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Five things you’ll only know if you live in Milan

Milan is famous as Italy's economic and style capital, but there are a few things you'll only know about the city if you spend time living here. The Local's Milan-based reporter Giampietro Vianello tells us what to expect.

Milan's Duomo square
Milan is the Italian city with the greatest degree of international appeal but there are things that only its residents know. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Milan is well known for being Italy’s economic powerhouse and one of Europe’s most prominent fashion and art capitals, and it is by far the Italian city with the greatest degree of international appeal.

But, much like most other major cities in the world, there are some things about Milan that only residents are really privy to. 

READ ALSO: Moving to Italy: How much does it really cost to live in Milan?

Here are five things that you’ll know if you live in the northern metropolis.

Electric bikes galore

It’s a bird, it’s a plane… no, it’s an e-bike whizzing past you at the speed of light. 

Over the past three years, Milan’s urban landscape has been radically changed by a sweeping e-bike craze.

The main driver behind the city’s e-bike mania has been the staggering rise of affordable online rental services, with five different companies now offering residents a chance to quickly locate and hop on an e-bike from anywhere within the city limits.

E-bikes in central Milan

Milan residents love to move around the city on e-bikes. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Regular bikes are also available for rent, but residents seem to have a penchant for darting down the city’s streets on e-powered two-wheelers. 

To be fair, e-bikes have become popular in most Italian major cities over the past few years, with the trend propelled by Covid-related restrictions first and government-backed ‘green’ initiatives after.

That said, e-bikers seem to thrive in Milan more than anywhere else in the country as the city offers a total of 144 kilometres of cycle lanes and e-bikes allow residents to quickly slip through the city’s traffic.

Apericena: myth or reality?

Milan is the official birthplace of the so-called apericena: classic Italian aperitivi or pre-dinner drinks are served along with a number of snacks (here that’s usually skewers, bruschetta and pizza or focaccia) which can essentially replace dinner. 

That all sounds great. However, here in Milan only rarely does the concept match the actual execution as the amount of food served isn’t usually that substantial. 

READ ALSO: ‘It takes time’: Foreign residents on what it’s really like to live in Milan

Of course, if your plan is to drink on an empty stomach and see double by 9pm, the whole thing might work in your favour.

Otherwise, an apericena in Milan will generally mean forking out anything between 20 and 30 euros and yet feeling peckish for the rest of the night, which is definitely not ideal.

The land of the ‘imbruttiti

Generalisations are never good and different people shouldn’t be painted with the same brush. That said, as a Milan resident, I’d be remiss not to mention that most Milanesi are indeed fairly short-fused.

While the reasons behind locals’ quick temper still elude even the most respectable of social scientists, you might be interested in knowing that there’s an expression for it: ‘il Milanese imbruttito’, which roughly translates to ‘the pissed-off Milan resident’.

Not convinced? Try pressing the accelerator a tenth of a second too slowly after a traffic light switch and you might just find out the hard way.

Traffic light in Italy

Being slow off the mark after a traffic light change is the easiest way to draw the ire of Milan residents. Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP

Unbearable suffixes 

Diminutive suffixes like -ino, -etto, -uccio and -ello are variously used by Italian native speakers to refer to either a particularly small object or place (for instance, a ‘paesello’ is a small ‘paese’ or ‘village’) or to something that’s very dear to them (a ‘fratellino’ is a beloved brother). 

Most Italian speakers use these sparingly, only resorting to them when they’re essential to the meaning of a sentence.

But many Milan residents seem to have somehow missed that memo and nonchalantly pepper their conversations with a barrage of suffixes – such as ‘cinemino’ (cinema), ‘cafferino’ (coffee) and ‘vinello’ (wine).

READ ALSO: Why Milan is a much better city to live in than Rome  

Even ‘whatsappino’, the latest, hotly-debated Italian neologism, enjoys a certain popularity among Milan locals.

While foreign nationals may find this behaviour amusing, native speakers born and raised far from the northern city usually find it excruciatingly childish and have a hard time putting up with it.

Cases of skin rash following exposure to these dreaded suffixes have been reported in Italy, and we have no intention of verifying these claims.

Padel on the weekend

For those who might not yet be privy to the game’s sacred rules, padel is a racket sport which is in many ways similar to tennis.

However, there are three main differences: the court is enclosed by walls and balls can be played off them; players use solid, stringless bats; finally, when serving, the ball must be hit at or below the waist level.

People playing padel

Milan is Italy’s padel capital, with the city currently boasting as many as 61 padel courts. Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP

Though you might not think much of it based on the above description, padel is a lot of fun and Milan is second only to Rome when it comes to the sport’s popularity among residents.

In Milan, most locals tend to play doubles during the weekend, especially on Saturday. So, if you’re new to the city, it’s only a matter of time before one of your colleagues or new city pals sends you a message along the lines of ‘Padelino sabato?’. 

Of course, there’s only one correct answer to that question: ‘Dove e a che ora?’ (‘Where and at what time?).

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Why do Milan residents get a day off on December 7th?

If you live in Milan, you may get an extra day off work on December 7th. Here's what the city is celebrating and how.

Why do Milan residents get a day off on December 7th?

December 7th is a public holiday in Milan as residents commemorate their beloved patron saint, St Ambrose. 

The annual Festa di Sant’Ambrogio, which happens to fall on a Wednesday this year, is one of the city’s most anticipated recurrences, giving residents an opportunity to catch up with family and friends and unofficially marking the start of the festive season in the northern metropolis.

READ ALSO: The Italian holiday calendar for 2023

As in the case of other local public holidays across the country (Saints Peter and Paul in Rome, St Mark in Venice, St Orontius in Lecce, etc.), children will be home from school and most employees will be given the day off – by law, those who are asked to work on the day must be paid above their regular hourly rate. 

So why do locals celebrate Saint Ambrose, who lived and died in the northern city in the second half of the 4th century AD?

Ambrose served as Bishop of Milan from 374 AD to 397 AD, but it could be argued that his influence on the city went far beyond that of an ordinary clergyman. 

Chritsmas tree in MIlan's Piazza Duomo

Milan’s traditional Christmas light displays will be switched on on December 7th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Ambrose was known for the eloquence of his public speeches, his exceptional diplomacy when handling political matters and, above all, his efforts to promote social justice in the city as he regularly urged Milan’s richest citizens to care and provide for the poor. 

Ambrose’s commitment to the betterment of Milanese society is ultimately why he is cherished by thousands of residents to this day, with local commemorations peaking, of course, on December 7th.

So, how do locals celebrate the day?

Well, the most faithful residents head to the Basilica of St Ambrose, the church named after the saint, for morning mass, with the service being usually held by Milan’s Bishop himself.

After mass, families get together to celebrate in the best way known to Italians, that is with a big lunch.

Here, a number of local delicacies, from Milanese-style risotto to mondeghili (meatballs) and rostin negàa (veal cuts), fill up the bellies of the lucky diners.

The meal usually ends with people enjoying their first seasonal taste of panettone (many more sampling sessions generally follow in the weeks after) or eating some home-made ambrosiani, traditional shortbread biscuits made precisely to celebrate Milan’s patron saint.

In the afternoon, after having managed to recover from their lunchtime indulgences, residents tend to spend some time outside, with the city offering plenty of things to do on the day. 

Firstly, locals will have a chance to visit the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Market, a fair thought to date back to the early 1500s.

READ ALSO: Seven of Italy’s most enchanting Christmas markets in 2022

The market’s stalls, which are meant to open to the public exactly on December 7th, will be set up in front of Milan’s iconic Sforza Castle, selling anything from hand-crafted Christmas decorations and gadgets to local delicacies.

Christmas market in Milan

One of the best things to do in Milan on December 7th is to visit one of the city’s traditional Christmas markets. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Those who are not so fond of traditional markets might instead head to Piazza Duomo in central Milan to attend the Christmas lights switch-on event.

This year, the traditional light displays will be turned on at 5pm and will be followed by a party organised by cosmetics company VeraLab.

Finally, the premiere of the famous La Scala opera house will also take place on December 7th. While tickets to the event are no longer available, the musical performance – ‘Boris Godunov’ played by an orchestra under director Riccardo Chailly – will be aired live in several locations across the city.

A valuable reminder: Thursday, December 8th, the day following the Festa di Sant’Ambrogio, is a national public holiday, so you shouldn’t be too worried about staying up till late on Wednesday. 

READ ALSO: Why is Italy’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception a public holiday?