Culture shock! 6 things about Italy you should know before your trip

So you’ve got your plane ticket, you booked the accommodation and you even bought sunscreen: you’re finally ready to go to Italy! But do you know what to expect when you get there? Italy is a beautiful country and Italians are a friendly bunch, still, there are a few things that might leave you puzzled on your first trip to il Bel Paese.

To help you enjoy your holiday without distress I wrote down a list of things that might come as a culture shock on your first visit to Italy.

Do you call that a queue?

You might notice this already at the airport: Italians have their own idea of queuing. Instead of lining after the person who arrived before them they try to squeeze in or push until they get to the front of the line. This way, queues look more like random gatherings of people.

If you want to make your way to the bus or the counter you might have to adopt the locals’ customs. You know, when in Rome…

Useful vocabulary

Fare la coda. – To queue.
È il mio turno. – It’s my turn.

Sorry, did you have to wait?

Timeliness is not always a priority in Italy. This applies to public transport, events and of course people. It’s not unusual for buses and trains to be late. Sometimes, they don’t arrive at all. In case you have an appointment I’d recommend you plan ahead and allow plenty of time to get there.

If you have any Italian friends and you decide to meet up with them don’t be surprised if they show up late: an Italian arriving 10-15 minutes after the set time will still think they’re on time. Bring a book with you, one can always use some spare time for reading!

Useful vocabulary

Sei in ritardo! – You are late!
Scusa, l’autobus era in ritardo. – I’m sorry, the bus was late.

Highway to hell

No jokes, driving in Italy can be a nightmare. Horn honking, tailgating, fast driving: when they get behind the wheel Italians think they’re on a race. You may find people not respecting the traffic lights, overtaking on curves and generally breaking the rules with nonchalance. This can vary and get better or worse depending on the area you are visiting: I’m from Bologna and I would be scared of driving in Rome!

Also, don’t get offended if someone shouts at you for respecting a stop sign or the speed limit: it’s nothing personal…

Useful vocabulary

Vorrei noleggiare un’auto. – I would like to rent a car.
Avere la precedenza. – To have right of way.

I don’t speak English!

No need to panic, you will likely be able to get by with English in and around touristic spots, but in general, Italians are not so great at English. Especially when it comes to older generations, most of them only speak their native language. If you’re dreaming of merging with the locals you better hit the books and learn some Italian. You’re already passionate about the culture, so why don’t you give this beautiful language a try?

On a positive note, Italians will not be afraid to use the few words and expressions they know in order to get understood and they will do their best to be helpful.

Useful vocabulary

Mi scusi, parla inglese? – Excuse me, do you speak English?
Non parlo italiano. – I don’t speak Italian.

Ciao bella!

This one is not cool: Italian men are big at catcalling. You might have heard of their celebrated courtliness, but when they see a woman walking down the street they behave as if something went wrong with evolution.

Growing up in Italy I got used to being yelled at since I was a teenager, sometimes unrepeatable words. When I moved to Japan, and then to the UK, it was such a relief to be able to walk in front of a man without the constant fear of being harassed.

As much as I would like to be sassy enough to face these donkeys, often the safest thing is to ignore them and walk away.

Useful vocabulary

Lasciami stare! – Leave me alone!
Sparisci! – Get lost!

Loud and animated folks

There is no doubt Italians love to have a good laugh, to debate lively over politics and to talk with their hands. You will hear them from a distance when you’re strolling around the park or see them gesticulating at each other in front of an espresso.

The noise and the kids running around the tables might be slightly overwhelming at a restaurant, but you will likely end up enjoying the cheerful atmosphere and the locals’ bubbly personality.

Probably you’ll love your trip even more than expected because of the cultural differences. After all, Italy wouldn’t be what it is without Italians. For better and for worst.

What are the most surprising things you experienced on your trip to Italy?

Ready to practice your Italian? Here is a video where I speak about the same topic in Italian – with subtitles!


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I’m on a journey to help introverts and other quiet learners make language learning into a tool for self-care (and keep anxiety out of it).


  1. 26th April 2017 / 5:36 pm

    Post molto divertente letto dall’altra parte della barricata, specie perché molti dei punti sono caratteristiche di cui ci lamentiamo quando andiamo all’estero (in Cina la mancanza di rispetto delle code, in Turchia la guida spericolata…)

    • Elena
      26th April 2017 / 6:46 pm

      In fin dei conti c’è sempre qualcuno che sta peggio! 🙂 La cosa delle code mi colpisce sempre, ogni volta che torno a Bologna all’aeroporto la coda dei voli per l’Italia è un macello!

  2. 28th April 2017 / 1:57 pm

    This is so interesting to know. I also experience the same thing in Turkey. Especially when driving. O my god. That is the scariest thing ever.

    • Elena
      4th May 2017 / 11:39 am

      I recently drove around Sweden and that is such a different experience! I was so surprised about people actually respecting the speed limit!