5 Things You Should Know While Traveling in Italy


1. Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs is a well-known, crowd-pleasing Italian dish that is eaten often in the United States. Or is it? Sure, it might be common in the US, and you might be able to find it on the menu at your favorite Italian restaurant, but it is not an Italian dish. In Italy, with the exception of meat sauces, pastas and meats are not combined. In fact, they are served at completely different stages of the meal. A steaming pile of spaghetti with tomato sauce and a few savory meatballs on top is 100% an American dish.

So, where does spaghetti and meatballs even come from? According to my “Italian Food and Culture” professor, it is a misconception that stems directly from the fan-favorite, Disney classic, Lady and The Tramp. Whether that is the true origin remains unknown. In Italy, however, meals are often made up of several dishes. Starting with cheeses, the meal usually progresses to a pasta, then to the salad or meat, and then to dessert and an espresso if you can fit it. The different stages are never mixed, so meat on pasta is out of the question.


2. Cappuccino and Coffee Etiquette

For those who are avid Starbucks goers, ordering whatever we want at any time of the day with little to no judgment is expected. When you are in Italy, however, think again. Certain coffees are acceptable to order at specific times of the day and not at others, and the sooner you know, the less judgement you will receive. Take the cappuccino for example. In the United States, you could order a cappuccino at any time of the day and no one would think twice on the matter. However, given the dedication Italians have to their meals, cappuccinos are only acceptable to order before lunch. Why? The milk in the cappuccino, after a hearty meal of pasta or pizza and cheese and bread and olive oil and everything that makes Italian meals so incredible, completely ruins your bodies digestive processes. Italians are obsessed with digestion. Whether or not you agree, you might as well subscribe to this way of thinking during your time in Italy, or you will receive more than the average share of strange looks. Stick to the cappuccino with breakfast, and learn to love the post-meal, mid-afternoon shot of espresso.


3. Tipping and Table Formalities

Tipping? Complete no-go. Not only is it simply not a thing in Italy, it is actually an insult. In the United States, waiters make a good amount of their income based on tips. In Italy, however, waiters and waitresses make a good living; its a highly thought of, respected career that pays what it should, unlike in the US, where waiters do not make near what they should more often than not. For that reason, your tip is taken as an assumption that they need your extra money and they don’t. At an Italian dinner, the waiter will come by you table maybe three times to take your order, bring your food, and bring your check. Fully immersing yourself in the meal, appreciating every flavor, and enjoying your company is what eating in Italy is all about. So, if a waiter comes by the table to ask three or four times if you like your meal, it is viewed as a disturbance and an annoyance to the experience. The common view is: If the food was bad when I first tried it, I would’ve said something. If I am eating it, and I have been eating it, then I probably don’t have an issue with anything on my plate, so I don’t need a waiter to continue to ask me about it. Moral of the story, don’t tip, just pay your bill and keep your extra Euros to yourself. Also, talk quietly. Just take my word for it, if you talk at a volume louder than basically a whisper, you're going to feel like you are literally screaming in comparison to those around you.


4. Correct pronunciation of the word “Grazie”

I am going to keep this one short and sweet. If you don’t want to come off as a complete and total tourist, do not say “grawtzee”. The word is pronounced, “graht-see-eh”. Make sure to add in the “eh” at the end and you will be golden!


5. Wine Cheaper than Water?

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble on this one, or crush any dreams. For this reason, I will start by saying, yes the wine in Italy is indeed very cheap and very good. A bottle of decent wine can be purchased at around ten euros, split between you and your two friends is about two eros a glass, so that is a huge plus. However, the whole free tap water thing Americans have grown accustomed to does not exist in Italy. Every once in a while, you will find that, upon asking for tap water, they will bring it to you in a pitcher with no charge. However, that is usually not an option. When you ask for water, they will offer still or sparkling and continue to bring your water of choice in a bottle that rings in at about two Euros. At a large dinner, keeping the water flowing can really add up, so in some cases, you will literally pay more for bottled water than wine.


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