Top 10 Secrets You’ll Learn After You Move to Italy

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Top 10 Secrets You’ll Learn After You Move to Italy

Italy is both a haven for expats and one of the most popular destinations in Europe — and it’s easy to see why. Great food, beautiful weather, and a relaxed way of life are all important factors of La Dolce Vita which you will enjoy during your time in Italy.

However, there a few top tips which will greatly enhance your expat experience in Italy, and enable you to settle in quicker. Here are InterNations top ten secrets you need to know about Italy:

1. English Is Not As Widely Spoken As You Think

An estimated 34% of Italians speak English as a second language, which is comparatively low to Germany (70%) or Greece (51%). Learning just a few words of Italian will make your life a lot easier, even if it’s just “parli inglese?”. Similarly, socializing might be tricky at first because of this language barrier, so joining InterNations and attending events with other expats will help you settle in much quicker. On top of that, you can get the advice of expats that have been there,  and avoid common pitfalls.

2. Turn Up Late

You’re settling into your new life in Italy, and a work colleague has asked invited you for dinner at around 20:00. This seems straightforward enough, right? Only you ring the doorbell at 20:01 and are greeted with strange looks. Nobody ever turns up on time and you shouldn’t be knocking on that door until at least twenty past. For some expats (especially those from Germany), this might seem odd since turning up late is considered rude where they come from. Here in Italy (like much of southern Europe), time is a very fluid concept, and you should adjust accordingly.

3. Bring a Gift

While we’re on the subject of dinner etiquette, you definitely should not show up empty-handed either. If you are invited to a friend’s house, you should be bringing a gift. Wine or flowers are fine, except for chrysanthemums which are funeral flowers, or roses which are reserved for romance only. As a foreigner you’ll always receive a bit of leeway, of course, but it makes a much better first impression if you get this right straight away.

4. Dinner Happens Late

The actual eating also happens late. Those from other parts of the world may be used to eating lunch at noon and then dinner at around 18:00. However, in Italy you’ll be lucky to sit down before 20:00. Instead, many towns have a “tourist sitting” at around 19:00, and then the locals have dinner at 21:00. It’s true that the Spanish take the crown for the world’s latest eaters (23:00 is not uncommon at the weekend), but the Italians push them very close. So, don’t turn up at your colleague’s house with an empty stomach because you are in for a long wait.

5. Be Careful How You Eat

Even if you have arrived at your colleague’s house fashionably late, brought a gift, and are expecting a late dinner, there are still some major pitfalls ahead. Imagine, your host has finally served  a delicious Seafood Linguini, and you go right and ask for some parmesan to go with it. This is a big faux pas — cheese is never for fish, no matter which type of pasta it is served on. Italy is still quite strict on eating habits, so get those elbows off the table and don’t talk with your mouth open! Also, you should not put ketchup on your pizza or your pasta unless you are looking to be permanently un-invited.

6. Validate Your Train Ticket

Even if you try to stick to all the rules and make sure that you’ve bought the right ticket for your train ride home, you might be confronted with a very angry conductor shouting at you and demanding a 50 EUR fine. Why? You have failed to validate your ticket. Simply slot your ticket in the little boxes you see before boarding the train , and get it punched, and you’re clear. Luckily, this does not apply to long distance Frecce trains since you’ve already been allocated a specific seat and time of travel. 

7. Driving Can Be Tricky

Driving in Italy can be very tough, even for the locals, so don’t despair when you are shouted at on the roundabout. Essentially, Italian traffic is a form of organized chaos where everyone follows the unwritten rules. Italians will gladly let you in on the motorway, but will also change lanes without warning. Similarly, you’re never going to get out of that sideroad unless you edge forward a little. The beeping or hooting of a horn can mean many things but is rarely hostile. It can mean anything from “get in — Juventus have just won the Coppa” to “watch out, the polizia are doing checks around that bend”. As with all driving habits you will pick this up within a few months.

8. You Need to Cover Up When Going to Church

Italy is blessed with a lot of stunning churches. Of course, it is a great idea to visit as many as you can, as the architecture and art housed inside is beautiful. However, there are a few pieces of etiquette to observe. Shorts are usually not welcome inside, so if you’re planning on going in summer it’s worth suffering in trousers just for a day. Also, women should cover their shoulders — just buy a nice scarf you can keep in your bag for impromptu visits.

9. Never Order a “Latte”

Casually ordering a latte at an Italian café is not a good idea because you’ll end up with a glass of milk. Of course, a sensible barista will know what you’re after, but a cruel one might show you up in front of the whole establishment. Coffee mishaps don’t end there either: cappuccinos are for the morning only, whereas it’s very normal to drink an espresso after your meal in a restaurant. The saying “when in Rome” has never been so appropriate!

10.  Join InterNations!

Don’t be shocked, you knew the shameless plug was coming! Moving abroad is tricky for anyone, so seeing a few familiar faces who speak your language can be both comforting and useful. We have no doubt that you’ll fly through life in Italy in no time, but why not join us and attend some of our fantastic events to smooth the process? Here you can meet expats from all over the world who will have that little bit more experience and might give you that crucial bit of advice. You can also explore more of your new hometown too, as we have plenty of groups which go about seeing the best sites in Rome and Milan, as well as other major cities. Make life easier for yourself, and join InterNations to get settled in Italy.

Brandon Le Clerk

"What I really love about InterNations? Making new business contacts and friends in real life. This is a unique plattform."

Li Wang

"At my first InterNations Rome Get-Together I met more expats then expected. InterNations made is so easy to settle in."

Global Expat Guide