Over 46 million tourists visit the boot-shaped peninsula each year! They come from all over the world, and many return again and again for a magic that only Italy can deliver.
As Samuel Johnson said, "A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see."
Italians are very kind, and extremely patient (unless they're driving). They are the guardians of some of history's most magnificent treasures, and they are used to sharing them. However, there are a few things Italians want Americans to know before you arrive in their country:
1. Dinner: It's between 7:30-9:00 p.m. Pressing your hungry face to the restaurant's window at 6:00 p.m. will not change that. Calling for a reservation, and dressing up for dinner, however, will be appreciated.
2. Skin: Not shown so much in Italy. Short skirts, daisy dukes and halter tops do not epitomize the classical fashion taste of Italians. So cover up, unless, of course, you really are at the beach.
3. Bread: It won't be served with oil and balsamic vinegar (unless the restaurant caters to Americans), so resist asking the server to provide them. Also, bread is not to be eaten with pasta. It's used to "fare la scarpetta" or "make a little shoe", to clean the plate of sauce. To do so in a restaurant is a debatable point, so I will let you make that decision! Basically, bread is provided to accompany an appetizer.
4. Simplify Your Schedule: Leave time to wander the crooked, ancient streets on your own. Often, just a few blocks from the main attractions, day-to-day life is unfolding. Leave the crowds. Pause to listen to a street performer. Plan some time where you can get off the well beaten path for a gelato, coffee, or traditional meal with the locals. Besides, if you over schedule, you just get grumpy.
5. Afternoon Closings: This still surprises and perplexes Americans. Many shops will close down for the afternoon from 1:00-4:00 p.m., especially outside the city center. Italians go home to enjoy lunch as a family and relax. Try it!
6. Taxis: You need to call for a taxi, or go to an actual taxi stand. You cannot hail a cab on a street in Italy, although it's amusing to watch Americans try! The taxi service in Florence is amazingly efficient and punctual, especially when compared to the post office.
7. Italian: It's what is spoken! Learning a few words and common phrases will make a big difference in your experience. Rather than launching immediately in English, and assuming you will be understood, it's polite to ask, "Parla l'Inglese?"
8. Coperto: The amount charged, per person, to sit down at a table. It's not a ploy to take advantage of you because you are a tourist. While a coperto is not the same thing as a tip, tipping in Italy is not necessary, and never more than 5-10 percent.
9. Ask for the Check: It won't be automatically delivered to your table after a meal in a restaurant. That doesn't mean you are being ignored. Food and conversations are to be enjoyed, not rushed. When you are ready to leave, ask for the bill, "il conto."
10. Slow Down: You can't see it all. Trust me on this one. The reason 46 million tourists descend on Italy each year is because there is so much beauty to see and experience. A plethora of culture, art, vineyards, food, and museums -- a lifetime is not enough. So, slow down, savor and appreciate what you do see.
11. Smile: You've made it to a country that has inspired visitors for centuries. Melt into its beauty and lifestyle, its art, music, and literature. Trade smiles with Italians and take home memories of a truly magnificent country, unlike any other in the world.