For many years Italy has held a reputation for being the home of la dolce vita, or the sweet life. To visit Italy is to see the truth of this reputation. Italian culture is all about taking your time, there is no rush for results or focus on accuracy or precision. Instead, it’s all about getting it right and enjoying the moment.
There are only two things that go fast in Italy; the traffic and the Italian language. Locals for the most part, talk fast and in the cities drive even faster. So, when you are visiting, remember to sit back and enjoy at all times, unless of course you are hiring a car!
The best way to enjoy the Italian culture is to speak Italian. If you are planning a trip to this beautiful country learning how to speak Italian will help you get the best out of your vacation. You can learn Italian by listening to podcasts which don’t just teach you to speak Italian, but also give you a glimpse into the culture and way of life.
Part of Italian culture is the siesta. If you are visiting, expect shops to be closed between 1pm and 3pm roughly, unless you are in a large city. This keeps everyone out of the hot afternoon sun and, let’s face it, means everyone can fit more delicious local cuisine in at dinner. The best advice is to embrace the siesta yourself. Start early with a light breakfast and café espresso then spend the morning seeing the sights. Have a long leisurely lunch followed by a nap. Head out again mid afternoon then have a late dinner. Most Italians don’t eat until at least 8pm.
Many Italian restaurants describe their culinary style to tourists as slow food. In fact, this is a term that has become fashionable in the English speaking world. It’s not a reference to the service, although don’t expect anyone to bring you your bill in a hurry anywhere in Italy. Slow food is the opposite of fast food. Many Italians focus on local produce that is as naturally produced as possible. The cooking process takes time and happens without additives or factory processes. Home cooking trumps mass production every time.
If you are traveling around Italy finding out what the local specialties are is essential. Each region has particular dishes for which it is well known. In the north it is squid ink past. In the Cinque Terre it is pesto and foccacia. Naples is known for pizza. Further south are known for their exquisite deserts. Try the local specialty at least once in any region you visit, you will not be sorry.
Italian culture is not all sleeping and eating. The cities of Italy are vibrant. During the day they are a buzz of ancient ruins, chic shops and shotgun scooters. To a tourist, the traffic in Italy can seem insane, despite the high speeds and apparent lack of road rules there are few accidents. If you thought the day time was action packed, wait until night falls. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs light up the streets where the people will party until the small hours of the morning.
You can read more about the Italian lifestyle and culture on our blog. Here are some of our favorite cultural articles.
Listen to our Italian Culture Class lesson on Italian Names (Paolo, Paola - Francesco, Francesca):