Bullet List Rome: Cultural Differences

20191106_124837 Barberini
Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini

As far as I can tell, Italians are warm, friendly, and open generally speaking. The cultural behaviors that we love so much– the hand gestures, the emotional outbursts– are in evidence daily. Here is my list of differences that were new to me:

  • Fish and steak are charged by the 100 gram — so if you see €20 on the menu, that is not the price you will pay at the end — but rather you will pay €20 per 100 gram — so that piece of fresh fish might cost €40.
  • Toilet seats — or rather the lack thereof. Be prepared with disinfectant wipes and portable toilet seat covers, which are also not available. If you can manage not to sit — even better!
  • Grilled vegetables — listed as Miste Verdue griglia do not arrive at your table hot, or even warm. They come room temperature or even cool. That often goes for the side potatoes too!
  • Espresso is cheaper at the bar and costs around €3 more at Tavola or table. Go ahead, order it, watch it being made, and drink it right there standing up! When in Rome, do as the Romans do,
  • Don’t order a latte, rather order a Caffellatte. Latte just means milk in Italian and you get some funny looks when you order a milk.
  • Buona sera (Bonah Sayrah) happens right about noon and lasts until about the time you leave a late dinner at the restaurant. First thing in the morning is Buongiorno.
  • Old men and their shoe shops. So far, I have seen a few shoe shops that sell only Italian made shoes and each of these has an octogenarian greeting and running the money. These guys are over-the-top charming, one joking with us, flattering us, and kissing my hand even though he knew we didn’t speak Italian. The younger workers, I like to think that they are the great-grandchildren, make apologies, translate, and overall this creates the charming family environment that moviegoers expect.
  • Italian maids are amazing, don’t understand English and have full access to your room to tidy it up; once late morning and once while you are supposed to be out to dinner, plus someone else brings water, someone else checks the minibar, someone else checks to see if the maids did a good job…it’s like grand central station.
  • Roman water is good, unless you have a tendency to kidney stones. It has calcium — not the good bone-building kind, so one drinks a lot of bottled water. Frizzante is the most bubbly–the waiter will ask if you want gas, there is natural slightly sparkling mineral water, and there is still water. You are able to purchase water in glass bottles to avoid single-use plastic.
  • Birkenstocks have a tendency to get “side-eye” from Italian men. Women simply ignore them.
  • Skip the line by purchasing tickets and vouchers in advance from the hotel — you can even purchase from a hotel if you aren’t staying there, making impulse tours easy! There are always folks on the street selling tickets too — they are well marked so you don’t accidentally buy from the wrong guy.
  • Metro ticket machines — look at the pictures of the money it is taking — sometimes it quits taking bills and you can tell that by the picture of coins.
  • Don’t accept roses from the guys on the Spanish Steps — unless you want to donate.
  • Eat the roasted chestnuts. Look for evenly roasted chestnuts, the vendors paying attention to even roasting have the chestnuts arranged in a single layer. Wait until after 6 to ensure enough roasting has happened. Then walk around with 600 other people looking at the luxury shop windows and Roman landmarks.
  • Don’t get into the fountains. These are national treasures and meant to be enjoyed visually by everyone.
  • Be respectful of the churches — turn off your phone notifications and sound, wear pants not shorts, or skirts/dresses that aren’t classified as mini. Talk in a quiet voice, take in the art, make a small donation, and feel free to pray for world peace and contemplate.
  • Buy local. Italians make some of the best shoes — so look for “made in Italy” try them on because some are designed better than others, and in small shops sometimes you can make an offer. Italians have access to wonderful produce, so get as much fresh fruit juice (spremute) and fresh room temperature vegetables as you can get!
  • Learn some Italian — it’s really easy to get the hang of it! Grazie!