Be a presence when crossing the street
Everyone knows the stereotype of Italian drivers, and it’s pretty true. In order to make your way through what can be confusing and hectic traffic, you must be aggressive and alert. If there’s a cross signal, wait for that. If there’s none, as is too often the case, look for a painted crosswalk and be forthright about your intention to cross. If you tend to hesitate and let the drivers always take the right of way, the results can be tragic.
We once witnessed an American friend begin to cross a street, then hesitate as traffic took the hint and slowed (but too close for his comfort), and they both continued on at the same time, believing each was deferring to the other. Yes, he was hit by the car. No, it wasn’t just a tiny scratch. Had he continued on with resolve, those slowing cars would have continued to yield.
Always take the receipt
When at a cafe or small shop with a coffee bar and stand-up tables, you’re to first order at the cash register, pay, and accept the receipt. Then, take that receipt to the coffee bar or sandwich counter and they’ll fulfill your order. A few basic words to know are “porta via” (to go), “caldo” (hot/heated up), and “senza carne” (without meat, for vegetarians).
Know your Italian coffees
Espresso is “caffe.” A regular, black coffee is “Caffe Americano.” There is no such thing as an iced cappuccino, nor is there much cappuccino at all after noon. Don’t order using Starbucks sizes (for example, a “venti” actually means “twenty” and has no place in coffee speak).
If the frenetic atmosphere of a coffee bar intimidatesas it often can, no shame in thata solid order of a “cioccolato caldo” (hot chocolate) or macchiato is safe and understood. When in doubt, vending machines with their 1 Euro mochas and more may be a welcome reprieve.
Say please and thank you
Common sense, right? Sadly, not so much. If you learn no other Italian than the proper words to be polite, and you’re putting those words to use whenever possible, then that’s a big step towards being a positive representative of your home country. Remember the Golden Rule to “treat others as you’d like to be treated.” If foreigners came into your place of work and simply pointed and nodded all day, how would you feel?
Italians are lovely, warm, hospitable people; appreciate their kindness by being so in return, por favore. Grazie mille.
Have faith in Italian trains
In a country where businesses may be open during their posted hours and plans might hold, a refreshing constant is the train system. Trenitalia is surprisingly great at sticking to their comprehensive printed schedules and, with more higher speed rolling stock (La Frecciarossa!), connections to other European rail systems are only improving.
Still, always check schedules before heading to the train station and don’t rely on assumptions. For example, the Malpensa Express train between Malpensa International Airport and Milano Centrale station sometimes leaves only once an hour and it will leave on time. An attitude like “oh, it’s Italy so I bet we can be a few minutes late” will quickly have you missing flights.
You may even be surprised how economical Italian train travel can be, considering the trains are serviceable and on time. Just be sure to validate your ticket in a yellow timestamp machine before boarding!