From pasta on your shirt to greeting people on the street with respect and class—here are several etiquette tips to keep in mind while navigating everything from the traffic to the tableware in Rome…
1. Social etiquette demands that if you meet a friend, family member, or coworker on the street in Rome, you make the time to ask about their health, family, good news, and happiness—regardless of if you’re running behind. To do otherwise is just plain rude.
2. Breakfast is hardly the largest meal of the day in Rome. Most Italians rise to a coffee and, at most, a cornetto (a small breakfast pastry). The idea of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, and pancakes is just gluttonous. So if you expect this type of American breakfast, stay in a hotel that explicitly provides it.
3. Don’t loudly criticize the city’s traffic congestion, food, wait staff, weather. Remember, just because you hear the locals doing so; doesn’t mean criticism from an outsider will be welcomed. In fact, many locals will be downright offended.
4. Try to learn a few Italian phrases. A little effort will go a long way, even if your Italian is a bit slow or broken, Romans appreciate the effort with open arms.
5. Eating on the go—such as while you walk or on the bus—is socially sneered at by Romans. Much like the French, it goes against the entire philosophy of Italian eating. Dinner should be a meal that’s savored with loved ones. The only exception is Gelato on the go.
6. Ordering coffee with your meal is frowned upon. Coffee is a digestive after all, to be consumed following a meal. So if you require a caffeine fix prior to a meal, just be sure to order an espresso at another location. The same goes for drinking coffee with milk after noon. Italians follow almost kosher rules when it comes to not mixing dairy and meat, so cappuccino or any coffee with milk in it is socially shunned when the clock strikes 12pm.
7. Don’t enter the left-hand driving lane, unless you’re passing another car. Italians don’t have the patience and it is considered unsafe driving.
8. Don’t just sit there and wait for your bill, it will never come. It’s considered rude and rushing for a waiter to bring the bill before you’ve finished your food, lingered with wine, or ordered a dessert or a coffee. And when you’re ready for the bill, you need to ask for it with a firm “Il conto, per favore”.
9. Dress to impress—you’ll notice upon arrival that churches and many ruins demand a dress code (i.e., shorts or miniskirts are not kosher). The same goes for restaurants. Do as the Italians do and “fare un bella figura” (or “make a good impression”) or you could be socially shunned or restricted access.
10. Consuming bread before you meal, like an appetizer, is frowned upon in all of Italy. Why on earth would you eat your bread with butter or olive oil before the meal; when it’s meant to be dipped in those delectable leftover sauces?
11. Ask for recommendations from locals and servers. After all, Italians are a prideful people who value respect. If you ignore the menu and ask your server to recommend a signature dish, they will be more than happy to do so.
12. Just a sprinkle of parmesan on your pizza or pasta is seen as disgraceful so don’t even ask for “parmigiano” as a seasoning—even at touristy locations.
13. Don’t handle the merchandise in stores—rather, ask for assistance. For instance, rooting through a stack of folded designer shirts might get you ousted by the designer-clad staff.
14. Eat light. Italians do eat rich, but gorging yourself on an appetizer, pasta dish, second plate, and dessert would be considered gluttonous.