How to Avoid Culture Shock: Tips for Americans Traveling to Italy

culture shock: tips for Americans traveling to Italy

Learn how you can best navigate life in Rome with these useful tips!

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or about to take your first trip, there are some things about Italian culture that may come as a shock. But do not worry, with these helpful tips you can adjust quickly and get the most out of your experience in this beautiful country!

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tips for americans in italy

Learn your way around a menu

If you have mentioned to anyone who has been to Italy that you are visiting soon, you have likely received a response along the lines of “Oh, you are going to love the food!” I know I heard that statement about one hundred times while I was preparing to leave America and study abroad here in Rome. I have been in Italy over two months now, and not to be one of those people, but you are going to love the food. However, looking at an authentic Italian menu can be a little intimidating if you are unfamiliar with the culture. Here is a breakdown of an Italian menu so you can feel confident ordering in a trattoria or restaurant.

  • Antipasti: Here you may the see the word pasta and assume that this part of the menu will hold all your favorite Italian dishes like spaghetti, carbonara, gnocchi, and cacio e pepe. However, this word actually translates to appetizer and hosts delicious choices to snack on while waiting for your main courses.
  • Primi: Another misleading section for many as English menus tend to refer to appetizers as “firsts” or “starters”. Surprisingly, this is where you will find your pastas. This is because in Italy pasta is considered the first main course of a traditional dinner. Some of the most revered pasta dishes in Italian culture are cacio e pepe and carbonara. These are some dishes you cannot leave without tasting!
  • Second: For a second course Italians have meat or fish. This section is also usually the most expensive on the menu. Here you can find pollo (chicken), bistecca (stake), salmone (salmon) and many more delicious options. 
  • Contorni: This section is where you can find side dishes to accompany your main courses. Here you can choose from an assortment of grilled vegetables, potatoes, and much more!
  • Dolci: This word translates to sweets- as I’m sure you can guess- this is where you will find the desserts! I urge any coffee lovers to try the tiramisu! Some other common options are cannoli, torta (cake), and gelato.

Speaking of tips, tipping in restaurants is one major difference in cultural practices between American in Italy. You are probably accustomed to leaving around a 20% tip everywhere you eat. Tipping is not the same here in Italy. It is considered kind, it is not mandatory or expected. Here is a guide to tipping in Italy


What to drink, when to drink, and where to drink

As a foreigner you may look around in the middle of the day and be shocked by how many Italians are sitting outside and enjoying a glass of wine or walking past you with a beer in their hand. If you are American like me you may be surprised to hear that no, these are not alcoholics. This is simply life in Rome. It is part of the Italian culture to enjoy alcoholic beverages just like one would enjoy the food. Therefore, it is common for a person to have a drink on their lunch break before returning to work. These people are not drinking to get drunk, instead Italians drink in moderation and unlike us Americans, rarely drink past their limits. 

Coffee is another huge part of Italian culture that you cannot miss out on, but there are some things you must be aware of first. First and foremost, if you are looking for a latte-try Starbucks. If you order a latte in an authentic Italian coffee shop, you may be surprised by what the barista hands you. My friend did this one of our first days in Rome and was shocked to discover she did not order a coffee; she ordered a glass of milk. This because latte translates directly to milk in Italian.

So, if you are looking for a coffee order the most like the American latte, try ordering a cappuccino. This delicious drink is one part coffee, one part milk, and has a topping of foam, you will not be disappointed. However, one of the biggest tell-tale signs that you are tourist is if you order a cappuccino past 11am. In Italy this drink is meant to only be drank with a person’s breakfast. Keep this in mind if you are looking to blend in with the Italian culture while visiting.

A Guide To Drinking Coffee In Italy

drinking coffee in italy

Another thing you will not find in a coffee shop in Italy is an iced coffee. In fact, good luck finding ice anywhere in Italy. If you are not used to hot coffee, I still recommend you give it a try as the coffee here in Italy is the best that you can get! Another plus besides the great taste is that in Italy hot coffee is also served at a ready to drink temperature so there is no waiting for it to cool or burning your tongue on the first sip.

There are tons of coffee beverages exclusive to Italy you must try while visiting!

If you are seeking out the nightlife here in Italy, you will certainly be happy with what you find, but it is important to know where to look. The first night my friends and I tested out the night life in Rome we simply pulled out our phones and searched up the closest “bar”. When we arrived, we were shocked to find and empty place with pastries, sandwiches, and only a few wine bottles behind the counter. This is when my friends and I learned that an Italian bar is very different than and American bar. In Italy bars are more like cafes and are great stops during the day. They will often have a few tables inside or some outdoor seating and you are more than welcome to order a glass of wine there anytime, but it is certainly not the amazing nightlife experience the city has to offer.

If you are looking for good music and an American bar feel, try searching up pubs. If you are looking for a more intense scene with a dance floor, techno or house music, big crowds, and cool performers, search up “discoteca near me”. Rome is an active city as people are always out and about. Sometimes on the streets of Trastevere is the best nightlife there is to experience. Italy also hosts a variety of jazz clubs, live music, and more cool venues. There is something for everyone to enjoy! Be sure to check out more on Rome’s nightlife.

Tips for americans in inlay

Know the new social norms

One of the largest differences between Italy and the rest of the world is that Italians are (almost) never in a rush. In Italian culture it is important to take your time and enjoy things. Sometimes this translates into small annoyances like being trapped behind a slow walker. However, this is one of the best parts of Italy. In restaurants you may sit down and enjoy your meal without anyone ever asking you to get up from your table. Italians will love to chat with you about almost nothing because they love to enjoy the presence of other people. This may be a strange adjustment, especially for Americans, but I encourage you to lean into the slow life while you are here-you may find that you like it.

There is so much more to say about the differences in culture between Italy and the rest of the world. These are the essential tips you can use to aid in your experience. The rest you will just have to find out for yourself or check out more about what to expect here on Romeing. One thing is guaranteed about everyone’s experience: you will not want to leave at the end of your trip! 

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