Surprising things about Italy

One of the best things about traveling to a foreign country is that it makes you stop and think about all your own assumptions. Things you’ve taken for granted, assumed were correct, or never really gave much thought to — until you were faced with a completely different or opposite approach. At first, these differences are surprising and sometimes jarring. Then, you get used to them, and adopt some of them as your own.

Below are twenty surprising things about Italy that I noticed when I first moved there. I had to have Italian friends explain each of these, and many I didn’t even pick up on until I’d been living there for years. And, for several of them, I’m still not convinced.

Surprising things about Italy

In Italy, everyone knows that getting a breeze on the back of your neck can make you sick. This means you should never sit next to an open window in an office or even in the car. You should also always carry a scarf.

In Italy, everyone knows that cappuccino is only for breakfast. Italians eat breakfast kind of late, and they will order a cappuccino until 10.30 am or so. But this isn’t a hard and fast rule, so don’t worry. You can actually order a cappuccino whenever you want, and the barista will make one for you regardless of the hour.

Cappuccino Italy

“Cappuccino” by Erick Gonzalez via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

In Italy, everyone knows that showers are never taken immediately after eating. The blood will rush from your stomach, where it’s needed to digest your food, to your limbs in order to keep them warm. The food will then become a hard mass in your stomach causing severe cramps. You could fall in the shower and hit your head. Ever wonder what those emergency cords hanging in most Italian showers were for? Now you know. 

In Italy, everyone knows that your quality of sleep is affected when the seasons change.

In Italy, everyone knows that drinking ice-cold liquid is bad for your stomach. Consequence: water, and drinks in general are not served with ice and are often served at room temperature.

In Italy, everyone knows that eating “white” foods will calm an upset stomach.

In Italy, everyone knows that you never, ever, go outside with a wet head. Dry your hair completely after having a shower or getting out of the pool.

In Italy, everyone knows that flip flops are only for the beach or the shower.

In Italy, everyone knows that fruit is eaten after a meal.

In Italy, everyone knows that wardrobes change from summer to fall at the end of September, regardless of outdoor temperatures. The same goes for spring.

In Italy, everyone knows that unless you specify that you’d like tap water, you’ll get bottled water, which is not free.

In Italy, everyone knows that you don’t need to tip.

In Italy, everyone knows that washing machines take two hours for a cycle and that wet clothes are hung to dry as dryers are rare.

In Italy, everyone knows that text messaging is expensive, and what’s app is free (uses data). So nobody texts each other, and everyone is on What’s App.

In Italy, everyone knows that virtually all clothing must be ironed. This includes not only underwear and socks for many people, but also towels, sheets and wash cloths.

In Italy, everyone knows that it’s very bad for your hair to wash it every day.

In Italy, everyone knows that you turn the lights off whenever possible, because electricity is expensive.

In Italy, everyone knows that the trains are incredibly efficient and gas is incredibly expensive, so you take the train whenever convenient.

In Italy, everyone knows that at 6 pm, you have an aperitivo with a small snack to accompany it. You don’t get drunk and you don’t eat too much. The idea is to have a nice time with friends, before dinner.

In Italy, everyone knows that Christmas is spent with family while Easter is more flexible. (“Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi”)

Photo of wheat in the breeze by Sabrina Campagna; Photo of shower emergency cord by Lime124

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