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Quirky Italian habits that won't work back home

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Quirky Italian habits that won't work back home
You probably can't get away with quite as many PDAs outside Italy. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Some Italian habits are easy to acquire, difficult to lose and likely to annoy your friends and family if you take them back home.


But don't worry. The subtle changes to your behaviour when living in Italy are merely part of a healthy process psychologists call "acculturation".

That said, some of them might raise a few eyebrows if you keep them up when you leave Italy. Here are seven likely culprits.


Kissing everybody goodbye

Photo: Jason Hargrove/Flickr

Anyone who has spent more few weeks time in Italy will find themselves automatically leaning in to give friends and family members of either sex a couple of pecks on the cheek when it's time to say goodbye.

READ ALSO: Here's how to do the Italian cheek kiss

Outside Italy, rules about kissing are often very different. This can lead to some pretty awkward moments if you accidentally do the Italian thing on one of your mates.

Eating late

Photo: AFP

In many other countries eating late is associated with weight gain but in Italy, a country renowned for its healthy diet, the idea of sitting down to dinner at 6pm is laughable.

In Italy, lunch tends to be the largest meal of the day and it's common not to dine until as late as 9:30pm. But outside Italy your new renegade eating habits might not fly.

READ ALSO: Bizarre Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

Why not try pointing out to all the naysayers the benefits of late eating?

Scientists say it can help regulate blood sugar and keeps hunger at bay, stopping you from mindlessly snacking on junk food in front of the TV later on in the evening.

Going out later

Photo: Paco Serinelli/AFP

Obviously, eating dinner at a later time means most Italians don't head out until long after sundown. Living in Italy, it's a habit that's difficult not to fall into.

While in the US or UK it is common to meet for a few after work drinks in the pub at 5:30pm, in Italy it's not the done thing.

READ ALSO: A beginner's guide to aperitivo in Italy

Here, an early pre-dinner drink and snack otherwise known as an 'aperitivo' might happen at around 7:30pm – but if you're just meeting your friends for drinks a 10pm start or later is not uncommon.

In the UK at least, heading out so late will mean you arrive at the pub just in time for last orders... so it is not advisable.


Counting differently

When counting using their hand, Italians usually start with counting from one at the thumb, but will sometimes indicate two by flipping a 'V' sign at you – an offensive symbol in the UK.

This is highly infectious but should be practiced with caution, especially when ordering two drinks in a crowded bar in an anglophone country...

Not tipping

Photo: AFP

While in other countries it is common to add a certain percentage of the bill as a tip, In Italy you just round up to the nearest euro or if the bill is really large, the nearest five euros.

There is not a strong tipping culture in Italy - and it's a bit of a touristy (though generous) thing to do.

Feeling the weather

Italians are a weather-sensitive bunch. Heavy rain is enough to cancel a social engagement and once the thermometer dips below 20 degrees Celsius, failure to leave the house without at least a coat (preferably with scarf and gloves) will raise eyebrows among your Italian friends.

READ ALSO: Illnesses that only seem to strike Italians

Most visitors from northern latitudes eventually come around to the Italian way of thinking and forever give up chilly autumn evenings spent outside in nothing but a jumper, much to the befuddlement of their friends back home.

Enforcing strict rules about food and drink

Anyone who's spent time in Italy will know that there should be no Parmesan cheese with fish dishes, no cappuccino after midday and absolutely no ketchup on pizza or pasta.

They will waste no time in telling their friends just how they are going wrong in their consumption of Italian food, for example by pointing out how different pasta shapes are better suited to different types of sauces.

OPINION: In defence of spaghetti bolognese

They can also drive everybody crazy by bemoaning the terrible quality of the Italian food on offer whenever they are outside Italy.

Strange hand signals

Italians gesticulate more than most other cultures and after spending some time in Italy it's likely that you have adopted at least one of the 250 gestures in common usage.

Some of them are highly infectious.

Do you show your appreciation of good food by drilling your finger into your cheek? Perhaps you display indifference by running your fingernails from your neck to your chin? Or maybe you indicate 'nothing' by making sort of gun shape with your thumb and forefinger and rotating it?

In which case, congratulations! Acculturation is well underway. This is another one that's best left in Italy though, as nobody back home is any the wiser...

What habits have you picked up while living in Italy? Leave your comments below!

A version of this article was first published in December 2015.


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[email protected] 2020/01/15 18:51
As an American I have never seen ketchup on pasta or pizza sounds disgusting. Never saw parmesan on fish either.Chicken parmesan I never liked and know not italian.

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