Top 10 gotchas for foreigners in Italy

Published on:  | Last updated: 25 March 2018

Forgetting to validate your train ticket

It’s easily done - even if you’ve travelled in Italy a lot. If you do forget then go in search of the capo di treno  — don’t wait for them to find you

Forgetting to weigh fruit and veg in supermarkets

A few Italian super­markets have machines for weighing fruit and veget­ables at the checkout, but these are a tiny minority: generally you need to weigh them and attach the price sticker before you go to the checkout

Forgetting to buy a gettone

Most Italian campsites have free showers, but a few use gettoni (tokens). Buy a spare one as well - if there’s one thing worse than getting to the showers and finding you need a token, it’s finding that the gettone runs out just as you’ve covered yourself with soapy suds (although usually, they last for longer than you need). 

Asking for a latte … and getting what you asked for

Latte is the Italian for milk if you want a milky coffee ask for a caffe’ latte or a latte macchiato

Leaving off the 0 in phone numbers

If you come from a country where, when dialling inter­na­tional numbers, you remove the first zero you’ll need to remember to leave them on.


Caldo may sound like ‘cold’ but it means hot. I can’t be the only person who’s reached, without thinking, for the tap marked C only to find that the results were the opposite of what I expected (although generally taps and shower mixers are colour-coded blue and red)

Prickly pears

Prickly pears are a common sight in central and southern Italy, and the flesh is really tasty. The problem is that the skin is covered in tiny spines, and if you grab hold of one, you can be pulling them out of our hands for days to come. If you know what you are doing, you can cut the skin off without ending up with a hand like a pin cushion, but this is something best left to someone who does know what they are doing

Huge stamps

If you still send the occasional postcard, then bear in mind that Italy stamps can be enormous - you write and address your postcards then buy the stamps and then find there’s nowhere to fit the stamp. (If you’re thinking ‘what’s a postcard?’ you can safely ignore this.) 

Buongiorno and Buonasera

Buonasera means good evening, but you can hear it in the afternoon, partic­u­larly in the south, but it varies a lot. I’ve come to think of it as the Italian equivalent of scissors, paper, stone.

Munirsi con il scontrino

This one’s fairly simple: generally you pay when you’ve drunk your coffee etc, but at places like train stations you’ll be expected to pay first get your till-receipt (scontrino), and then go to order. Gelaterie often do the same thing.

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