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LIVING IN ITALY

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

Moving to Italy means embracing a new culture, language and mindset. It can be exciting, life-enhancing and sometimes downright exasperating. Whether you're considering a new life in Italy or have been here for years, here are some of the things you just might never adapt to.

The Italian lifestyle has plenty of perks, of course, but if you think that dreamy holiday schedule of daily aperitivo and motoring through rolling hills in a Fiat 500 is what daily life in Italy is like, you might be in for a shock.

Even after living here for a while, here’s what still gets The Local’s writers raising an eyebrow or swallowing a cough.

1. Food rules

You have no idea how much food controls everything about life in Italy until you’re in the country. It is the sun around which all life rotates and woe betide if you go against the forces of Italian nature and stray from the culinary norms.

My mum always tuts on her visits to Italy, usually complaining about not being able to have a cappuccino after lunch or why you can’t sprinkle parmesan on certain dishes (mainly fish).

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

It took me a while to understand all the faux-pas I was making at first when all eyes swivelled on me.

Occasionally curious, other times they threw me a look as if I’d insulted their grandmother. ‘Ma cosa fai?’, they’d say incredulously as they gestured with their finger and thumb.

Photo: Karolina Kołodziejczak/Unsplash

Still, as much as I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Italian food and wine, it makes me smirk into my napkin to watch the reactions when mum orders a lemonade to pour into her Vermentino.

The absolute horror, the sheer comedy.

2. Cake for breakfast.

I’ve even got used to this one – but only sometimes. I couldn’t eat sweet stuff every day as soon as I get up, no matter how many times they tell me it will give me energy. And possibly diabetes.

3. Eating times

Not only are there rules on what you can eat with what, on what and in what order, there are also set times for said structured dining.

It varies around the country, but often in the countryside and especially in the north, you can’t eat lunch after 2.30pm. That is, nowhere is still serving after that time.

It’s a move away from life in other countries where food is available 24/7, but in Italy there are plenty of times when the kitchen is closed, which can throw your day off if you didn’t know about it.

I appreciate it, but occasionally you want to go have a meal at 3pm. Maybe you woke up late that day, you know?

READ ALSO: The common Italian food myths you need to stop believing

Photo: Gabriella Clare Marino/Unsplash

4. How much you have to eat

Okay, the last food-related one. I did warn you food was at the centre of everything.

Be prepared to eat in Italy. A lot. With family, friends, whoever you meet. You always eat. Nobody invites you for a coffee or a cup of tea. You go to eat and usually Italians will want to show their hospitality to you by cooking.

And it’s not one dish – expect various courses including a starter, a pasta dish and a meat dish, followed by dessert and some after-dinner liquor and biscuits. It’s enough to give you an abbiocco that will definitely require a pennichella.

Multiply that for celebrations such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I want to cry thinking about that coming around again, knowing I’ll barely be able to see or walk after the 12 courses that stretch on all day until after midnight.

There’s a reason one of the first Italian words I learned was, ‘Mangia!’ (Eat!).

READ ALSO: What to expect when meeting your Italian in-laws

5. Fashion

Making ‘la bella figura’ (a good impression) is still paramount in Italy and Italians are very style-conscious.

You might be a fashionista already and take pride in your appearance, sure. But there are more rules about what you can wear when. If it’s mid-20s Celsius, you’d think there was nothing wrong with wearing a pair of sandals, right?

If it’s only April, wrong. They will notice, comment and judge you for your bare toes at that time of year.

Don’t ask me why, but if I do that in the perfectly reasonable weather for it, they tell me I look like a tourist.

Boh.

6. Language

Boh‘ is a good Italian word to learn early on, equal to ‘I don’t know’ or the similarly short plosive in English, ‘meh’.

Learning Italian is an absolute must, no matter how long it takes you to get through everyday interactions. It’s something you’ll definitely have to face.

Italians are notorious for not usually speaking much English, which can mean moving here with no Italian language skills is stressful to say the least.

In other countries, you may find you have some grace period where you can get by speaking English.

Not in Italy.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you’ve cracked the Italian language

Photo by Emily Levine on Unsplash

7. Bureaucracy

Where do we even begin with this? One thing is sure – it never ends.

Italian bureaucracy is legendary: the red tape that could wrap around the Earth three times and have you coming back for appointment after appointment, only to be told they’ve lost your files altogether.

Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

Get used to form-filling, departments more entangled than a pan of spaghetti, and the need for an iron resolve to keep going. I’ve had more than my fair share of repeated trips to the Questura (immigration office) to collect my post-Brexit ID card, only to be told it’s still not there (even when the official website says it is ready for collection).

Don’t try to use logic, it only makes things worse.

8. The obsession with plastic

There’s no logic for this one either. The world and Italy is facing a climate crisis and yet the compulsion to use plastic continues.

Italians frequently buy water in plastic bottles literally by the barrel load and happily carry it up four flights of stairs to their apartment. Even though in most places, the tap water is perfectly drinkable – a privilege not the whole world enjoys.

And it doesn’t end at plastic water bottles. If there’s a BBQ, out come the single-use plastic plates, cups and cutlery. Ma perché?

Life in Italy: ‘How our shopping habits have changed since we moved from the US’

Photo by Andreas Solaro / AFP

9. Arriving late

Italians are late for everything, which is irritating when it happens all the time. Even high schools and universities have an academic quarter-of-an-hour, meaning it’s acceptable to turn up 15 minutes after the lesson start time.

How can things run like this? Well, they just do. The only thing you can do is to tell your friends to meet 15-30 minutes earlier than you actually plan to be ready. That way, they might actually be on time for your three-hour lunch.

10. Queuing – or not

Queuing? What queuing? It’s chaotic, people push in and you just might lose your patience if you’re from a line-loving country like the UK.

But get used to it you must. Maybe you’ll end up loving the passionate disorder?

11. Cash gifts

Being a guest to practically anything, but especially weddings, is likely to make you sweat when you realise the culture of gift giving in Italy.

You spend a fortune on presents and it’s expected – don’t think you can spend time on finding something thoughtful, but perhaps doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Nope, they want cold, hard cash and they’ll make a note of how much you gave so they know what to give you back when it’s your turn.

My husband told me of times he was a witness (gulp, more than once), where you’re expected to give eye-watering amounts of money – in the ballpark of €1,000.

It’s a custom that I’m not sure Italians totally love. If there’s a summer packed full of weddings, you may hear some say that they can’t afford to go on holiday that year as they are invited to too many.

Photo: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

12. Cleaning standards

There’s keeping your house clean and tidy and there’s the Italian translation of what that means.

I have to confess I’m always a little apprehensive when Italian family and friends come over, as I know they have such high cleaning standards and look around our shelves with a scrutinising eye.

The vacuum cleaner is all I can hear from my neighbours or they’re outside beating their rugs. It seems to be part of a culture of keeping up appearances.

My in-laws in the south have two kitchens – one for everyday use and one that is pristine and only used when guests visit.

13. The role of women

Even though it’s a universal problem, Italy lags behind when it comes to gender equality and you might be shocked at how big that gap is.

Housework is still widely considered the woman’s domain, even if they have a full-time job. In fact, the word for ‘cleaner’ in Italian is ‘donna delle pulizie’. A female is specified in the term – literally, ‘woman of cleaning’.

When you’re independent and have long looked after yourself, it’s tough to get your head around the fact that in Italy, there are clearly defined, disadvantageous roles for women.

Although fortunately, not everyone is stuck in this mentality.

14. Dark houses

You can’t criticise Italians for wanting to keep cool in the summer, as it is absolutely sweltering in July and August.

So to survive those summer months, Italian houses are often dark and designed to let not much light – and heat – in. It makes sense, but it can feel a bit depressing to always be stuck in gloomy rooms.

READ ALSO: Italian property problems: Why do ten strangers own my bathroom?

15. Questionable TV shows

Italian TV can really turn your head at best – and at worst, can cause outrage.

From the dolly girls in skimpy outfits dancing around an aged male presenter on Saturday evening shows, to the more than dubious ‘comedy’ sketches of controversial satire, it might be better to stick to Netflix.

What do you think you’ll never get used to about living in Italy? Let us know in the comments below!

Member comments

  1. After living in Italy for some months, and doing business here, the most surprising experience have been the resistance to make appointments days ahead. It could be on a Thursday: The other: “Can we meet some time next week? Any time, it is up to you”. Me: “Yes, of course, what about Wednesday at 2 PM?”. The other: “OK. I will confirm early next week .”. So then I have to block Wednesday 2PM not knowing for several days if there will be a meeting. Happens all the time.

    1. Jon, this still drives me crazy! Nothing can be planned in advance. On the other hand, at least people are very forgiving when I have to change plans at short notice!

      Thanks for reading,
      – Clare

  2. Great list. However I can live with those. However, one of my bug bears are the midday closing hours. I still can’t get used to it. Having lived in Italy, way North and all way South, to rush to do my shopping so people can have the aforementioned lunch and siesta, drives me crazy every time.

    1. Oh yes, and supermarkets being closed on Sunday afternoons! I forget all the time.

      Thanks for reading!
      – Clare

  3. frances the noise level even if they are sitting either side of a table, they have to talk as though they are 20 feet apart to each other. also the everlasting barking of their dogs, which they never tell to be quiet.t

    thank you

  4. I don’t agree about the cleaning standards in the homes – they don’t seem anything above my own standards and can never say I’ve noticed. It does disturb me that they believe they have high standards of cleanliness when you consider the state of the outside public spaces and this doesn’t add up somehow. You can’t have a standard for your own personal space and a totally different extreme standard elsewhere, something’s not right.

  5. I am surprised about queueing being a problem in the part of Marche I live in in is rigourously followed particularly in hospitals and other institutions. The order of people arriving is noticed by everyone and you place mentally recorded usually by an older lady. Woe betide anyone who pushes in and you are reminded vigorously when it’s your turn! I’ve always found it amazing that the queue exists, everyone stands around or wander around chatting and talking until their place is next, Then a call goes out and they go to the counter, door or what ever. Maybe this area is different because it’s not a big city, I’m not sure

  6. They always want to call you, even though you have filled in all the forms and updated the web site with all the relevant information. Even though your Italian is poor, they still want to call you to go over it all again, verbally.

    Queuing does exist, it just doesn’t look like a queue. So learn to ask “sei l’ultimo?” and when they go in, you know it’s your turn next.

  7. Bruno Bozzetto, the Italian cartoonist, created an animation titled “Europe vs Italy”. Bruno highlights just a few of the differences between Italy and the rest of the world. I’ve watched it many times over the past 10 years as it always brings a good laugh, especially the part about bureaucracy. You can view it on YouTube here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzQuuoKXVq0

  8. I remember many years ago my newlywed wife and I booked a tour for our entire wedding trip in Italy. On our arrival in Rome from the USA we were boarded on a beautiful bus on our first trip to Florence. On our way the tour guide gave us a thorough presentation of what to expect and all the places we would be visiting. In particular I will never forget the advice she presented, she said “for those of you on your first trip, you will fall in love with Italy. There will be many places and experiences you will enjoy and there will also be others that will frustate and disappoint you. My advice is to accept it, try to enjoy it all and don’t try to change anything. The Italians have been living in their own culture for centuries, you will not succeed in changing it in your two week vacation or maybe ever.”
    It is still true today.
    I am Italian born, I travel back to Italy often and I too experience the frustrations but part of me likes it. It reminds me I am home again and this unique behavior right or wrong, it strangely adds the charm of what makes Italy different then other countries.

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LIVING IN ITALY

Eight things to expect when you move to Italy’s Veneto region

The northern Italian region of Veneto attracts millions of tourists every year. But what's it like to live there? From living costs to drinking habits, here are some of the things new residents should expect, according to The Local's Venetian reporter Giampietro Vianello.

Eight things to expect when you move to Italy's Veneto region

Let’s face it, most foreign nationals don’t think of Veneto when asked what their favourite Italian region is. However, much like the more widely celebrated Tuscany and Lazio, Veneto is visited by millions of tourists every year – 72 million, in fact, according to the latest available data.

Although Venice, the crown jewel of the area, makes a large contribution to this figure with nearly 13 million visitors every year, the region has plenty of other popular locations including Verona, Padua, Vicenza and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

READ ALSO: Why Verona should be the next Italian city you visit

As well as attracting tourists, Veneto is also home to over 500,000 foreign nationals – accounting for 10.5 percent of the region’s total population.

While many people might know what visiting Veneto is like, how many are familiar with the perks (and downsides) of residing in the region?

Whether you’ve always dreamt of relocating to the area or are simply curious, here’s a look at some of the things new residents can expect.

Rent is fairly cheap – with some big exceptions

The average monthly rent in Veneto is 10.05 euros per square metre, according to Italian property portal Immobilare.it – a figure which sits roughly in the middle of the pack nationally. However, said average is for the most part driven up by high and, in some cases, outright extortionate rents in Venice and Belluno. 

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

In particular, Belluno has the second-highest monthly average in Italy with its 16.94 euros per square metre (Milan comes in first with 17.98 euros).

Outside of the above-mentioned places, renting in Veneto is largely affordable, with the average monthly rent price remaining below 10 euros per square metre in five of the seven regional provinces (Treviso, Rovigo, Verona, Vicenza, and Padua).

Rent prices in Veneto, screenshot from https://www.immobiliare.it/mercato-immobiliare/veneto/
An overview of Veneto’s average monthly rent prices. Map: Immobiliare.it

An overview of Veneto’s average monthly rent prices. Map: Immobiliare.it

Locals are not always friendly towards foreigners

Disclaimer: I, the writer of this article, was born and raised in Veneto (Venice, to be exact) and I’m aware that the following words might be seen as an unpardonable act of treason against the Serenissima.

Hoping that one day I’ll be forgiven, I have to admit that most of my fellow Veneti have a rather unfriendly attitude towards foreigners (or foresti in the local dialect).

While the reasons for such a peculiar phenomenon should be discussed elsewhere, locals’ rather unwelcoming manners are particularly evident in the food and beverage industry. In fact, it isn’t rare for foreign nationals to have an additional 10 or 15 percent tacked on their bar or restaurant bills just because…well, they’re foreign. 

Clearly, these are questionable business decisions; considering that the economy of most big cities in Veneto relies heavily on tourism, restaurant or bar owners should have a stake in treating foreign nationals and Italians equally well.

With that being said, no such opinion is likely to alter the way things are. Locals like to deal with locals and – take it from a Veneto born and bred – this is not going to change anytime soon.

Driving is by far the best way to get around

Shoddy public transport is sadly something that most Italian residents experience. Alas, Veneti are no exception. Public transport in the region was already significantly flawed prior to the start of the Covid pandemic. Now, after months of cuts to the public infrastructure budget, the situation is just outright bad. 

In the mainland, major cities are connected by rail, whereas smaller towns and villages are serviced by buses. In both cases, punctuality is not exactly a strong point, if indeed there is any to speak of. Other than that, rides are few and far between and they are often overcrowded, which is possibly even more unpleasant than it normally is when living through a global pandemic.

Here, the biggest takeaway for prospective residents is that you’ll very often need to travel by car.

It may be useful to know that non-Italian driving licence holders can use their licences for 12 months after becoming a resident in Italy. 

EXPLAINED: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

For any Brits thinking of moving to the region, note that if you were an Italian resident before January 1st 2022, you can use your valid UK driving licence until 31 December 2022. However, after said date, you will likely have to exchange your British licence for an Italian one. To do so, as things stand you’ll be required to take a driving test in Italian. (You can follow The Local’s latest news updates on this issue here.)

If transport is fairly poor in the mainland, things get worse in the lagoon. Without delving too deep into Venice’s transport woes, city transport company ACTV was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy last summer. Though now showing feeble signs of recovery, the company offers services which some people might reasonably describe as tragic: From last-minute ride cancellations to overcrowded vaporetti (water buses) and monthly 24-hour staff strikes, residents of the floating city just can’t catch a break.

Luckily, Venice is a fairly small island and one can easily walk from one end to the other in less than 40 minutes. So in case taking the vaporetto is out of the question, get yourself a good pair of trainers and be ready to scurry along the city’s calli.

View of the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge in Venice

A gondola ride to work is probably not going to be an option. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP.

Expect lots of weather talk

Weather in Veneto is highly dependent upon the area you’re living in. 

The region’s 18,000-square-kilometre territory encompasses three major climate zones: the Alpine area, with chilly summers and cold, snow-filled winters; the plains, with chilly winters and hot, humid summers; the coastal area, with relatively temperate winters and stifling summers marked by frequent rain storms. 

As you might have already noticed, Veneto has a very heterogeneous mix of climates and temperatures, so lovers of both hot and cool weather can find favourable conditions within the region.

It is worth pointing out that the calamitous high tides which Veneto has long featured in the news for only apply to the regional capital, Venice, and the other smaller islands scattered across its lagoon. So, if you’re not moving to such places, you won’t have to bother buying a pair of very unattractive waist-high waders.

The chronic overcrowding issue

While Venice is undoubtedly a massive draw for the region’s exceptional number of tourists, several other locations attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each month. In 2019 Veneto had as many as 10 cities listed amongst the 25 most popular Italian tourist destinations, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Granted, over the last two years the pandemic has shrunk the number of visitors, and Covid-19’s disastrous consequences still very much linger in our society. However, both national and international tourism are picking up again in Italy and the return of Venice’s former overcrowding issues appears to be just around the corner. 

High season is usually the time when local residents are forced to nudge their way through crowds of tourists just to get to work. Should you be so lucky to become a resident in the near future, we suggest you start building up your patience and practise your scusate e permesso.

READ ALSO: The very best Italian towns to move to – according to people who live in them

Crowded Saint Mark's Square in Venice

Venice tends to get exceptionally overcrowded during local holidays, including its iconic Carnival. Photo by AFP.

The dialetto matters

One of the more frustrating things about life in Veneto – especially if you’ve spent months  practising your Italian – is finding out that most residents actually speak another language half of the time, and that the language in question doesn’t resemble Italian in the slightest.

Veneto is in the top three Italian regions when it comes to the frequency with which dialect is spoken. Most locals, and, interestingly, many among the younger generations, adore speaking Venetian and, barring professional settings and formal occasions, they never fail to use it to communicate with one another.

IN MAPS: A brief introduction to Italy’s many local dialects

The dialect derives most of its grammatical rules and vocabulary from vulgar Latin, which makes it all but unintelligible to regular Italian speakers. 

For lack of a better way to describe it, the language sounds a little bit like spoken Spanish but with very hard, quasi-Scottish-sounding rolled Rs.

Although Scots might be slightly advantaged in the endeavour, learning Venetian is an incredibly hard undertaking for all foreign nationals. So, if that’s something you’re not quite willing to do, I suggest you at least try to memorise some of the most popular and widely used Venetian expressions.

Regularly including these in your daily interactions with the locals will greatly increase your chances of being treated in a friendly and welcoming manner.

Dialect frequency in Italy. Screenshot from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frequency_of_Dialect_Use_in_Italy_(2015).svg

Frequency of local dialect usage by Italian region. Image: Wikimedia commons

Never get into a drinking competition with a Veneto

When it comes to drinking in the Veneto region, believe all rumours.

Local residents are nationally (and perhaps even internationally) known as heavy drinkers and the evidence for that is not merely anecdotal. Veneto is the fourth Italian region when it comes to alcohol consumption, only behind Emilia Romagna, Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Locals drink on practically any given social occasion and, take my word for it, they very rarely hold back.

You’ll rarely find anyone with as high a tolerance of alcohol as the average Veneto; therefore, try to refrain from playing alcohol-related games with one, unless, of course, drinking like a fish is part of your plan.

Alcohol consumption in Italy. Screenshot from https://www.epicentro.iss.it/passi/dati/alcol

Alcohol consumption data for all Italian regions. Source: Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS)

A peculiar local cuisine

Veneto’s cuisine doesn’t really belong within the bel paese’s cream of the crop. But, while it doesn’t deserve the international attention that the centuries-long culinary traditions of regions such as Tuscany, Lazio and Sicily enjoy, it is often wrongly discredited as plain and somewhat rudimentary.

Granted, Veneto’s most common dish, polenta (boiled cornmeal which may be served as a hot porridge or, alternatively, may be allowed to cool and solidify into a loaf), is not exactly a lavish one. However, the region’s cuisine includes a plethora of far more refined (and tasty) dishes, especially when it comes to seafood (try sarde in saòr and seppie al nero) and desserts (fritole and pinza).

Furthermore, Veneto usually gets a bad rap because of several fairly odd dishes that are absolutely adored by the locals – but that anyone who wasn’t born and raised in the region usually finds stomach-turning. 

Osei (spit-roasted small game birds such as larks, thrushes and house sparrows, usually served with polenta), moleche (fried soft-shell crab) and bovoletti (small land snails dressed with garlic and oil) are just some of these unique regional delicacies. 

While no one can really deny that these dishes are not exactly pleasing to the eye, my personal piece of advice on the subject comes in the form of a very popular Venetian expression: magna e tasi (literally, eat and be quiet).

Bonus entry: What’s the deal with the winged lion?

If you do end up relocating to Veneto, you’ll likely come across the emblem on a daily basis. From Veneto’s official flag to the facade of many churches and government buildings, the winged lion is seemingly omnipresent in the region. But, why is that so?

For long stretches of its history, most of the territory currently enclosed by Veneto’s borders was controlled by the powerful Venetian Republic (also known as La Serenissima). The latter is thought to have adopted the winged lion as its main effigy from as early as the 9th century AD.

The mythological creature symbolises Venice’s beloved patron saint, Saint Mark, whose remains are currently kept within the magnificent Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Venice's winged lion

Venice’s iconic winged lion, symbolising the city’s patron saint, Mark the Evangelist. Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP.
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