I just got back from vacation to Italy. It was my first time visiting Italy and it was an amazing experience.
My wife and I spent two days in Milan and two days in Venice.
Here are 6 things I learned on my first trip to Italy.
Smoking is common:
I guess not being around smoking is something I’ve come to take for granted living in the US where smoking is virtually non-existent these days.
The first thing we did was go see AC Milan vs. Genoa and everyone around us in the stadium was smoking.
I’m one of those people who hates smoking so much I actually have to hold my breath when I walk by someone who is smoking. Obviously, I couldn’t do that for 2 hours, so that sucked. It was my first European soccer match and this was the only unenjoyable part of it. But the rest of the San Siro was awesome.
Milan dresses well:
I’d heard that Milan was one of the “fashion capitals of the world” but I didn’t get it until I saw it. Everyone dressed really well. At one point, my wife asked, “Are there any ugly people in Milan?”
The temperature got up to around 70 (F) during the day, which would be t-shirt and shorts weather for most of the world. I don’t think I saw a single person in a t-shirt or shorts.
Dudes were literally dressed in full suits with an extra coat and scarves in 70 degree weather. My wife was confused, but my theory is that the more bundled up you are, the nicer you can dress.
Let’s just say that everyone there made me look like a hobo. I was rocking my New Balance running shoes for most of the trip and I may have been the only male under 80 wearing those in the entire city.
Also, I didn’t see any overweight people. This seems counterintuitive with all the pizza and pasta everywhere, but surprisingly, people don’t seem to overeat (and they walk a lot).
Pizza lived up to the hype:
I ate A LOT of pizza in Italy. It’s not like pizza in the US. For one, yes it is better so let’s get that out of the way. To me, it was because all the ingredients were fresh and you could taste the difference.
Also, it wasn’t super greasy like American pizza. I finished an entire pizza several times and wasn’t overly stuffed. When I eat Papa John’s, I get pretty full on half a pizza.
All of the food lived up to the hype, in fact. In addition to pizza, the pasta, gelato, and tiramisu were all very good.
Coffee culture is strong in Italy:
People drink espresso after almost every meal. It is served in a tiny cup, almost like a shot and it is strong, but tasty.
Most restaurants have a cover charge:
This was a new thing for me. I learned that it serves as what Americans would call a tip, but I still felt like it was pretty low. I’m used to tipping 20% or more in the US and cover charge was typically less than 5 euros.
We did tip an additional amount at some of the nicer places where we ate, but weren’t really sure how much was appropriate.
Some of the bars brought out several rounds of appetizer-like snacks for free, which I’m assuming was also part of the cover charge. One bar in Milan we went to was pretty fancy and one of their snacks included a lobster risotto type thing. We wondered if we would get charged, but never did.
Public shaming is a thing among young people:
This was probably the strangest thing I saw. In Venice, we were exploring outside of the touristy part of town and wandered into one of the squares near the local college which was a popular hangout for teenagers.
At a few places in the square, there were groups of teens publicly shaming one of their friends. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but it seemed like a “roast” of sorts.
This one girl would stand in front of a poster and recite from it (maybe things about herself) while her friends would stand around and throw things at her like eggs and flour. It was very odd. My wife and I both tried to Google what it might be, but couldn’t find anything on it.
Note: I later learned what this was from Stef Sorace, a Quora reader who commented on my post:
The girl you saw in Venice had just graduated university! It’s an Italian tradition: when you finish university you have to read in public a poster (usually written by your friends) while they laugh, throw stuff at you, often dressed very strangely. I get it must look very odd from a foreign point of view, but here it’s very usual and funny!
Overall, it was an awesome trip and I hope to go back again in the future.
Featured image by… me!
First published on Quora.