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ITALY EXPLAINED

How do Italians eat spaghetti? The Local answers Google’s questions

How do Italians eat spaghetti? What do Italians eat for breakfast? In a series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you start typing questions with "Italy" or "Italians" into the Google search engine.

A big bowl of spaghetti.
Which cutlery should you use with your pizza and pasta in Italy? Photo: Keriliwi on Unsplash

In this piece, we answer some of the most commonly googled questions about Italian food culture.

Read on to find out how Italians drink coffee, whether you need a fork to eat pizza in Italy, and whether you should tip in Italian restaurants…

How do Italians eat spaghetti?

According to the blog Roma gourmet, spaghetti or any other kind of long pasta should be eaten with a fork, and definitely not cut up into more manageable pieces with a knife.

In a sharp rejection of the technique demonstrated by Saoirse Ronan in the film Brooklyn, where Ronan’s character eats spaghetti with the Italian-American family of her love interest Tony, the blog’s authors say you also shouldn’t need the assistance of a spoon.

READ ALSO: Why is Italy called Italy?

Instead, if you want to eat spaghetti like an Italian, you should twirl your fork clockwise against your plate at an angle, picking up just a few strands to achieve a tidy ‘moderate bite’ that avoids leaving ‘slobbering threads’ hanging over the edge. Appetising.

full house eating GIF

What do Italians eat for breakfast?

As with all questions about food in Italy, the answer varies from region to region.

But as a general rule, Italians definitely tend to err on the sweet side for breakfast.

A common breakfast is a cornetto (if you’re in the centre-south) or brioche (if you’re in the north) that resembles a French croissant, but is much sweeter and denser, and is dusted with icing sugar and/or brushed with a glaze on top. 

READ ALSO: 15 things you’ll probably never get used to about living in Italy

The more indulgent variations are often filled with honey, jam, chocolate spread, or an almond frangipane or pistachio cream. Other popular breakfast options are crostata jam tarts or ciambelle donuts.

Sicilians will go one step further and have gelato in a brioche bun to start their day on a real sugar high.

Cornetti Cornetto Colazione Buongiorno Colazione Italiana Pappa Cappuccino GIF - Croissant Breakfast Italian Breakfast GIFs

Whichever region you’re in, you can’t have breakfast in Italy without a cappuccino; which brings us to our next question:

How do Italians drink coffee?

This question is deserving of a detailed article in its own right – but we can get a few basics out the way here.

Tourists and new arrivals to Italy are often dismayed to learn that it’s a faux pas to order a cappuccino in Italy after breakfast time.

READ ALSO: Seven surprising Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

That’s because cappuccini mostly consist of milk, and so are considered a breakfast drink – a bit like how it would seem strange to order bowl of cereal after breakfast is over.

From this point in the day onwards, you should order an espresso or a caffe macchiato. Most Italians will knock back a quick shot at the coffee bar after lunch to keep their energy levels up.

The Simpsons GIF

After a dinner out, the waiter will usually offer you an espresso at the end to round off your meal. It’s common to have this with a shot of amaro liqueur or grappa, or in some southern regions, sweet limoncello, as an ammazzacaffè.

That all said, if you fancy a cappuccino beyond breakfast time, go ahead: these days most baristas will happily comply, understanding you’re a clueless foreigner who just has odd food habits.

Do Italians eat pizza with a fork?

Yes! Going to a pizzeria in Italy isn’t a fast food experience, but a nice night out.

Because it takes time and a lot of fuel to get a pizza oven up to the very high temperatures needed for that stretchy, elastic dough, many restaurants outside of tourist areas will only serve pizza in the evenings, judging that opening for a reduced lunch crowd isn’t worth it.

If you’re going for a sit down meal in the evening, it’s not really a finger food affair, and you’d look a bit uncouth tearing into your pizza with your bare hands.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

However, if you’re ordering a couple of individual slices of pizza from a bakery to eat al volo, or on the fly, then it’s expected that you’ll eat with your fingers.

Similarly, if you’re going to one of the famous Naples establishments where most of the pizza is ordered to take away through a hole in the wall, it’s fine to eat by hand (after all, how are you going to use cutlery when you’re standing in the street).

But if you’re sat down in a restaurant, it’s generally expected you’ll use your knife and fork.

Do Italians tip?

A little – but Italy doesn’t have the tipping culture of the US, where a waiter might be dependant on your tip to make a decent living.

Most Italian restaurants will include a coperto (cover charge) of about two euros per person in your bill, so you’re already paying a bit extra for service.

If you really enjoyed your meal or want to thank your waiter, it’s a nice gesture of goodwill to leave another one or two euros on the table; and leaving anything more than this will definitely be appreciated.

But you won’t cause offence if you don’t leave anything, and it’s not expected that you will.

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ITALY EXPLAINED

Why the great autumn wardrobe switch is serious business in Italy

Some of Italy’s foreign residents may still be wearing t-shirts, but Italians are preparing for the most stressful style-related event of the year: the summer-to-autumn wardrobe switch. Silvia Marchetti explains what it’s all about.

Why the great autumn wardrobe switch is serious business in Italy

People have always said to me that Italians stand out (particularly abroad) because of the way they dress, the style of their clothes, the designer labels, the gorgeous bags and shoes. 

But it’s not because they really do dress better than others, rather they are extremely picky about what they wear, and when they wear it, at which precise time of the year. 

Italians are dead serious about adapting their dress code to the different seasons in response to dropping or rising temperatures. The ‘wardrobe switch’ is a major event that consumes entire days of a family’s weekends or spare time. From the kids to granny, all must change their apparel. I remember my grandparents used to mark it on their calendar, a bit like when you have to take the car for the annual check called the tagliando

There are four major wardrobe switches, as many as the seasons. The most tiring is the summer-to-autumn one, which usually occurs mid-September when the summer heat abates. 

Summer clothes are taken out of the closet and laid on the bed, then autumn apparel is plucked out from an upper closet space and neatly laid on the other side of the bed to be scrutinized. 

READ ALSO: Pumpkin risotto and the great wardrobe switch: How life in Italy changes when autumn arrives

It’s then time to do some clearing out: the switch is the time to try on autumn clothes and see if they still fit or are no longer wanted or liked (meaning you’ll be shopping for new ones). 

This stage can take hours, if not days. Jackets, which usually take up more space and are kept in the cellar or attic, are also cleaned of dust and tried on. 

Photo: Dan Gold/Unsplash

The summer apparel is then packed away and replaced by the autumn clothes, which are laid out in the same spot where the t-shirts and shorts once were. The same goes for shoe switches. Back in the box with those flip-flops, which are a major no-no after September 20th, and back on the shelves for boots and sneakers. 

When an Italian decides that summer is over, summer is over even if it’s still 25 degrees outside. My boyfriend just switched from shorts to trousers, even though he’s sweating most of the time. 

And it may seem that there’s a particular dress code that everyone follows. Autumn calls for ‘camicette’ shirts, light leather jackets, jeans, and bright little stylish scarves in silk or cotton to protect against the first potential cold air. Rain coats and casual jackets dubbed spolverini (dusters) are also taken out of storage.

The motto is ‘vestirsi a cipolla’, meaning ‘to dress like an onion’, with layers of shirts and sweaters that can be peeled off throughout the day depending on temperature swings. 

READ ALSO: Ten Italian lifestyle habits to adopt immediately

It’s a way to avoid sweating at noon or getting too cold in the evenings. But it’s also a stylish dressing habit to show that we are fully equipped, including financially, to cope with the changing seasons. If you don’t buy at least one new item of clothing per season, that’s just ‘not cool’.

A ‘booster’ wardrobe switch happens again in December, when the piumini, or hardcore winter ‘duvet’ coats, and knitted wool sweaters are taken out to reinforce the autumn apparel. 

Even if it never gets that cold in Italy compared to some countries, Italians still like to wear wool hats, gloves and some even wear furs, heavy boots and mountain-climbing uniforms – perhaps just for the sake of showing off some of their cool skiing apparel. 

Whether in autumn, winter, spring, or summer, the wardrobe switch is also an excuse to go shopping. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Then when spring arrives, winter clothes disappear and autumn attire starts mixing with some t-shirts, sleeveless jackets, and lighter cotton pants. 

But it’s still too early to wear shorts for men or skirts without stockings for women: showing off white bare legs is so unstylish.

Alas, when it’s finally summer, flip flops and sandals pop out again and the switch is an occasion to throw away unwanted summer clothes from the previous year and buy new bikinis, skirts, tank tops and fancy colorful shirts. This can be quite painful if you happen to have gained weight during the cold months. 

Italians are serious about wardrobe changes given their reaction even to just slight temperature drops or hikes.

I know that for foreigners seeing Italians wearing coats now in September even if it’s not yet so cold can be quite shocking in the same way it is for Italians to see Americans or Germans wearing t-shirts in December. 

READ ALSO: ‘Five ways a decade of living in Italy has changed me’

But climate change is disrupting the traditional wardrobe switch. My granny used to say that the so-called ‘middle seasons’ in Italy which are those between summer and winter (she meant autumn and spring) were luckily very long and pleasant. But nowadays even Italy has very short springs and autumns. In recent years there’s been a sudden jump from hot summers to half-winter seasons. 

This affects the way Italians are dressing, as I see fewer leather jackets around or raincoats unless it’s actually raining. The other day I was swimming in a pool and in the afternoon when I came back home there was a strong wind and I had to put on my piumino (long duvet coat) plus a hat. 

Luckily I have a huge walk-in closet so the left part is for winter, the right part is for summer and in between are all those items that used to fall within my granny’s ‘middle seasons’. So I always have everything at hand to cope even with the uncontrolled effects of climate change.

Friends of mine are already going into depression because they’re planning the wardrobe switch for next weekend – but they already miss the summer and don’t want to give up on the sexy shorts and elegant sandals. 

There’s no doubt about it: when it comes to clothes, most Italians can be very fussy indeed.

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