It’s been 6 months since my husband and I returned from our extraordinary Italian adventure; where for two glorious, carefree weeks, we casually wined and dined our way across the Tuscan countryside. As I sit here on a Monday afternoon, I find myself reminiscing about that trip and how much fun we had pretending to “fit in” with the Italian culture and lifestyle. Italians have an easy-going and positive outlook on how to go about daily life. They just know how to enjoy la dolce vida, the sweet life, so it’s not surprising that 46 million people, from all walks of life, travel to Italy each year.
If you’re planning a trip to the boot-shaped peninsula anytime soon, check out this Huffington Post article from February: 15 Food Reasons Italians Are Better At Life and allow me to share a few things we learned along the way:
1. Everything simply closes in the afternoon. We learned this the hard-way early on in our trip. Many stores and restaurants can close anywhere between 2:00-4:00 pm so they can relax and enjoy lunch with their family. Be sure to plan your meals accordingly. Everyone knows a hungry woman is a grumpy woman.
2. Wander off the beaten path. You don’t need to go far, just a few blocks away from all the main attractions, you can easily find normal Italians going about their daily life. Grab an espresso or a cup of gelato and stop hurrying and start relaxing.
3. Ask for the check. Your server is not ignoring you. Italy is all about slow food. When you’re ready to leave, ask for “il conto, per favore”.
4. Order the house wine. Actually at a few of the small, off-the-beaten path trattorias we visited, this was the only option. House wines tend to be on the cheaper side – it’s not uncommon to see a liter of house wine for about 5 euros. It may not be the most amazing wine you’ve ever had, but give it a shot and keep an open mind.
5. Get the museum tickets ahead of time. While in Florence, we foolishly tried to wander in to the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David. Reality check: the line and wait time to get in was more than 2 hours long.
6. Dinner is late. If you’re an urban dweller, you’re most likely used to eating late. Dinner is typically between 7:30-10:00 pm and reservations are always a good idea. Dress is casual, but you’ll be easily identified as a tourist if you’re wearing flip-flops.
7. Breakfast = cappuccino and a pastry. This is another reason Italy rules. Sit down and eat it slowly.
8. Pane e coperto. In restaurants you’ll typically see this charge on your bill (bread and cover). Bread isn’t typically served with a meal in Italy. Bread is delivered to cater to Americans. If you don’t eat it, you can ask for it to be taken away and you may not be charged the (pane) fee. Coperto is the “cover charge” – this is the fee to sit down at the table. Also, sometimes a service fee (tip) is automatically included on the check. If it is, you don’t need to tip more unless you want to. If a service fee is not included, you can tip between 5-15%. Italians tip much less than the American standard.
9. Stand at the bar. At bars and cafes, order at the bar, especially when ordering a quick shot of espresso. You’ll be charged more to sit at a table – and look more like a tourist too.
10. Slow down. Trust me, you won’t get to see everything. A vacation in Italy should be savored. Try to ditch your American habit of trying to rush through everything. Slow down, savor and appreciate all the amazing sights, sounds and flavors.