As part of our series on how other nationalities travel, our expat expert sorts fact from fiction when it comes to Italians.
Where they go
In summer, life is binary for Italians. Friends will often ask each other “Mare o montagna?”, meaning “Are you going to the beach in August, or the mountains?”. An alternative to la montagna – which Italian treat like a grassy version of the beach – is to travel to cooler climes. Norway’s North Cape in high summer is one big ciao-fest. Another curious phenomenon is the winter migration of Italians who live and work in summer resorts – inhabitants of the Amalfi Coast, for example, tend to decamp to Thailand en bloc.
What they like to do
Italians are, for the most part, fairly conformist in their holiday habits. In London, they’ll do Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street and Tate Modern. At the beach, they’ll rent deckchairs and almost always have a proper lunch somewhere (picnics are more common in the mountains, but even these tend to be sit-down, with the family’s whole dining room reproduced on trestle tables). Museum visits are high on their list of city attractions, though sometimes these are as much duty as pleasure – a legacy, perhaps, of being marched around the Borghese Gallery on school trips. What they will never do is take a cooking course. That would be like a Brit doing a queuing course.
How they behave
They’re not big advance-planners, or early risers. Schedules are often hammered out on a day-to-day basis, over an espresso made in the stovetop aluminium caffettiera that any self-respecting Italian will have packed in his or her luggage, along with the parmesan. Social animals, they tend to move in groups, and will interact with locals wherever they go, in functional pidgin English, while remaining utterly themselves (few suffer from Lawrence of Arabia syndrome). Their one big moan is always the food. It’s not what people abroad eat that puzzles them; it’s why they choose to suffer that way, day in, day out.
What they wear
Smart dressers, Italians always match clothes to location or activity. In the mountains, it has to be the latest mountain gear. On the beach, designer swimwear. In the high street, smart-casual city clothes – and in urban settings, male Italians will never lose that shirt, however hot it gets.
Dining and drinking habits
On the sliding scale of late eaters, Italians beat the Germans, the Brits and (by a whisker) the French, but can’t compete with the Spaniards. Default lunchtime is 1-2.30pm, default dinnertime anywhere between 7.30pm and 10pm. Meals are not just sources of fuel but important social rituals, and they will always try to get in two proper sit-down meals a day, one of them at least involving real (i.e. Italian) food. They tend to view alcohol as an accompaniment to meals, rather than a full-time pursuit.
How to get along with them
It would be difficult not to: Italians may be overly sure of themselves at times, but they’re also (mostly) outgoing, curious, and sociable. The most common mistake is to assume all Italians identify with each other. Someone from Bolzano in the far north may feel closer to Salzburg than to Sicily. But a Sicilian will patiently explain that the Phoenician west and the Greek east of the island are poles apart. And so on…