For members


Quirky Italian habits that won’t work back home

Some Italian habits are easy to acquire, difficult to lose and likely to annoy your friends and family if you take them back home.

Quirky Italian habits that won't work back home
You probably can't get away with quite as many PDAs outside Italy. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

But don't worry. The subtle changes to your behaviour when living in Italy are merely part of a healthy process psychologists call “acculturation”.

That said, some of them might raise a few eyebrows if you keep them up when you leave Italy. Here are seven likely culprits.

Kissing everybody goodbye

Photo: Jason Hargrove/Flickr

Anyone who has spent more few weeks time in Italy will find themselves automatically leaning in to give friends and family members of either sex a couple of pecks on the cheek when it's time to say goodbye.

READ ALSO: Here's how to do the Italian cheek kiss

Outside Italy, rules about kissing are often very different. This can lead to some pretty awkward moments if you accidentally do the Italian thing on one of your mates.

Eating late

Photo: AFP

In many other countries eating late is associated with weight gain but in Italy, a country renowned for its healthy diet, the idea of sitting down to dinner at 6pm is laughable.

In Italy, lunch tends to be the largest meal of the day and it's common not to dine until as late as 9:30pm. But outside Italy your new renegade eating habits might not fly.

READ ALSO: Bizarre Italian food rules foreigners fall foul of

Why not try pointing out to all the naysayers the benefits of late eating?

Scientists say it can help regulate blood sugar and keeps hunger at bay, stopping you from mindlessly snacking on junk food in front of the TV later on in the evening.

Going out later

Photo: Paco Serinelli/AFP

Obviously, eating dinner at a later time means most Italians don't head out until long after sundown. Living in Italy, it's a habit that's difficult not to fall into.

While in the US or UK it is common to meet for a few after work drinks in the pub at 5:30pm, in Italy it's not the done thing.

READ ALSO: A beginner's guide to aperitivo in Italy

Here, an early pre-dinner drink and snack otherwise known as an 'aperitivo' might happen at around 7:30pm – but if you're just meeting your friends for drinks a 10pm start or later is not uncommon.

In the UK at least, heading out so late will mean you arrive at the pub just in time for last orders… so it is not advisable.

Counting differently

When counting using their hand, Italians usually start with counting from one at the thumb, but will sometimes indicate two by flipping a 'V' sign at you – an offensive symbol in the UK.

This is highly infectious but should be practiced with caution, especially when ordering two drinks in a crowded bar in an anglophone country…

Not tipping

Photo: AFP

While in other countries it is common to add a certain percentage of the bill as a tip, In Italy you just round up to the nearest euro or if the bill is really large, the nearest five euros.

There is not a strong tipping culture in Italy – and it's a bit of a touristy (though generous) thing to do.

Feeling the weather

Italians are a weather-sensitive bunch. Heavy rain is enough to cancel a social engagement and once the thermometer dips below 20 degrees Celsius, failure to leave the house without at least a coat (preferably with scarf and gloves) will raise eyebrows among your Italian friends.

READ ALSO: Illnesses that only seem to strike Italians

Most visitors from northern latitudes eventually come around to the Italian way of thinking and forever give up chilly autumn evenings spent outside in nothing but a jumper, much to the befuddlement of their friends back home.

Enforcing strict rules about food and drink

Anyone who's spent time in Italy will know that there should be no Parmesan cheese with fish dishes, no cappuccino after midday and absolutely no ketchup on pizza or pasta.

They will waste no time in telling their friends just how they are going wrong in their consumption of Italian food, for example by pointing out how different pasta shapes are better suited to different types of sauces.

OPINION: In defence of spaghetti bolognese

They can also drive everybody crazy by bemoaning the terrible quality of the Italian food on offer whenever they are outside Italy.

Strange hand signals

Italians gesticulate more than most other cultures and after spending some time in Italy it's likely that you have adopted at least one of the 250 gestures in common usage.

Some of them are highly infectious.

Do you show your appreciation of good food by drilling your finger into your cheek? Perhaps you display indifference by running your fingernails from your neck to your chin? Or maybe you indicate 'nothing' by making sort of gun shape with your thumb and forefinger and rotating it?

In which case, congratulations! Acculturation is well underway. This is another one that's best left in Italy though, as nobody back home is any the wiser…

What habits have you picked up while living in Italy? Leave your comments below!

A version of this article was first published in December 2015.

Member comments

  1. As an American I have never seen ketchup on pasta or pizza sounds disgusting. Never saw parmesan on fish either.Chicken parmesan I never liked and know not italian.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Five signs you’ve settled into life in Switzerland

Getting adjusted to Swiss ways is not always easy for foreign nationals, but with a lot of perseverance it can be done. This is how you know you’ve assimilated.

Five signs you've settled into life in Switzerland
No lint: Following laundry room rules is a sign of integration in Switzerland. Photo by Sara Chai from Pexels

Much has been said about Switzerland’s quirkiness, but when you think about it, this country’s idiosyncrasies are not more or less weird than any other nation’s — except for the fact that they are expressed in at least three languages which, admittedly, can complicate matters a bit.

However, once you master the intricacies and nuances of Swiss life, you will feel like you belong here.

This is when you know you’ve “made it”.

You speak one of the national languages, even if badly

It irritates the Swiss to no end when a foreigner, and particularly an English-speaking foreigner, doesn’t make an effort to learn the language of a region in which he or she lives, insisting instead that everyone communicates to them in their language.

So speaking the local language will go a long way to being accepted and making you feel settled in your new home.

You get a Swiss watch and live by it

Punctuality is a virtue here, while tardiness is a definite no-no.

If you want to ingratiate yourself to the Swiss, be on time. Being even a minute late  may cause you to miss your bus, but also fail in the cultural integration.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Using an excuse like “my train was late” may be valid in other countries, but not in Switzerland.

The only exception to this rule is if a herd of cows or goats blocks your path, causing you to be late.

A close-up of a Rolex watch in Switzerland.

Owning a Rolex is a sure sign you’re rich enough to live in Switzerland. Photo by Adam Bignell on Unsplash

You sort and recycle your trash

The Swiss are meticulous when it comes to waste disposal and, not surprisingly, they have strict regulations on how to throw away trash in an environmentally correct manner.

Throwing away all your waste in a trash bag without separating it first — for instance, mixing PET bottles with tin cans or paper — is an offence in Switzerland which can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

In fact, the more assiduous residents separate every possible waste item — not just paper, cardboard, batteries and bottles (sorted by colour), but also coffee capsules, yogurt containers, scrap iron and steel, organic waste, carpets, and electronics.

In fact, with their well-organised communal dumpsters or recycling bins in neighbourhoods, the Swiss have taken the mundane act of throwing out one’s garbage to a whole new level of efficiency.

So one of the best ways to fit in is to be as trash-oriented as the Swiss.

READ MORE: Eight ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

You trim your hedges with a ruler

How your garden looks says a lot about you.

If it’s unkempt and overgrown with weeds, you are clearly a foreigner (though likely not German or Austrian).

But if your grass is cut neatly and your hedges trimmed with military-like precision (except on Sundays), and some of your bushes and shrubs are shaped like poodles,  you will definitely fit in.

You follow the laundry room rules

If you live in an apartment building, chances are there is a communal laundry room in the basement that is shared by all the residents.

As everything else in Switzerland, these facilities are regulated by a …laundry list of “dos” and “don’ts” that you’d well to commit to memory and adhere to meticulously.

These rules relate to everything from adhering to the assigned time slot to removing lint from the dryer.

Following each rule to the letter, and not trying to wash your laundry in someone else’s time slot, is a sign of successful integration.

Voilà, the five signs you are “at home” in Switzerland.

READ MORE: French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local