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Italy Explained For Members

34 sure-fire ways to truly offend an Italian

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
34 sure-fire ways to truly offend an Italian
Snapping or cutting spaghetti in half is all but a capital offence in Italy. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Italy is famous for its unwritten rules, and falling foul of some of them can cause upset. From culinary crimes to negativity about the bidet, here’s what will really get under an Italian’s skin.

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Order a cappuccino after lunch

Let’s be clear about this: you can order a coffee after lunch but it should be an espresso (caffè normale). You might not get kicked out of the bar, but asking for a milky cappuccino or a macchiato won’t endear you to baristas or fellow customers.

Mess up the pasta ritual

Bring water to a boil, add salt, then add pasta. Anything else will be considered an outright abomination.

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Break spaghetti

Snapping your spaghetti before dumping it in the water is all but a capital offence in Italy. Noodles are meant to twirl around your fork. Stray from tradition at your peril.

Mess with classic recipes

There are endless ways to desecrate Italian staples with improbable ingredients, but the ‘big three’ are pineapple on pizza, chicken in any type of pasta dish and cream in a carbonara. Italians famously do not respond well to this sort of culinary ‘adaptation’, so steer clear.

A chef holding a bowl of pasta alla carbonara

Italians don't respond well to culinary 'adaptations' involving non-traditional ingredients. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Ask for spaghetti bolognese

While it might be a popular dish overseas, spaghetti bolognese does not exist in Italy. So if you’re craving some, you may want to ask for pasta al ragù instead.

Put different courses on one plate

Outside of Italy it’s perfectly normal to put, say, pasta and meat together on the same plate. But in Italy this would mean putting a primo and a secondo together - and seeing you do this is likely to blow an Italian’s gasket.

Say pizza is better in other countries

Italians lose their temper pretty quickly when they’re told pizza is better in other countries. If you think Italian pizza is not the best pizza in the world, you might want to keep that to yourself.

Forget the breadsticks

All Italian restaurants give customers something to nibble on (usually breadsticks or slices of bread) as they wait for their food. Restaurants failing to do this might get a few negative reviews from Italian customers.

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Ask for your steak well done 

Italian chefs take the quality of their meat seriously, and asking for a well-done steak might give them a dizzy spell. Keep yourself from ordering a bistecca ben cotta (well done steak) and consider trying the preferred cottura media (medium), or even better, al sangue (rare) instead.

Put ice cubes in wine

No matter how hot it gets, there’s never an excuse for this in Italy. If you dump ice cubes in your wine in front of an Italian, most will have something to say about it.

Wine sampling in Italy

No matter how hot it gets, there's no excuse for dumping ice cubes in your wine in Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Leave food on your plate

Leaving food on your plate is largely seen as disrespectful in Italy. You might be bloated and feel queasy at the mere thought of taking another bite, but you’ll just have to finish your food, no matter how hard that might be.

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Eat at the wrong time 

The ‘right time’ to have lunch or dinner varies from north to south, but eating outside of the socially accepted time windows may get some bad looks in Italy.

For instance, eating lunch after 2pm in the north is seen as unmannerly by many, while in the south some people won’t have started eating yet.

Say anything bad about mamma

It’s a well-known fact that Italians love their moms, and no one is allowed to get in the way of that. If you have something bad to say about an Italian’s mom, you’re better off keeping it to yourself.

Ask them to skip their lunch break

This is seen as normal in some countries, but Italians have a special relationship with food and no one in the bel paese will skip their lunch break unless it’s for a very, very good reason.

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Touch fruit or veggies without gloves

Touching fresh produce with your bare hands in Italy is possibly the easiest way to find out how locals pronounce “Ma che cavolo stai facendo, scusa?” (roughly translatable as “Excuse me, what on earth are you doing?”). 

Kiwis in a supermarket

Touching fruit with your bare hands at the supermarket is one of the easiest ways to anger locals. Photo by Georges GOBET / AFP

Ask if they have relatives in the mafia

It should be obvious, but no Italian wants to be associated with negative stereotyping of their country. So asking an Italian if any of their family members are in the mafia may well cause offence, especially if you don’t know them very well.

Mangle their names

Many Italians have complicated names but try your best to get them right. When in doubt, ask locals how to pronounce their names or if they have any nickname that you might use.

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Pronounce ‘Italian’ as ‘eye-talian’

There’s only one correct way to pronounce ‘Italian’ and that’s not with a long ‘i’.

Mock the way they speak

Italians talk in a funny way, and generally know it. You don’t need to point it out and most will take offence at any attempt to make fun of them.

Exaggerate Italian hand gestures

Italians use their hands to emphasise many of their statements or exclamations. You might think that their hand gestures are ridiculous or over-the-top, but they don’t.

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri

Italians famously speak with their hands, but don't like being mocked for it. Photo by Frank FIFE / AFP

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Ask them to keep it down

Italians are loud and they know it. They don’t need to be told, especially by someone who’s not Italian.

Insult the nazionale

Italians love their national football team and generally believe that only they have the right to say anything negative about it. Unless you want to be reminded that they won four World Cups, you might want to avoid the subject altogether. 

Tell them Italian music sucks

Italians love Italian music and, while they might be the only ones in the world that do, they’re unlikely to take any negative comments well. 

Disrespect Sanremo

Not all locals like the Sanremo music festival but nearly all believe that being Italian gives them the exclusive right to criticise it. Sensitivity levels are really high on this one.

Actor Roberto Benigni at the Sanremo music festival

Nearly all Italians feel that only they have the right to criticise the Sanremo music festival. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Say that north and south are the same to you

To Italians, the north and south of the country are nothing alike. You might find that the two areas are far more similar than locals let on but getting them to agree with you might be hard.

Say that France is better than Italy at anything

There isn’t a single scenario where an Italian will ever admit that France is better than Italy at something, whether that be food, wine, art or football. Don’t try to argue with them. It’s pointless.

Wear PJs to the supermarket

While going out in your pyjamas might be seen as acceptable elsewhere, this is a big no-no in Italy. Don’t worry, they’ll let you know it’s not ok if you ever forget. 

Forget to say buongiorno to the shopkeeper

It’s a good habit in Italy to say hello to the shopkeeper upon entering their store. You wouldn’t want them to make any (totally accidental) mistakes when taking your payment, would you?

Forget the numerino at the pharmacy or at the post office

Italians are notoriously atrocious at queueing, so some shops, including pharmacies and post offices, have ticket-dispensing machines aimed at regulating the queue.

Remember to get your ticket (numero or numerino) at all times to avoid any potential quarrels with fellow customers.

Pharmacy in Italy

Getting the 'numero' at the pharmacy will help you avoid arguments. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Wear socks with sandals

The socks-with-sandals combo is the stuff of nightmares for famously style-conscious Italians, so it’d be best to go for a different look while in Italy.

Walk around shirtless or in swimwear

Italians don’t look favourably upon people traipsing around town bare-chested or with revealing clothes on and may remind you that you’re not on the beach. Many cities also have rules against this and you could be fined.

Forget to take your hat off or cover your shoulders inside local churches

You should take your hat off and make sure that your shoulders are fully covered when stepping into an Italian church. That’s a rule that you should abide by even though you might not be Catholic.

Dip your toes (or other parts of your body) in local fountains

No matter how hot it gets in Italy during the summer, you should always resist the urge to freshen up in a fountain as doing so is seen by many as uncivil and insulting. This may sound obvious but many people are fined for cooling off in fountains every year. 

People cooling off in a fountain in Italy

Freshening up in a fountain is seen by many Italians as uncivil and insulting. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Say anything bad about the bidet 

No matter what you think about it (it’s gross, it’s unhygienic, etc.), publicly disrespecting the sacred bidet is not advisable. If you ever do, you’d best be ready for an argument. 

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cary 2023/02/16 11:18
I would like to humbly suggest one small clarification concerning the supposedly absolute prohibition of drinking a "cappuccino after lunch." I think the author means *directly* after lunch; at the same table at which one has just eaten lunch; in order to conclude the lunch. I say this because OK, yes, I have a bee in my bonnet about this, because misinformed American and Australian tourists visiting my town have occasionally informed me, a resident, that I must not have a cappuccino in the afternoon or early evening in my own town! Which is preposterous and insulting, as what business to American tourists have telling me what I may do in my own Italian town?!! Pretentious busybodies! So, to clarify, granted, ordering a cappuccino to conclude a lunch can lead to shouting and threats of violence (I have witnessed this firsthand; we have been called upon by the waiter to translate and mediate.) And of course! Who in their right mind would want to drink a cappuccino in conclusion to a meal? But as to *time of day* my local Italian friends will openly drink cappuccinos whenever and wherever they want, and good for them. Cappuccinos taste good, and they're good for you!
rebekahross1 2023/02/10 21:23
What about going out in public with your hair still wet from the shower?
susiecarpanini 2023/02/10 18:21
Here we go again!

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