10 ways to avoid looking like a tourist in Italy


As we say: “When in Rome…” But what does “do like the Romans” mean? Literally, the phrase means that it is advisable to follow the customs and conventions of the area you are visiting.

When visiting a new place, considering the culture is just as important as the climate. I toured Italy as a chaperone on a trip to high school a few years ago. I acquired a few ideas, but no one could mistake me for a local. For the scoop on how to act like an Italian, we went to an expert.

Introducing Steve Perillo, CEO, President and Third Generation Family Owner of Perillo tours, the first American travel agency in Italy. Steve is such an expert on Italy that he can give you the average temperature for a given day in any region. Here are some tips for acting like a local in Italy, according to Steve.

1. Dress well

Europeans tend to dress much less casually than we do in the United States. Let’s just say that wearing shorts is a good way to advertise that you are a tourist. Steve suggests dressing “for the occasion” and making sure you present yourself neatly. “Italians take great pride in their appearance and generally dress well for any type of public event. Even when shopping, Italians dress well, ”he says.

Gumil Anton / Shutterstock.com

2. Keep your shoes on

In some cultures, it is appropriate to take off your shoes when entering your home. Steve says that in Italy it comes down to personal preference: “Some Italians find it rude to take off your shoes in front of others. Some, although not many, expect you to remove them. Pay attention to what others are doing with their shoes, and if in doubt, ask.

Chiesa di Santa Maria sopra Minerva Assisi, Province of Perugia, Italy
Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Assisi (Photo credit: Laura Ray)

3. Shoulders and knees should be covered in church

Largely Catholic, Italy has an inordinate amount of ornate churches that you can visit. However, it is important to keep in mind that although these churches are tourist attractions, they are still considered holy places. Show respect by dressing conservatively.

4. Do not call during Pisolino

If you have to call someone between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., think again. You can interrupt their “pisolino”.

“Pisolino refers to a nap that Italians take every day after their midday meal, also known as a nap,” says Steve. He advises that if you have to call during these hours, you “first apologize for disturbing housekeeping at this time”.

Astrological signs on the old clock Torre dell'Orologio, Venice, Italy.  Medieval zodiac wheel and constellations.  Golden symbols on the circle of stars.  Astrology, horoscope and time concept.
Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock.com

5. Punctuality is not a priority

You might be used to being on time to the minute, or even arriving early, but Italians don’t answer clocks as much as Americans. Steve says, “It’s okay to arrive 15-30 minutes after the stated time.”

6. Italians don’t stand in line

“Unlike Americans, Italians don’t really believe in queues,” says Steve. “The unspoken rule is that whoever is the most aggressive and who comes first, goes first. The lines are simply not being followed.

7. La Bella Figura price

As you may have understood, impressions mean something in Italy. Fare la bella figura literally translates to “make a beautiful figure”, but it means “make a good impression”. We always want to look good on vacation anyway, so leave the messy bun and yoga pants at home and put on your bella figura!

8. Familiarize yourself with campanilismo

Steve explains: “The best way to describe campanilism is a strong sense of pride for its territory. Sometimes people even define themselves down to the particular part of the city where they live. Italians are more proud to be Romano (from Rome) or Tuscany (from Tuscany) than to be Italian.

Prior to 2012“All stores except supermarkets were always closed on Sundays to give workers time to spend time with their families and attend church,” says Steve. More stores are open on Sundays now, but don’t count on it!

Young tourist backpacker man with bicycle taking photos with vintage camera at Roman Forum at sunrise.  Historic imperial Foro Romano in Rome, Italy from panoramic point of view.
WineDonuts / Shutterstock.com

10. Carry only the essentials

If you don’t need it, don’t bring it, especially your passport. Steve offers these tips for visitors to avoid getting robbed in tourist areas:

  • Always keep your hand on your bag which hangs over your shoulder or keep your bag in front of you.
  • Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket.
  • Use an inexpensive padlock that you can use to lock the zippers on your backpack or purse in high traffic areas.
  • In restaurants and cafes, leave your purse in your lap instead of hanging it on your chair, and don’t leave your phone on the table if you’re dining out.


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