Talking smack about their mamas, putting shit on their pastas, and pretending you're Pesci will all get you the boot.
Photo by: Instant Vantage
Italians suck down spaghetti, dance the Tarantella and belt out "mamma mia!" just as much as you think they do. The proud people of the Boot are passionate about life, and can get passionately pissed off if you break any of the unwritten rules that define their world-celebrated, and oft-imitated, culture. Committing the following faux pas will earn you a flurry of hand gestures and a not-so-musical string of the Italian language, filled with enough vaffanculos (fuck offs!) to turn your face as red as a plump pomodoro.
Breaking the Coffee Commandments
Photo by: The Wolf
Coffee is one of Italy's prided culinary perfections. It only takes a few shots of their small, but incredibly strong brew to develop a dependence that'll leave you craving long after you've left the land. A lot of care goes into every cup so try to not mess up your order. Pick your poison, head to the cash register to pay, then bring your receipt to a barista who will craft your drink. Once you get your goods, drink up and don't sit down-- cafes here are drug-dispensaries filled with local fiends who like things fast and don't take kindly to the loungey, Mac-flaunting types that clutter other coffee shops.
OTP Tip: Espresso is the norm (known as cafÈ) and can be enjoyed any time of day, but no matter where you are, don't dare order a cappuccino after the morning. Cappuccino is made with hot milk which is for babies and for breakfast only -- anyone who disagrees is bat-shit crazy and bound to get a disgusted cringe.
Casually Crossing the Crosswalk
Photo by: angeloangelo
Maybe back home you enjoy strolling through crosswalks and secretly love defiantly showcasing your legal right-of-way to oncoming traffic. In Italy, the white bridge of safe street crossing isn't the law and drivers don't even hesitate when you're on its edges. Wait until there are no cars to cross or jointly cross with a driver-respected group (like nuns).
Pasta in Italy is never disgraced by being served as a side dish, never served with chicken, never smothered in alfredo sauce (which doesn't even exist here) and very rarely served with meatballs (in some southern restaurants, but still not the meatboulders you've become accustomed to.) Don't go complaining to your waiter when the pasta options aren't what you expected. Using ketchup or dumping parmesan cheese unnecessarily (like on seafood pasta) is akin to taking an actual dump on your pasta. Another proper fuck-up in pasta etiquette is to twirl your pasta with a spoon. Don't cut the strands and stick with small twirled forkfuls to avoid being a total twat.
Stick Up For Silvio Berlusconi
Photo by: Robin Hood Tax
Even mentioning the name of this former prime minister and infamously crooked politician is sure to pull a share of eye rolls and clenched fists from nearby Italians. After years of abusing his position in public office, Berlusconi was finally taken down for throwing "bunga bunga" parties filled with underage prostitutes. He's left a shameful mark on the Italian government and will be universally hated for years to come. If you're going to mention the guy, it better be in a bashing manner. Any kind words will put you in the middle of an authentic Italian yelling match.
Talking About the Mafia
Photo by: kevin dooley
So you watched The Sopranos, love The Godfather and can spit every Joe Pesci line from Goodfellas. Now you're in Italy and want some information about La Cosa Nostra straight from the source. While it's true that Italians are largely affected by the mafia's influence, most of them aren't cheery to talk about a syndicate responsible for local murders and extortions every year. The glamorization and fascination of the mafia started in your TV and should probably stay there.
Insulting Somebody's Mamma
Photo by: maureen lunn
... or their father, brother, sister, child, cousin or niece-in-law. Italians place an incredible amount of pride in their families so this area is typically off-limits for dry jokes. Insulting an Italian's family is reserved for the last straw in a verbal battle and typically escalates to some fist-action afterward. However, if you're feelin' lucky and want to be starting something, aim any crude jokes at your target's mother. Italian men treat their moms like beloved saints (understandable considering their insane cooking) and will go to great lengths to protect them. Yo mama jokes will be rewarded with black eyes.
Photo by: devon sioui
Food is considered one of Italy's greatest arts and is practically a religion in these parts. Something so precious comes with specific customs that show the food, and those that prepare it, proper respect. Don't stuff yourself on bread before the meal comes, don't drown any prepared entree in sauces or cheeses, and no matter how full you are, finish your food -- there are no doggie bags here. Lastly, avoid eating meals on the go. The streets, trains and buses are not your dining room and to eat in public is to disgrace Italy's most prided community-building pastime. Sit down and enjoy your meal.
While Italians may be loud and lively, they're also incredibly hospitable. But every culture has its buttons (fancy fashionable ones here.) Don't insist that football is really soccer, don't point at topless babes or men in Speedos on the beach, and definitely don't show up wearing shorts and a tank top to visit a church. If you think you've accidentally wronged someone, drop a quick scusi (sorry) or non ho capito (I didn't understand) for a save.
Written by: Ben Gorman