Enjoying la dolce vita in Italy is easy for the Italians. They know just how their system works, what to do, where to go and how to go about things.
1. Behave like a good guest.
Even if you speak a few words of Italian, rest assured, everyone will instantly know that you are not Italian. To travel well in Italy, you don’t need to desperately try to look and be Italian, it just means you should be yourself, as a good guest. Being a good guest means playing things by the Italian rules. One of these would be to not touch things in stores like you normally would in North America. It’s not done.
2. Adapt to local circumstances.
Expect to experience Italy in Italy and not North America in an Italian setting. There is no two ways about it: the Italians do things in their own peculiar ways. E.g. You have to go to this counter to pay and to that counter to pick up your meat or bakery goods. One handles the money, the other the food.
Just when you think they are extremely good with hygiene, don’t be surprised if you find no toilet paper, soap, nor a toilet seat in many public places, cafes and restaurants. Don’t bother complaining about it. Just bring your own gear along.
These two examples might be easy to fit in with. Much harder on the American mind is the fact that shops and restaurants have their own set hours. Shops open in the morning and close at 1 pm for lunch. Restaurants start lunch at 1 pm till 3 pm, and are close till 8 pm when they open again for dinner. Set an alarm clock to wake up early so you can get things done and bring a few snacks along to help you manage this rather rigid restaurant schedule.
Overall, enjoy rather than get annoyed when things are arranged differently than they are at home. After all, this is why you are in Italy. To experience something new. Relax, and enjoy some more gelato as you find something else to do because whatever you planned is closed, and none knows when they will open again because someone is on strike.
3. Be polite.
Italians are generally courteous and polite and certain manners will open doors for you. Italians say ‘buon giorno’ when they walk into the shop, and not only the shop keeper but also the other clients greet them back. Just participate in this by saying ‘buon giorno’ when you walk into a store. Observe local politeness and follow suit.
4. Practice walking before your trip and bring sensible shoes.
I always advice guests to take their smaller children for long walks for a few weeks prior to coming for a visit to Italy. Italy means walking. And bring and wear comfortable, flat shoes while here.
Between uneven cobble stones outside(see photo) and slippery marble floors inside, Italian flooring is a challenge.
While you will see young Italian fashionistas wearing super high heels, realize that they usually are not walking very far, i.e. just from their little scooter to the coffee shop. They are certainly not going on a 5 mile sight-seeing tour through Rome like you may be. So, be like an Italian grandmother instead: wear flat, comfortable shoes and you’ll be so happy that you did.
Italia is best experienced rather than raced through. Yes, it’s true: Italia is one big giant outdoor museum and there is just soo much to be seen. However, to get the best out of your Italian trip, you have to actually slow down, have fewer plans and go with the flow. In practical terms that mean that you should spend at least 3-4 days in each location and do a lot fewer sights than are on offer. Just pick a top 3 and add if you have time. Remember that the best thing about visiting Italy is simply being there.