To start with, this should probably have a major subhead: “15 Strange Things Italians Do that are strange to Americans.” Because I’m sure they are not strange to any Italian or even other parts of the world. But to two Americans — well Paul was born here, so these are his observations after moving back to Italy — these are a few of the weird things we’ve noticed Italians do.

PLEASE NOTE:  These are observations about Italians living IN ITALY, NOT Italian-Americans.  A lot of folks seemed to be missing that point when this was first posted.

Know any others?  Let us know in the comments.  And don’t forget to share this with family and friends who might get a kick out of it.

1. They don’t like to wear seatbelts or use baby seats

Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 9Not sure if this is a macho thing? Or they believe it’s safer because you can, I don’t know, throw yourself from the car? Whatever the reason, some almost refuse to do it.

To keep the car from beeping at them, they will either buckle the seatbelt behind them in the car. Or, they will actually carry around an extra buckle, just a buckle with maybe a little strap on it, so they can put that in the latch to stop the car from beeping.

It is against the law and you will get a ticket if you are stopped, so don’t try this when visiting.

Is this only a southern thing? Small town thing? Let us know in the comments.

When it comes to the kids, the children will actually sit in mom or dad’s lap while they are driving. Sometimes while the parent is also on the phone driving a stick shift. I know they don’t all do it, but we have seen it enough times to say a lot of them do.

2. They throw litter out of the window of their carItalian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 7

This is definitely more a southern thing I think than northern. But littering here is just not looked at as a terrible thing like it is in the states.

I have watched someone literally clean out their car while driving down the road. Reaching down to throw out a plastic bottle, then some papers, etc.

 

Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do3. They peel their fruit and vegetables

You will never see an Italian bite into an apple or pear unpeeled, even if it is washed.  That sucker has to be peeled before it passes those lips!

The new rule in Italy is that when purchasing fruit in a market, the display has to say if the peel is edible. If it is organic, the peel is edible. Perhaps this will change things?

 

4. Italians will not “drive” in the passing laneItalian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 2

This is strange to us but it is CORRECT. The passing lane should only be for passing. And while Italians do drive fast and like maniacs, they do strictly adhere to this rule.

So if you are driving in Italy, don’t stick around in the left lane. Pass someone and get back into the right-hand lane. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of Italian drivers honking and flashing their lights at you.

5. They never go outside with wet hair

It goes back to colpo d’aria, the thought that a hit of cold air will cause sudden death. OK. Not sudden death, but pretty much every other malady out there. It’s also why they won’t drive with a window down, hate fans blowing directly on them, and wear scarves a lot (see #10 below).

6. When entering a room in someone else’s home or a store, they say “hello”Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 6

You might have already greeted them at the gate. Or the room they are entering could be empty with the lights off.

Or the room they are entering could be empty, with the lights out, and not another person even around.

But when they enter the room, they will say, “Buon Giorno” or “Permesso?”

Polite? Probably. And just good manners.  But to an American, it’s strange, especially when they say it to an empty room.

 

Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 117. They rarely eat eggs for breakfast

Today, most Americans probably have more in common with Italians in this regard. Today, American’s will grab a bowl of cereal or a cereal bar before running out the door and aren’t usually cooking up a batch of eggs.

However, you won’t see an Italian scrambling up some eggs and bacon for breakfast, even on the weekend. Italians are pretty consistent in their concept of breakfast, which usually consists of a coffee and a pastry. That’s it.

 

 

Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 12

8. Non-gay Italians of the same sex will walk arm in arm or hand in hand

Italians are very affectionate and not afraid of physical contact. Male friends will even horse around grabbing each other by the groin.  Women will walk hand in hand down the street.

It’s actually refreshing to see. Why can’t we show more affection to even just friends?

 

Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 59. They kiss hello and goodbye

Strangers, no. But after meeting someone once or twice, you almost always greet them with a kiss.

Remember, always start on the left cheek. So your left cheek against theirs. Then, move to right cheek against their right cheek. A little crisscross dance if you will.

Whether you actually touch cheeks, making kissing sounds, or actually kiss each other’s cheek is all sort of a personal preference.

 

Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 1010. They wear scarves a lot

This goes back a bit to the colpo d’aira thing, as Italians seem to get afflicted all the time with cervicale. As near as we can tell, it’s sort of a stiff neck or neck ailment.

Paul also thinks this has to do with a bit of national pride. They must accessorize and be stylish. It’s just part of being Italian.  Which leads to point #11.

 

Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 311. They always dress to go out

You will never, ever see a “people of Walmart” post in Italy. Mainly because there are no Walmarts, but also because they would never be caught dead outside the house in pajamas, torn shirt, sweats, workout clothes, or even a slightly worn t-shirt.

For the women, this can be especially true.

The guys are obsessive about their shoes, though. Even sneakers. If they buy a new pair of tennis shoes and they come to visit us in the country, if you want to go for a walk they must change their shoes first. A scuff would be a mortal sin.

There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, it’s good they want to look nice and put their best foot forward.

12. They cross themselves when they pass a church or anything religiousItalian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 8

Even in the car when driving by a religious spot, you’ll see them make the sign of the cross (head, chest, shoulder, shoulder) in the car.

It almost becomes a habitual thing. Like looking both ways before crossing the street.

As with all these points, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s just not something you see often in the states.

 

13. They can have weird store hours

Want a 24/7 deli or gas station? Good luck with that.

Want to pick something up at the store on your way home for lunch? If it’s after 1 PM, good luck with that.

As we’ve talked about in the past, especially in small towns, everyone goes home for lunch. So from 1-4 PM you won’t find much open except the big huge supermarkets or department stores.

But they also have weird days where everything in town is closed. It’s part of a guild system. For example, no restaurant in Terlizzi is open 7 days a week. Not a one. And I believe all but one are closed on Monday, and then that restaurant is closed on Tuesday when the rest reopen.

Also, on Thursday night, every fruit and vegetable vendor in closed.

Why doesn’t someone break ranks and open on Thursday? They’d make a killing! Maybe that’s the greedy American talking, but it is strange to me.

NOTE: I’m sure this is mostly only in very small towns.

Paul believes some of the reason for this, besides the guild rules, is that a lot of these shops are Mom and Pop stores and they don’t trust anyone else at the register. Some of it also a way to protect their way of life. Everyone wants some time off.

In the end, it’s actually a good thing.  They are going home to eat with their family.  They are taking time off to enjoy life.  It’s something we could all learn to do more often, but again, it’s just strange to American’s used to such a 24/7 economy.

 

Italian Travel Culture Strange Things Italians Do 414. They don’t like to eat or drink anything to go

You will hardly ever see an Italian walking down the street with a cup of coffee. You will also never see them driving while eating a sandwich.

Even at a rest stop. They will order their sandwich, then eat it at either the counter or a table in the rest stop.

15. They may ask you what you had for lunch

It always comes back to food, doesn’t it?

When a friend stops by for coffee in the afternoon, invariably after a nice “hello” and “how are you doing,” they will ask you what you had for lunch.

It’s the strangest thing. Except when someone is talking about an amazing meal they had a restaurant, when have you ever in your life asked someone what they had for lunch?

Good thing we always take a picture of what we’re eating so we can show them!

 

So, how’d we do?  Any other strange things Italians do that we missed?  Let us know below in the comments.  And don’t forget to share this post with family and friends with the share buttons below.

 

 

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You might think growing up in a small town in Texas wouldn't prepare you to live the Italian lifestyle. But in many ways — the family values, the small town culture, the love of food — is very similar to what you'll find in Italian culture. In fact, I expect it's pretty universal. Having been married to an Italian for 20 years, it's been fun to learn and explore the rich Italian culture and share it with you.

38 COMMENTS

  1. Some of these were true when I first moved to Italy 40 years ago, but no longer hold true. At least in my neck of the woods, specifically 1, 2, 13 and 15. Probably they’re more a Southern Italian, small town norm. But your reasoning is pretty spot-on.

  2. Some of these are comical but I know 1 Italian/American that does #12 religiously:)) No pun intended LOL
    My dream is to move to Venice, Italy and live happy ever after. Then all my friends can come and visit me. Bet I woulda lot more friends. I live in Florida now:((

  3. I have no idea which kind of Italians you ever met, but… Surprise surprise: we Do use seat belts since late ’80s, we definitely DO use car seats for our babies, we DON’T throw litter out of our car window, boys don’t hold their hands (you might be confused: Indians and Arab do it!), we definitely eat and drink to go (well, not American coffee!), and oh… Our “weird shop timing” are definitely weird! It’s because in our weird way of thinking, people should be allowed to rest at night and enjoy their families, unless working at night it’s strictly necessary. But, guess what: if you go, for example, to Austria, it’s much “worse” than in Italy!
    Oh.. And no: we don’t always wear scarf! Somebody does, of course. Especially a couple of years ago: like it or not, it’s called “fashion”.
    Like in every Country, we have the good and the bad. And I am sure and aware, out there, there are full of ineducate people who don’t lock their children or themselves up in the car or who throw their litter from the window. Can you swear that nobody does it in your country?

    • Hi Benedetta, sorry you got upset by this. It was really meant all in good fun. Of course not all Italians do all these things, and of course, some Americans do this as well. They are very big generalities meant to be taken in fun and not bash anyone. We LOVE Italians and Italy, so none of this was meant to put them in a bad light. I think if you listen to the podcast, you can see we were just having fun with it, and maybe some of that got lost in the show notes.

  4. Well it’s always fun to poke fun at other cultures, but at some level I agree with Benedetta. I get really tired of posts about the generalities of Italians. There are many regional differences aren’t there.

    • Totally understand, John. There are definitely LOTS of differences, that’s for sure. Maybe this should have been “strange things small town Puglians do?”

  5. 1) NOT true, I saw some babies out of their baby car seats but it’s very hard to see something like that and you would get in trouble with the police very soon. No one of my friends or relatives would drive without putting their kids in a safe seat. 2) it’s very hard to see someone throwing litter from their cars. 8) I never saw a man holding another man’s hand, sometimes they give the typical 2 kissed on their cheeks but nothing more.

    • Thanks for commenting, Ludovica. This is just some of the things we’ve seen. And of course, all parts of Italy are difference as others pointed out.

  6. We spent four wks driving through Sicily and never saw anyone throwing stuff out their windows. Plus saw very little garbage along the roadside.
    That being written, everything else on the list I agree with.

    • Thanks for commenting, Grace. Of course, they are not true for every Italian everywhere. In Puglia, the trash problem is very well known. The national news even did a story on it.

  7. Start with substituting all THEY’s and THEM’s by SOME and some (but only some) points partly hold true. The rest, I am sorry to say, sounds rather arrogant – if you really mean what you write. I hope not.

    • Hi Bruno, I did try to clarify many times that these were mostly the actions of a few and didn’t use a lot of absolutes. Sorry if you feel it was “arrogant,” as again, it was meant just to be observations of strange actions, just as I’m sure Italians find many things that Americans do as strange. In fact, while we might call them strange, you’ll notice I noted that a lot of these (like not driving in the passing lane) are actually correct or polite.

  8. Some of these are very true, however the south does not like to be controlled by stopsigns or stoplights so they will blow these. Holding hands is not cool in Italy, the women walk sometimes arm in arm as Italians like to touch, feel, very affectionate. Here vs Italy when it comes to funerals a lot of the custom to wear black for years has changed except for the day of funeral. People still wake in the home or in the capella in a hospital but none of this funeral home exhibition where everybody starts talking, laughing in front of the casket like what is done in the states. Funerals there are solemn, respectful, no TV or radio in the home for a week… I speak of the south, as other traditions
    Exist in the north.

      • Hi Steve. I guess I upset Anna but but these are solely observations that I
        Personally expierence when I visit my relatives in the Southern Campagna region twice
        a year. I love AlLL Italy and each region has a competitive view of each other
        and I guess that is the nature of the Italians. It is rooted in History. Men saluting by touching each cheek exists throughout Italy.
        Things change over time… When in Rome do as the Romans do! Remember the saying…however don’t expect an attractive woman to get a pinch on the butt cheek in Rome in old times unless you want a slap in the face… Customs have changed especially with the influx of refugees entering Italy by the Millions..

  9. Sorry you don’t know or understand Italians. I ask myself how many people do what you quoted?
    I’m sure that you did see these thing but you have generalised too much. Customs, beliefs, culinary trend and traditions that’s how you can classify a population. Local habits and short standing trends give a false insight.

    • I agree, Anna. Italy is very diverse and these weren’t meant to say every Italian does them all. Just some of the strange ones we’ve seen here and there. I did try to clarify that, but maybe it just didn’t come through in the post. Thanks for commenting.

  10. What is great about Italy is that every region is 100% different. Even the actual language. I’m from the Abruzzi region and if someone speaks to me from the north or the south, I will not understand a word they said. The Dialect in Italy is great. It’s like every little village created their own language and rules. So, the list above is different throughout Italy. Yes, all stores close at 1-4 but if you go to Rome or Sorrento (tourist places) they are all open. Yes we dont take food to go unless its a quick thing and we are walking in peace with no rushing but usually we like to eat without rushing and enjoying the food, the wine and espresso. Plus we drink Espresso not the HUGE coffee we all drink and drive with. The one with saying hi when we walking into someone home or room…well this is commen respect and not just an Italian thing..Who the hell would walk in a room and just not say hi to the person in the room or the house. It’s just being nice. And not all Italians dress to impress. Some Italians wake up and just run out of the house and they dont care how they look. That’s what is great about Italy, they dont care. Only family members and very close friends kiss hi and bye. Even if they met the person once or twice, they don’t. Again, only people that are close and family. Scarfs all the time? I ‘m not even going to say anything about this one as it’s so not true unless its in Dec-feb..dont we all wear scarfs during those cold months? The seat belts and car seats for the children is crazy…of course they do. Italians love their children and are strict like no other culture when it comes to their children and safety is #1 for them. Oh and you prob say kids like 16-25 driving with no seat belts..I did the same at that age. The list is ok, but there are soooo many other specific things to itailans than this list. This list is for any culture in Europe and even the states. For example, what is specific to Italians is “they make a feast of homemade pasta with meats every Sunday like it is a holiday and the entire family with kids get together and eat at 1:00 on the dot”. Its like a holiday ever Sunday. That is specific to Italy and 100% Italians.

    • Thanks, Gialuca. All of these are very good observations. These are show notes from a podcast, and if you hear on the podcast, we actually had more points, like the Sunday meal, to cover, but ran out of time. Italy is definitely very diverse, and these weren’t meant to say every Italian everywhere does these, but to show some of the things we’ve seen during our time here.

  11. The most peculiar feature, unique to the Italians as far as I can tell: we talk about food (that we had or that we should try) while eating and enjoying an already fulfilling meal…

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