Five years ago we made a dream come true and bought a small townhouse in a small town in central Italy. For one month of every year, June, we move in and attempt to live as Italians.
First of all our Italian is limited and most of the people in this town speak little English so that can be quite fun. But they are willing to work with us and communication occurs.
These are some of the things I have learned. In no particular order:
1. Bad pizza in Italy is better than most of the pizzas offered in restaurants in the U.S.
2. Speaking a little, clunky Italian goes a long way in relationships with the Italians. They like the effort.
3. Italians drive fast and get impatient with hesitant moves.
4. You might as well plan for a nap during the hours of 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon because in most non-tourist towns businesses close at this time.
5. Some of the best wine (and the most inexpensive) I’ve ever drunk, I probably won’t see again because of small wineries who don’t distribute widely.
6. Small cafes can have great pizza and pasta. You don’t need to spend much money to get good food.
7. I have never eaten a better apricot or cantaloupe.
8. Hilton hotels have nice touches of American ways if you need a little bit of home but Italian hotels are the reason to come – so much more character.
9. But on that same note, don’t expect to have air conditioning that works, fans, or soft mattresses.
10. You must eat gelato (ice cream) everyday around 4:00.
11. When paying with paper cash, whatever Italian is said at the moment, say “No.” They are asking if you have coins, so that they can return any money owed to you in paper. You will need those coins for parking, tipping, laundry, purchasing water, gelato, etc.
12. Yes, while Italian servers do get paid better in Italy, they most certainly enjoy tips and won’t be insulted if you leave one.
13. You will have to ask the server to take your order and bring the bill. They expect you to enjoy your meal and provide the privilege of doing that. When you are ready to leave ask, “Il conto per favore?” and your bill will arrive.
14. All taxes are embedded into the prices on menu and store items so you can figure out total costs easily.
15. Avoid sleeveless tops if you plan to visit churches or you may be asked to leave.
16. Say, Arrivederci instead of Ciao, unless you know the person. Ciao implies a personal relationship.
17. Many restaurants don’t have English menus. A dictionary will help but read carefully or you may end up with surprises on your plate – think cheese Crème Brule with scallops on top or bread with liver spread.
18. Priceless artwork will show up in the most humble of places.
19. Have your camera ready at all times. You can’t imagine the beauty that may be just around the bend. We turned into a blind corner and up above us was an ancient aqueduct.
20. If you have read this far, you understand that food is important. Buon appetito!