Italy: How to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist

DSC03689 (2)Before I went to Italy, I read a number of articles advising you on the do’s and don’ts of travel in Italy. Let’s talk about some of them.

Italians serve their bread dry. Don’t ask for butter or olive oil.

On the third day, Bridin declared, ” I don’t care. I want butter. I AM a tourist.” Seriously, why are we trying to hide it? The minute we open our mouths they know where we are from. And probably one glance at my freckles rules me out as a local. Anyways, being able to travel internationally is a privilege. Why should we be ashamed of that? Embrace it.

Cover your knees and shoulders in church or the vatican

This one I agree with. I think it’s important to respect the values and social mores of a country related to things like religion and modesty. I noticed none of the people ever had their shoulders exposed, anywhere. No talk tops or sleeveless shirts. I did not notice anyone’s knees.

Italians eat pizza with a knife and fork.

Not so much. Most of the pizza places are take-aways, and the people I saw eating pizza in restaurants used their hands. But no one ate in public, and when I wandered down the street munching on panini people openly gawked at me. At first I thought they were jealous of my sandwich. Then I thought it was because I was eating meat on Ash Wednesday outside the vatican. But I eventually got the vibe that I was being crass. So where were people eating all of the food I saw them buy? Hiding behind ruins?

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Watch traffic. Lines on the road are just decorative.

Totally true. One woman walking to the Vatican with us stood in the street and I saw a driver waiting to turn right get angrier and angrier. I had to yank her out of the way just as the driver zoomed through the space where she had been standing. The tourist looked at me in shock, I deadpanned, “They don’t care.” I noticed it was often a matter of playing chicken. One gorgeous woman glared at my cab driver like, “I DARE you” as she crossed in front of him. Then on my last day, I screamed, “Look out!” as a driver backed into a crowd of people. One guy jumped, but still got a little bump before the driver threw the car into gear and took off.

Italian people are more fashionable and you should dress up.

I took that to mean “pack a few nice dresses for restaurants and churches.” That was not what it meant. Italian people are heavily tailored. They wear a spotless uniform of perfectly cut jeans or pants with nice shoes and a puffy quilted down jacket. Speaking of shoes, they hate it when we wear sneakers. But they aren’t walking 9 miles a day through museums and historical sites. They also have shoe closets nearby. Travelers don’t have the luxury of packing 8 different pairs of shoes.

After worsening shin splints, I finally started wearing my river shoes, a cross between sandals and sneakers — which everyone hated. One woman in the train station looked me up and down between my shoes and face with open disgust, like I had dog shit on my feet. I just thought smugly, “Yeah? What are you all dressed up for? To go to work. I am going on a magical European vacation, so suck it.”

Rick Steves promotes the idea of “blending in” and in one video points out a group of Americans and Italians sitting on the steps laughing together. He uses them as a perfect example of getting to know the locals when traveling in Italy. First of all, we know those people were hired and paid for this scene. And unless you are a single person under 30 your chances of establishing tight relationships with the locals are pretty slim. I’m sorry, your hostel days are over. No more snogging with randoms at the music festival. Anyways, Rick Steves, with your red hair, backpack and khaki shorts, do you really think you’re blending in?

I will tell you how you can blend in. I believe every Italian is assigned a quilted down jacket upon birth and changes them out like shells every year. Almost every single Italian I saw was wearing one. Buy the quilted jacket and be one of them.

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When it’s warmer, they switch from the parka to the shorter jacket style

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jacketsAnd when it’s really warm, they switch to the vest. Even the gondoliers wear the vests.

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So I photographed and made fun of these jackets for 2 straight weeks. Then I left my coat in Venice. I had to buy something or freeze to death for the rest of the trip. When in Rome…

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About kiki

I like catfish. Sure, we all like catfish, but I think for me it is somehow deeper.
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