How do Italians eat spaghetti? The Local answers Google’s questions

How do Italians eat spaghetti? What do Italians eat for breakfast? In a series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you start typing questions with "Italy" or "Italians" into the Google search engine.

A big bowl of spaghetti.
Which cutlery should you use with your pizza and pasta in Italy? Photo: Keriliwi on Unsplash

In this piece, we answer some of the most commonly googled questions about Italian food culture.

Read on to find out how Italians drink coffee, whether you need a fork to eat pizza in Italy, and whether you should tip in Italian restaurants…

How do Italians eat spaghetti?

According to the blog Roma gourmet, spaghetti or any other kind of long pasta should be eaten with a fork, and definitely not cut up into more manageable pieces with a knife.

In a sharp rejection of the technique demonstrated by Saoirse Ronan in the film Brooklyn, where Ronan’s character eats spaghetti with the Italian-American family of her love interest Tony, the blog’s authors say you also shouldn’t need the assistance of a spoon.

READ ALSO: Why is Italy called Italy?

Instead, if you want to eat spaghetti like an Italian, you should twirl your fork clockwise against your plate at an angle, picking up just a few strands to achieve a tidy ‘moderate bite’ that avoids leaving ‘slobbering threads’ hanging over the edge. Appetising.

full house eating GIF

What do Italians eat for breakfast?

As with all questions about food in Italy, the answer varies from region to region.

But as a general rule, Italians definitely tend to err on the sweet side for breakfast.

A common breakfast is a cornetto (if you’re in the centre-south) or brioche (if you’re in the north) that resembles a French croissant, but is much sweeter and denser, and is dusted with icing sugar and/or brushed with a glaze on top. 

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

The more indulgent variations are often filled with honey, jam, chocolate spread, or an almond frangipane or pistachio cream. Other popular breakfast options are crostata jam tarts or ciambelle donuts.

Sicilians will go one step further and have gelato in a brioche bun to start their day on a real sugar high.

Cornetti Cornetto Colazione Buongiorno Colazione Italiana Pappa Cappuccino GIF - Croissant Breakfast Italian Breakfast GIFs

Whichever region you’re in, you can’t have breakfast in Italy without a cappuccino; which brings us to our next question:

How do Italians drink coffee?

This question is deserving of a detailed article in its own right – but we can get a few basics out the way here.

Tourists and new arrivals to Italy are often dismayed to learn that it’s a faux pas to order a cappuccino in Italy after breakfast time.

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

That’s because cappuccini mostly consist of milk, and so are considered a breakfast drink – a bit like how it would seem strange to order bowl of cereal after breakfast is over.

From this point in the day onwards, you should order an espresso or a caffe macchiato. Most Italians will knock back a quick shot at the coffee bar after lunch to keep their energy levels up.

The Simpsons GIF

After a dinner out, the waiter will usually offer you an espresso at the end to round off your meal. It’s common to have this with a shot of amaro liqueur or grappa, or in some southern regions, sweet limoncello, as an ammazzacaffè.

That all said, if you fancy a cappuccino beyond breakfast time, go ahead: these days most baristas will happily comply, understanding you’re a clueless foreigner who just has odd food habits.

Do Italians eat pizza with a fork?

Yes! Going to a pizzeria in Italy isn’t a fast food experience, but a nice night out.

Because it takes time and a lot of fuel to get a pizza oven up to the very high temperatures needed for that stretchy, elastic dough, many restaurants outside of tourist areas will only serve pizza in the evenings, judging that opening for a reduced lunch crowd isn’t worth it.

If you’re going for a sit down meal in the evening, it’s not really a finger food affair, and you’d look a bit uncouth tearing into your pizza with your bare hands.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

However, if you’re ordering a couple of individual slices of pizza from a bakery to eat al volo, or on the fly, then it’s expected that you’ll eat with your fingers.

Similarly, if you’re going to one of the famous Naples establishments where most of the pizza is ordered to take away through a hole in the wall, it’s fine to eat by hand (after all, how are you going to use cutlery when you’re standing in the street).

But if you’re sat down in a restaurant, it’s generally expected you’ll use your knife and fork.

Do Italians tip?

A little – but Italy doesn’t have the tipping culture of the US, where a waiter might be dependant on your tip to make a decent living.

Most Italian restaurants will include a coperto (cover charge) of about two euros per person in your bill, so you’re already paying a bit extra for service.

If you really enjoyed your meal or want to thank your waiter, it’s a nice gesture of goodwill to leave another one or two euros on the table; and leaving anything more than this will definitely be appreciated.

But you won’t cause offence if you don’t leave anything, and it’s not expected that you will.

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Why are Italians ranked among the ‘unhappiest in Europe’?

Despite the romantic image portrayed of Italians living 'la dolce vita', one study has ranked the country as among the unhappiest in Europe. Here's the data behind the discontent.

Why are Italians ranked among the 'unhappiest in Europe'?

Italy’s population has placed among the least content in Europe, according to a new study by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Happiness can be a woolly concept and hard to define, but the 2022 World Happiness Report has attempted to do that in a global survey of almost 150 countries.

Italy ranked 31st worldwide, faring well on a worldwide scale, but in Europe it lagged way behind some of its neighbours – who not only ranked highly in Europe but globally too. Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland took the four top spots globally.

In Europe, Italy also placed behind France, Germany, Austria, Ireland and slightly behind Spain and Romania.

Why were Italians ranked as being unhappy?

Based on scores over the period 2019-2021, the study took into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which may go some way to explaining Italy’s poor happiness index as it bore the brunt of the first waves of coronavirus infection in Europe in 2020.

Of course, there will be individual variations and happiness is difficult to scientifically define or measure.

Researchers used the following seven categories to assess each country’s happiness level:

  • Social support
  • Life expectancy
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • Generosity
  • GDP per capita
  • Perceptions of corruption
  • Positive and negative affects – dystopia (evaluating how much better life is in a given country in comparison to ones with bad living conditions).

“Our measurement of subjective well-being continues to rely on three main indicators: life evaluations, positive emotions, and negative emotions,” the report said.

“Happiness rankings are based on life evaluations as the more stable measure of the quality of people’s lives.”

Italy scored quite well in terms of its GDP, social support and healthy life expectancy, but respondents expressed a much lower value of freedom to make life choices compared to its European neighbours. Italians didn’t fare so well in dystopia either.

The report highlighted how Italy’s anxiety and sadness grew in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, based on social media analysis.

The Covid-19 pandemic could go some way to explaining Italy’s poor happiness ranking. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Five weeks after the outbreak of Covid, Italy showed the highest levels of anxiety globally. Levels of sadness grew too.

“On average, sadness reached its highest level three weeks after the outbreak, and remained stable for the following two weeks. The gradual increase of sadness terms occurred a while after stringency of social distancing measures increased, and remained high about two weeks later,” the report stated.

READ ALSO: Twelve statistics that show how the pandemic has hit Italy’s quality of life

Positive emotions also dropped in Italy as public health measures became stricter, the report noted.

However, throughout the turmoil, Italy ranked highly for supporting and taking care of each other – it was in fact the nationality least likely to simply take care of themselves.

Italy has consistently ranked poorly for perception of corruption: though there have been steady improvements over the past decade, it continues to rate as one of the most corrupt nations in Europe.

Despite the country’s overwhelmingly positive image abroad, Italy is in fact no stranger to poor rankings in various international comparisons on everything from corruption levels to English language proficiency.

You can find out more about those rankings below: