Okay, perhaps it’s the heat, but I had a hard time coming up with a clever title for this post so instead, I’m just tellin’ it like it is. These aren’t particularly exciting or the “don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon” types of advice you may read about for travel in Italy. While these tips may seem mundane, personally these are the kinds of things I like to know about when traveling somewhere new and so I’m passing on some of these tidbits to you.
1. Packs of tissue are your new best friend
A very popular brand here is Tempo, but really any brand of portable tissues will be very handy. Toilets are available for use throughout the city – by law every public coffee bar in Rome must allow use of their toilets. Because of this, you will find them in various states of uncleanliness and dysfunction and many of them do not provide toilet paper. Soap to wash your hands afterward seems to be considered a luxury item, paper towels are like finding the Holy Grail, and usually the only drying device is one of those plug-in electrical dryers that doesn’t have enough power to dry the hairs on the back of your hand. Also, if you see a sign on the bathroom door that says “guasto” or “fuori servizio” it’s probably not – bar owners often put those signs up to avoid public use of their toilets.
2. On/off switches
In your hotel bathroom or if you rent an apartment, please be wary of flipping these particular switches. You could very well be turning off the source of your electricity or hot water if you do this in a bathroom (cold showers anyone?). Light switches do not have these, but power sources to hot water heaters always do. “0” is off and “1” is on.
3. You can look, but don’t touch!
Even in 2012, many shopkeepers in Italy still don’t want customers to mess with their merchandise. I don’t know exactly what it is they’re afraid of – fingers sticky with gelato? I have no idea, but many absolutely do not want you to touch their stuff – you must ask the sales clerk to help you. If you don’t see any signs, feel free to touch away, but do try to avoid doing this to any items in a window display which is usually frowned upon. The most ridiculous use of this sign that I’ve seen was at a toy shop (no touching at a toy shop?!?!) along with the extremely grumpy owner who should have probably given up the business when her grandchildren got married.
4. Saying hello and goodbye
Along with not-touching, it’s a very nice gesture to say hello and goodbye when entering and exiting a shop. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s good form to say thank you and goodbye when leaving. A simple “Buongiorno or Buonasera” when entering and “Grazie, arrivaderci” when leaving. With strangers, refrain from saying “Ciao”, but instead greet them with a “Buongiorno/Buonasera” or use “Salve” (sal-veh) instead – a more formal and polite way of saying “hi” to people you don’t know. “Salve” only works for hello so use “Arrivaderci” for goodbye. Rome friend Shelley Ruelle has a funny post about other useful words to know in Rome.
Recently, there was a huge blow-out from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s recent honeymoon trip to Rome and the fact that he did not tip while he was here. Another Rome friend and local food expert, Katie Parla, wrote a great blog post about this very topic and I wholeheartedly agree with what she wrote and don’t really have much else to add. Please refrain from the compulsion to tip by percentage and according to the total amount. A euro or two really is plenty to leave if you appreciated the service, and we never leave anything if we are being served by the owner of the establishment.
After just a few days in Italy, your wallet will be full of these:
By law, all places where there has been a financial transaction are obligated to give you a receipt. You, as the customer, are also obligated by law to collect that receipt – whether it be from a €1 bottle of water or €100 for that D&G white cotton t-shirt you just had to have. The Guardia di Finanza (Italy’s very own tax police) are infamously known to strike fear in the heart of many a business owner and sometimes perform random checks outside of establishments to make sure that both the receipt is given and that the receipt is taken. Hefty fines can be given to both parties if the transaction is not done properly. Why such a big fuss about these little pieces of paper? Well, that’s best summarized with these two words: tax evasion.
I hope this helps! Keep an eye out here for more tips in the future or post a comment if there’s anything in particular you want to know about. I’ll consult my Magic 8 Ball if I don’t know the answer.