Learn What Is Considered Rude In Italy Without Embarrassment

What is considered Rude in Italy are important rules to learn as a smart traveler to avoid the embarrassment of a brutta figura and not be the Ugly American.

What is considered rude in Italy - Breaking Pasta!

Don’t Break Your Pasta!

One of the great opportunities when traveling is learning about other cultures and especially when it is one about which you are passionate. Smart travelers want to learn with the intention of avoiding making a bad show of it. Here is a list of Dos and Don’ts, with a bit of commentary based on my experiences here. I’m leaving out what is generally unacceptable in the US because those shouldn’t be a surprise and should be your starting point when coming to a new country.

What Are Table Manners In Italy?

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  • You will not find salt and pepper on the table at a restaurant because the expectation is that the cook has prepared it perfectly. Trying to change food after someone has prepared it, by adding salt or putting ketchup on it, is unacceptable.
  • Dress appropriately for your public meals. No tank tops should be worn in a restaurant, and don’t have your pits exposed near food.
  • Drinking Cappuccino after 11:00 AM is not acceptable. It probably isn’t considered rude, just weird. This goes against the importance Italians put on the digestibility of their food, and milk drunk any time other than for breakfast isn’t very digestible.

Other Etiquette For Italian Meals

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  • DO NOT ask for pineapple (ananas) on a pizza. There is a long list of videos showing the outrage Italians feel when someone asks about it.
  • Don’t break your spaghetti before you put it in the water to cook and don’t cut it with a knife and/or fork when eating it! Spaghetti is eaten in Italy more than anywhere else in the world and there are rules! You need to cook it whole and eat it by wrapping it around your fork.
  • Never ask for some cheese with your seafood, even if it’s on pasta. There are very few exceptions, and these are exceedingly rare in Italy. It’s a food crime to mix fish and cheese.
  • Italians, when eating at home, will wait for their host to sit and only then it will be time to eat.
  • Being a Catholic nation and again, while eating at home, don’t start eating until people are given the opportunity to say a prayer before the meal.
  • Unless you are a child, do not fill up on the bread before the meal begins as it is to be used during the later courses, like mopping up the sauce (scarpetti) at the end of the primi or secondi courses.
  • Unless you are having an extreme physical health issue, do not excuse yourself from the table until everyone is done eating.
  • Soda with a meal is less common for adults, but not uncommon for children. Adults typically drink only water, wine and beer, until the coffee at the end of the meal.
  • Houseguests are not expected to help pick up the dishes after the meal.
  • Italians typically drink cocktails (aperitivi) before meal time and wine during the meal, but only in small amounts. Public drunkenness is not acceptable in Italy and it is considered the result of a poor upbringing (maleducato). The Italian drinking culture is different from the US and the UK.

Rules For Social Etiquette In Italy

What is considered rude in Italy - Bring Flowers

Bring Flowers To Dinner For Your Host

  • Wearing a hat indoors is considered rude if done by men. This is less rude for women. It is also unacceptable when going to a church as a tourist or as a congregant.
  • As you have seen in every movie, It is expected that Italian friends and family members kiss on the cheek when they meet, irrespective of their gender.
  • Punctuality is not strictly followed in social situations. Being on time in Italy can mean 20, 30 or even 45 minutes late. It is considered rude to show up exactly on time or heaven forbid early.
  • Italians are not typically loud or boisterous in public spaces and they don’t draw attention to themselves, unless it is absolutely necessary, even in Rome.
  • Athletic clothing is to be worn only in the gym. Wearing your gym shorts and sneakers outside the gym are inappropriate.
  • No bathing suits are worn more than 100 meters from the water and definitely not when you are going out to dinner, no matter how hot you think you are.
  • Flip-flops are only acceptable at the beach, or on the way to the beach. Proper footwear is expected and prudent.
  • Some Italians consider it rude to take off your shoes in front of them. Apart from some Asian countries, I don’t know where this would be acceptable anyways.
  • Dinner guests are expected to bring a gift of wine, chocolates or flowers for the host.
  • Don’t expect that you can only speak English anywhere you go thinking that you will be understood. Apart from the big cities, English isn’t spoken very widely in Italy, so you should always carry a little dictionary, or a translation app, with all the essential words you need to know in Italian. It will be appreciated.

What Is Not Considered Rude In Italy

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Now let’s look at the flipside of this. What behaviors are acceptable in Italy that might be considered rude in other places.

What is considered rude in Italy - Lines

Lines Are Not Always Respected

  • When it comes to respecting the queue, or not, Italians view lines, organization and waiting your turn to be an obstacle to overcome. I’ve been nudged out of the way by older women trying to be first on a bus and I’ve had other people jump in line because they just have a “quick question”. It is getting better in some places because of the growing popularity of ticket machines that give out numbers for the next in line. Some people think they are being crafty (furbo) by jumping the line.
  • I am a big proponent of interrupting people when you are in a casual conversation with them, and I’ve been told I’m rude in the US when I do this. In Italy, people find it normal and acceptable to take over the conversation, or at least direct it to where it needs to go. Again, in the US this may be acceptable in a casual conversation with friends, but it may not be as acceptable in a slightly more formal context.
  • I have yet to experience this, but I’ve heard it is very common. People who aren’t your family, friends and even strangers in a store can talk about your weight, gain or loss, and even to the point of noticing a woman’s weight changes during pregnancy. I’ve been told it is quite jarring, to the point of disbelief and I can image that to be the case.
  • Blowing your nose in public is fine. In fact, the smaller tissue packs that are typically used in the US only when traveling are considerably more common than the larger boxes that we have scattered around the house. Of course you will need to be discrete, but you don’t need to leave the room  to clear the pipes.
  • I’m not sure of the origins of this, but when you buy something with cash, you are not usually handed the change. There is a dish near the register and the money and coins are placed in it. I don’t think it is a hygiene issue, but I’m not clear on the intentions.

More On Good Manners And Proper Social Etiquette

If you would like to learn more about Italian culture and proper social etiquette, here are some additional posts that you might find interesting:

All these cultural differences can lead travelers into thinking that Italians are being quite rude and impolite, as well as Italians thinking that Americans are boorish slobs. Understanding what is considered rude in Italy and accepting differences is the key to a successful visit and it will help you build your understanding of what life is like in another country. To quote the great Rick Steves:

“I would like travelers, especially American travelers, to travel in a way that broadens their perspective, because I think Americans tend to be some of the most ethnocentric people on the planet. It’s not just Americans, it’s the big countries. It’s the biggest countries that tend to be ethnocentric or ugly. There are ugly Russians, ugly Germans, ugly Japanese and ugly Americans. You don’t find ugly Belgians or ugly Bulgarians, they’re just too small to think the world is their norm.”

Rick Steves

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