank to a waste management issue and people don’t understand the concept of order. I would see three people all smushed on the back of a Vespa going up the wrong way on a one-way street!
[photo credit: David Killick]
19.) Vedi Napoli e poi muori.
On the other hand, this widely known phrase means “You see Naples and then you die” because it’s supposed to be the most beautiful city in the world. I know some Italians who sincerely love that city.
Guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
20.) Image is huge.
The phrase ‘fare bella figura’ displays this. It means to make a good impression.
You’ll never catch an Italian in their pajamas going to the supermarket. It’s basically blasphemy.
21.) A ‘puttaniere’ is a man who is whore-like and collects prostitutes.
22.) Venice floods over 100 times a year because of acqua alta!
Remember earlier I talked about that bookstore Acqua Alta? Well the owner put all of the books above ground and in boats because Venezia attracts floods like women attract men who don’t treat them right.
It floods at least 100 times a year, and the whole city is sinking. Thanks to some fancy engineering, they’re doing their best to push the city back up and keep it afloat, literally.
That being said, bring or buy rain boots if you’re going there during the rainy/flooding season during the winter.
[photo credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra]
23.) Barilla ups the ante on their sauces in Italy.
I firmly believe that the best pasta sauce in a jar is only available in Italy.
For example, this Calabrese pesto sauce makes me cry with joy.
24.) La Spaghetteria is a restaurant in Viterbo, Italy that sells over 300 types of spaghetti.
Talk about heaven. This restaurant is in the Guinness Book of World Records for most types of pasta in the world.
Make it a destination. It’s so incredible.
[photo credit: Trip Advisor]
25.) Aperitivo is the most beautiful time of the day.
Before your evening meal, you go to the bars (cafes) with your friends and take an aperitivo, which is an evening drink like a spritz, fruit juices, or a Prosecco (my favorite ‘cause it’s all bubbly goodness). Besides the drink, cafes usually provide a decent-sized buffet spread, including pasta, breads, bruschetta, and chips, all free with your aperitivo drink.
In the North, however, they charge you for the buffet upwards of 9 euro, so be mindful of what you order.
[photo credit: Mover el Bigote]
26.) Turkish people are all over Italy, and they bring with them the sweet gift of the kebab.
Kebab shops are on countless corners in Italy, and thank goodness for that. These aren’t shishkabobs like American know, and I liken them to a Turkish burrito.
They shave the meat off of these big lamb and chicken rounds, and garnish it all in a tortilla with pickled cucumber sauce, spicy chili sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and sometimes french fries and falafel.
[photo credit: Dave Stamboulis]
27.) Moka, mocha?
The Italian Moka is used to make the espresso, and Italians couldn’t live without it. They heat up espresso in the morning, after lunch, and after dinner.
28.) The fact that Jovanotti exists…and is awesome.
29.) This phrase: “Un bellissimo spreco di tempo”
(oon bay/lee/see/mo spray/co dee tem/po)
It means “a beautiful waste of time.”
Sigh. I love Italian.
30.) This movie. Watch it.
In the comments below, tell me one cultural nuance you would love to know about Italy.