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HUMOUR

The 15 absolute worst things about living in Italy

A British writer based in Rome takes a tongue-in-cheek look at living in Italy. Warning: sarcasm ahead.

The 15 absolute worst things about living in Italy
This is terrible. Honestly. Photo: DepositPhotos

You might be under the impression that life in Italy is one endless dream involving change-your-life pizza, handsome strangers and late-night vespa rides through cobbled piazzas.

Do not believe the hype… and definitely don’t bother booking a plane ticket. Here are 15 reasons to stay away altogether.

Cheap coffee

While the rest of the world has realized that supersized, syrup-laden coffee with sprinkles, toppings and other calorific additions is the future, Italy is stuck in the old days. Here, coffee comes short, strong and unadulterated by additives and accompaniments. Plus, it costs around €1 – what a rip off.

Taking food seriously

Outside Italy, dining is simple. Fancy a cappuccino after midday? No problem. Want parmesan on your seafood pasta? Sprinkle with wild abandon. Pineapple on pizza? Go wild. Break these sacred food rules in Italy, however, and you’ll be committing a mortal sin.

All those ancient ruins lying around

From imposing amphitheatres to grandiose villas and temples, and even the ruins of entire towns, the Bel Paese is littered with ancient sites. Who wants so much history on their doorstep like that?


You could trip over that. Why hasn't anyone cleared all this old stuff away? Photo: Iudovic Marin/AFP

Endless summer holidays

Taking a month-long vacation in August is practically mandatory for Italians and many escape the rat race by heading to the beach for sun, sand and sea on repeat. Sounds exhausting.

Wasting two hours on lunch

Traditional Italian lunches can be a long, drawn-out affair with multiple courses involving platters of cured meats, cooked vegetables and at least one type of pasta.

Even pencil pushers get out the office, forget about work and enjoy a plate of something nutritious. Other countries waste much less time: in Britain, for example, the average lunch break for office workers is an efficient 28 minutes, leaving more time to file those all-important reports.

Too much personal contact

While a handshake, nod or maybe even the briefest moment of eye contact might be the normal greeting for us Brits, Italians are more likely to greet people with a smile, hug or friendly kiss. What are they trying to hide with such open affection?


What's a reserved foreigner to do when confronted with Italy's public displays of affection? Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Sticking to what's in season

Italy’s markets are lively, colourful and packed with the freshest fruit and vegetables, much of which is grown locally and often sourced from the same trusted producers year after year. Trouble is, I want strawberries in December and I don’t care how many food miles it takes.

Art overdose

Italy’s artistic heritage is vast. The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, Da Vinci’s Last Supper and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel are just a few of the thousands of masterpieces on display.

Take care though; overdosing on art can bring on the psychosomatic disorder Florence Syndrome, which results in rapid heartbeat, dizziness and fainting.


Italy's art is so overwhelming it has a syndrome named after it. Photo: AFP

Tinnitus

From drivers honking their horns at every car and pedestrian that happens to cross their path to the local barista shouting out the orders across a crowded bar, Italy is a chaotic place.

After a short period immersed in the pandemonium, though, other countries start to seem incredibly boring. You’ll also never be able to queue patiently again.

Too many desserts

Having to choose between gelato, tiramisù, cannoli and panna cotta is just too difficult. And that’s before you even begin to think about seasonal specialties like panettone at Christmas, colomba at Easter and bignè di San Giuseppe on Father’s Day.

Your waistline will need a miracle, so you’d better start praying now.


So much tiramisù, so little time. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Unwanted guests

Shortly after any move to Italy, friends and family back home decide they want to experience la dolce vita for themselves – and you’re their ticket in. Expect uninvited guests at your door within about six months.

So much natural beauty it's unfair

The landscape of Italy is as varied as it is beautiful. Verdant countryside, steaming hot springs, gorgeous beaches, snow-capped mountain ranges and even fiery volcanoes dazzle visitors and locals alike. Quite frankly, it ruins you for other countries.

Slow food

Italy has (mostly) staved off invasion from the likes of McDonalds, KFC and Burger King, meaning diners have to put up with fast food, Italian style – namely, regional recipes and home cooking in a street food setting. Think panini stuffed with local stews or braised veggies, deep-fried goodies like supplì and arancini, or a slice of simple yet satisfying pizza.

Nice, but we know what you really want is a Big Mac and fries.


Fast food, the Italian way. Photo: Eric Parker/Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0

An overbooked diary

You might have heard that Italians are friendly, generous and hospitable. I’m sorry to tell you that it’s all true. You’ll receive so many invitations to stay at people’s houses or join their entire family for Sunday lunch, despite having just met half an hour ago. It’s literally the worst.

Bureaucracy

OK, now that’s actually a real headache. I wouldn’t wish an appointment at the questura in mid-August on my worst enemy.

Originally from the UK, Emma Law is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Rome. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

What do you think are the worst things about living in Italy (serious or otherwise)? Let us know by email or in the comments below.

Member comments

  1. Riposo!!!!! Most shops actually closed. Except the bars. Short store hours or closed on Sunday. Imagine the nerve! NO every corner Walmart. Have to use mostly local shops for specific needs (depending where you live) and figure out when they are open.
    Oh and where I get my coffee sometimes is the local bar.

  2. AGREE. Chaos abounds. Loud energetic speakers. At first I thought everyone was angry. Nope, just discussing the weather, local gossip or food.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

A growing number of Italian destinations are bringing in rules aimed at controlling the summer crowds. Such measures often prove controversial - but they should go further, says Silvia Marchetti.

OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

Each summer, as tourists flock to Italy, the question of limiting crowds and ensuring sustainable travel comes up. Especially so with Covid.

Placing a threshold on the number of visitors to some of Italy’s top spots has a two-fold goal: that of preserving the artistic and cultural value of the site, and of preventing out-of-control mass tourism from leading to accidents.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which parts of Italy will get the most tourism this summer?

Proposed crowd-control measures usually raise eyebrows, but they shouldn’t. They’re a good way to balance sustainability, and existing rules should be extended to more hotspots.

The Cinque Terre park, known for its stunning hiking trails connecting the area’s cliffhanging fishing villages, has introduced summer tourist limits to preserve its delicate ecosystem. A few parts of the trails, like the Lovers Path connecting Manarola to Riomaggiore, are closed due to soil erosion and landslides.

Groups of no more than 15 hikers are allowed inside the Cinque Terre park in rotation, and there’s a cap of 200 available boat tickets for those preferring to admire the views comfortably from sea while bathing.

Liguria remains a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy this summer.

The Cinque Terre remain a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy, attracting huge crowds. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

Many locations across Italy are reverting to, or are considering, some kind of restricted access to offset high demand with ‘green’, safe travel. 

The Amalfi coast has a summertime limit on driving along the route connecting Positano to Vietri sul Mare to ease congestion, while a few years ago the mayor even banned tourist selfies to stop massive crowds of people invading the whitewashed alleys and sitting on brick walls.

There are currently strict limits on the number of people allowed to visit the Tuscan archipelago national park each summer, mainly the protected islands of Montecristo (uninhabited other than a caretaker), and the two prison islands of Gorgona and Pianosa (boasting a hotel run by inmates on probation). A maximum of 150-200 tourists are admitted annually to each of these isles.

You also need to move fast if you want to spend a weekend in Sardinia, touring its tropical-like baby powder beaches and paradise isles. The number of restrictions in place is on the rise.

On Budelli island, the pearl of the La Maddalena archipelago, other than the pink coral beach, the Cavalieri beach is also now totally off limits, meaning landing on the entire island is forbidden.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

The beaches of Lu Impostu and Brandinchi along San Teodoro’s coast will allow just 1500 and 3300 sunbathers each, while Stintino’s popular La Pelosa beach allows 1500, making tourists pay €3.50 per day and wear a yellow bracelet for identification.

The paradise archipelago of La Maddalena is seeing more tourist restrictions imposed. Photo by Leon Rohrwild on Unsplash

The abandoned former prison island of Santo Stefano, off Rome’s coast, which is part of a protected marine park brimming with barracudas and groupers, is currently undergoing a transformation into an open-air museum with a tiny hostel. Project managers have already pledged daily tourism will be “contained”’ to preserve the unique habitat.

In the mountains too, authorities are eyeing tougher limits. At Lago di Braies in the Dolomites, 14 tourists recently fell into the freezing water trying to take awesome, but silly, selfies of their acrobatic skills despite warning signs.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

In my view, all of Italy’s tourist hotspots should have some kind of regulation and police patrols, including top city highlights like the Trevi Fountain, Florence’s Duomo, and Venice, which in fact is expected to become Italy’s first city with a tourist limit from January 2023. People will have to book and buy a special pass to see the canals, bridges and piazzas.

If Venice succeeds in doing this, then it will show other cities that they too can control access to at least their biggest hotspots.

In Rome, the Pantheon has done a great job in introducing mandatory (but free) reservations on weekends, putting a stop to visitors just stepping inside to take a peek.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

The Fontana di Trevi, Piazza Navona and especially Piazza di Spagna should be more heavily patrolled, and Rome authorities should really consider a set tourist limit.

But just the idea is controversial, seen as a no-no depriving tourists of the thrill of throwing coins inside Rome’s iconic fountain to make a wish.

The Trevi fountain in Rome attracts a constant stream of tourists. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

There is a constant, sterile discussion within the city council and the national arts department on tougher regulations and limited entrances to Rome’s main sites.

Culture minister Dario Franceschini is pushing for a more sustainable ‘fountain experience’ that limits crowds and prevents heat-struck visitors from diving inside. He recently argued that allowing “1,000 or 100,000 visitors in front of the Trevi fountain” puts both them and the masterpiece at risk.

Ugly red tape, orange nets and rusty fences are occasionally placed around the Trevi Fountain without much of an outcome.

There are architectural barriers to stop people from sitting on the edges and dangling their feet inside the water at Fontana delle Tartarughe and Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona, but it’s not enough. 

Setting a daily cap on visitors is the best solution; even better than introducing a ticketing system, because any tourist, once in the Eternal City, would pay to get in, and it would not be fair to discriminate based on money.

After all, if Italian universities can restrict enrollment for medical students, when new doctors are vital during Covid, I see no reason why tourist attractions can’t set limits when their own survival is at stake.

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