I am usually gushing about Italy, telling you how fabulous it is, waxing nostalgic about trips to the vineyards, excursions on private boats to magical islands, sublime dinners and unsurpassed beauty. But guess what? nobody’s perfect and this includes my beloved Italy. Here is a list of things you should know before you go.
- Do Not Eat Dessert First (or at all) Italian food is amazing: pasta, pizza, gelato, bread, gorgeous fresh vegetables, mouthwatering cheeses. I even love their breakfast pastries when they are from a reputable cafè. but in my opinion, you should save your calories or should I say, use them all up during the meal and just skip dessert. I know that I will get push back on this. I mean come on, there is tiramisù. Frankly, I could go the rest of my life without another bite of tiramisù. Give me a strawberry shortcake or an apple crisp any day. Of course there are some exceptions, but to me, Italian desserts are lacking flavor.
- There are better beaches - I am not saying that you should skip the coastline - Places like the Amalfi Coast, the Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre are popular for a reason. They are impressive, the vibe is romantic and the views are stunning. But the beaches themselves, not so much. On the west coast they are rocky and very, very crowded. The east coast beaches are sandy but can’t compare to the gorgeous white silky sand beaches of the Caribbean or even California and Florida (Siesta Key is a personal favorite). Sardinia is an exception - there are some fabulous beaches there. But in general, you should expect your beach vacation to be very different in Italy than in other seaside destinations. Not bad, just different.
- Italian television is the worst. Several years ago I was in Italy with my husband. Before we went to dinner we flipped the tv on. He is always curious about cultural differences. Doug and I happened upon a game show that was quite possibly the worst, most melodramatic scene I have ever seen. The decision making process to take the money and run or stick it out for another round was interminable. Melodramatic music played and the camera closed in on the contestant who looked as pained as if he might be thrown into the seventh circle of hell upon making this decision. And then there were the inexplicable scantily clad dancers who came on stage periodically. This in a nutshell describes Italian television. Other than that, there are American and German shows dubbed in Italian. Of course, you are not in Italy to watch TV but I just wanted to assure you that you are not missing a thing.
- Italians are obsessed with not being cold. There are pros and cons to this of course. The upside is that they are the masters of the scarf - selling them and styling them - and you can benefit from their expertise while you are there. The down side can come if you are on a train with them and they refuse to open a window even when the air conditioningis broken and it is stifling. The colpo di aria (hit of air to the neck), even in the middle of summer, is considered deadly and to be avoided at all costs.
- The non-smoking movement has yet to make it to Italy - there are rules that prohibit smoking in hotels, restaurants and other public spaces. And thankfully, there is no longer smoking on flights - the years of a smoking and nonsmoking section on the plane were painful. But there are still plenty of Italians smoking on the streets or in outdoor cafes. Something to be aware of before you sit down somewhere for an aperitif
- Leaning Tower of Pisa? Overrated. I’m sorry, but with all there is to see in Italy, I think it is important to mention when things are not worth your time. If it is on your lifelong list to see it, then go for it. But if you are looking for a unique, true Italian experience, that is not it. Same goes for Murano, in my opinion. (I am sure there are others)
- Italians do not know how to line up - this is both and observation and a warning. If you are in Italy and you try to queue up with Italians, you will inevitably never make it to the front of the “line”. The fact is, there is no line. Italians gather in hoards and then elbow (weasel) their way up to the front of the crowd. The point is that you need to be assertive and stand your ground or you will find yourself standing at a bakery for 30 minutes and still be without a crumb of bread in your hands.
Are these little idiosyncrasies going to keep you from going to Italy? Good heavens, I hope not. Believe me, there is more (MUCH more) good than bad. But don't tell me you haven't been warned.
Do you agree with this list? Have something to add? Feel free to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.