Category Archives: Italian Habits and Idiosyncrasies

Italian Coffee Culture

Italian coffee culture is popular around the world, from London to San Francisco, yet we have not acquired all the local habits when drinking coffee abroad. There are a few extra rules Italians follow religiously.

In Italy, milky coffee is very popular in the morning, which is the time to enjoy a Latte or a Cappuccino. However, for the natives, this is the only time of the day to drink milky coffee. A milky coffee after a lunch or dinner is almost unheard of, as, if you have had a nice meal, the Italian’s are convinced that this should only be complimented with ‘un caffé’, an espresso.

Un espresso macchiato

Un espresso macchiato

Italians are also keen on drinking their coffee in a certain manner, for example, if you are ordering an espresso, it is traditionally drunk standing up and in one go. For this reason, coffee tends to be served at a temperature at which it is possible to drink it straight away.

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New Year’s Eve in Italy

Many countries follow different traditions when it comes to the end of a year and the start of another. New Year’s Eve in Italy is certainly a special day and it is celebrated in many different ways.

Vigilia di Capodanno or Notte di San Silvestro, as Italians refer to this night, is marked by fireworks and dancing as in many other countries in the World. But there is more to New Year’s eve in Italy than sparklers and firecrackers.

*Image: Wikipedia

*Image: Wikipedia

Italians traditionally fire a “Christmas log” on the last day of the old year in order to scare the bad spirits away from the house.

In some regions there are different traditions. For example, in Bologna a sculpture of an old man is burnt; in parts of Southern Italy, old pots, pans, and personal objects are thrown out of the window to make space for the New Year!

Another fun tradition is that every Italian will make sure they are wearing red underwear when the new year arrives as, apparently, this attracts good luck, happiness and love! For this reason, it is common for friends to give each other red underwear as gifts, wishing great fortune for the receiver. You can find red underwear in every Italian shop around this time of year, from your local corner supermarket to Armani!

We hope you have a great time tonight and 2014 is a happy, prosperous year!

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How many kisses in Italy?

Many people around the World greet each other with kisses on the cheek, although the number of kisses changes across countries: one in some European countries, two in Spain, and up to three or even four in other European countries. So, before your trip to Italy, you might be wondering: how many kisses in Italy?


Italians are known the world over for being romantic and very family orientated, but what is acceptable behaviour between friends?  In general, Italians follow the traditional European custom of kissing someone they know, or have been introduced to, on both cheeks. However, in Italy, the number of kisses which are acceptable can vary from region to region.

In Rimini, in Emilia-Romagna, for example, it is considered good manners to have three kisses on the cheek. Friendly people there insist that this is their tradition, and, after all, who could possibly object to receiving three kisses from a handsome Italian stallion?!

So next time you are sitting in a sunny piazza and watching the world go by, take note (discreetly!) of how many kisses Italians greet each other with. Will it be two or three? If it’s more, then it’s probably fair to say that they are slightly more than just friends!

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Italian traditions: Cappelletti for Christmas

Christmas traditions vary the world over but one of the Italian traditions which remains as strong as ever is the making of Cappelletti for the Christmas feast. As most of us are aware, food is at the heart of any Italian celebration especially at such a family-oriented time of year as Christmas. Cappelletti are tiny little sheets of pasta twisted into the form of small peaked hats and filled with a savoury mixture of meat or cheese. The name originates from the Italian, ‘cappello’, for ‘hat’ or the Latin ‘cappa,’ (head covering).

CappellettiThis north Italian dish is similar to its cousin tortellini and the only difference really lies in the filling. For hundreds of years Italian mothers have taught their daughters the customary way of making these delicious delicacies in readiness for the Christmas dinner. Traditionally served ‘in brodo,’ (chicken broth,) cappelletti could well be the original form of chicken noodle soup which is loved the world over.

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Table etiquette and manners in Italy

It is a great honour to be invited to an Italian’s house for a meal and one who is not a native should take care to observe the various customs, table etiquette and habits in order to retain that friendship. Italians are very strong on manners while at the table and if in any doubt, you should copy what they do.

Some of their customs are as follows:

  • It’s considered rude to sit down before being invited to; follow the lead of the host and when they sit down so can you. Similarly though, when they stand up, so should you.
  • It’s considered to be acceptable to leave a small amount of food on the plate; large amounts are considered disrespectful.
  • It’s also considered good manners to try and keep your plate tidy when eating; it’s thought to be vulgar to make an untidy plate.
  • And one you might not have thought of for Italians, it is polite to only drink small amounts of wine!428735_447017362047965_998421883_n
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Italian Superstitions

Italians are a passionate, funny and gregarious group of people who would all deny being superstitious as they touch their earlobe with Prosecco to ward off evil! Superstitions tend to be deeply ingrained in many Italians’ minds, so much so that they do not realise that they unthinkingly keep some odd habits and customs.

sign of the horns

To keep away bad luck or and seek protection in unlucky situations…
*Image: Wikipedia

Some of other amusing Italian superstitions include:

  • 13 a tavola: given the fact that there were 13 people present at the Last Supper, it is a superstition which most Italians follow. They would consider it to be extremely unlucky to have 13 people at a table (tavola) for dinner.
  • Men are not allowed to give their partners a gift containing perfume, because it’s said that if they do, they run the risk of their wife attracting a better-looking rival who might steal her away forever.
  • Italians would never drink ice-cold water as they still hold the belief that it will harm your throat!
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How to Behave in Italy: Greetings

Never before has a language seemed as complicated as Italian! In most languages it is relatively easy to get to know the usual greetings; in fact many of us will have done this when on holiday in Spain for example. But in Italy, it will all depend not only what the time of day is, but also whether you know the person you are about to address. So how to behave in Italy when you want to greet the locals naturally?

If you know someone well, or you are young, then the informal greeting of ‘ciao’ may be used. Do not expect this to be acceptable however if you are being introduced to someone older than you or a stranger. Then you should use ‘buongiorno,’ (literally, good day.) Unless of course it is any time after say 1pm, when you will be expected to say ‘buonasera,’ which seems to be acceptable any time until bed time, just don’t expect the response to be the same. You might well hear the odd ‘salve ragazzi!’(which means, ‘hi you guys!) and would be used by someone addressing a group of people.


*Image: Wikipedia

‘Buonanotte’ becomes acceptable when leaving someone’s house at night or if you are going to bed, unless of course you replace it with ‘arrivederci tutti,’ (goodbye all.)

As long as you smile politely, and say ‘me scusi!’ (excuse me,) you can get away with most faux pas!

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Italian Customs: Wearing Purple to the Theatre

Italian TheatreItalians have a number of unique customs and traditions, calling back to their 2000 years of history and ever-evolving culture. One of the more interesting customs is that of not wearing purple when going out to the theatre. It’s considered extremely bad luck to do so and is heavily frowned upon by many Italians and theatre-goers alike. This seems to have been a uniquely Italian custom that has gained traction and popularity in many other parts of the world, but remains firmly rooted in Italian tradition.

While the exact history behind this custom is unclear, there are two possible explanations for why wearing purple to the theatre is bad luck. The first is that in Italy, purple is associated with funerals, which is also why no Italian will present a gift wrapped in purple paper and no bride will have purple as part of her wedding colour scheme or allow any of her guests to wear it.

The second explanation has to do with the presence and influence of the Catholic Church in Italy (which may also explain why purple is associated with funerals). In medieval times, the Catholic Church banned theatre during Lent, the 40 days before Easter. During Lent, the higher ranked clergy wore purple and purple was the dominant colour of the 40 day period. To show respect and sympathy for the starving singers, actors and all other people involved in theatre during the time, most people stopped wearing purple to any play during the rest of the year.

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How to behave like an Italian: fare la bella figura…

…and its evil twin: fare la brutta figura

Fare la Bella FiguraIf you have been to Italy before, we are sure you would have noticed how much Italians watch their manners and style. There really is something special that you just do not feel in other countries: everyone seems perfectly put together and ready to please others. Why is this, we hear you asking? Because in Italian society, the concept of “la bella figura”, literally, “good figure”, which we could explain by (making) “a good impression” is engraved in people’s minds from young.

However, making a good impression is much wider that you might think of it in other countries; showing up with perfectly ironed clothes that fit you like a glove and your hair done straight from the salon might be an instance of bella figura, but so can be walking down the street with a charming step, paying for your friend’s drink when you meet or getting good results in your exams so you can make your family proud.

For every positive there is a negative, and although we are sure you will, by now, have a very good idea that fare la brutta figura could be translated as leaving a bad impression, we will dare to give you a couple of examples, such as arriving late to an appointment, bad mouthing, inviting someone to a badly-organised function or turning up to a birthday party without a present or a card.

In summary, it is not only about the way you appear to others, but about small gestures of kindness that prove that you care for your loved ones and pride on your everyday tasks. After all, there is nothing better than buying a couple of cakes to bring to your friend’s house for dinner (bella figura) and the way the seller will wrap them carefully and add a bow and a sticker to make them look beautiful (bellissima!).

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Getting married in Italy: how to ensure a sunny day!

Basta che non piova con l’aiuto delle uova!*


Of all Italian traditions we would be unable to choose a favourite. But there are definitely some that are more curious than others! And seeing as we recently talked to you about getting married in Italy and how Cottages to Castles can help you plan your dream wedding in the most romantic country in the world, today we will talk about a very funny tradition that we have seen only in Italy and Spain: bringing eggs to the Clarissa nuns in order to get good weather on your wedding day.

Let’s face it, no bride wants a rainy wedding day (another good reason to get married in Italy) even if it is considered good luck in some cultures: the Hindu tradition considers it a sign of a strong marriage, as a wet knot is more difficult to untie, and it is also considered a symbol of fortune, abundance and fertility. But still… all brides want sunny pictures and not muddy trains. Now there’s a solution… bring eggs to the nuns!

For your request to work, you must take to the Clarissa nuns 13 eggs (not a dozen, funnily enough, and nobody seems to know the reason behind this number) that the nuns will use to make sweets that are then sold to tourists and shops. If ever you drive or walk past any of these convents, we strongly recommend stopping to buy some mouth-watering sweets, not only because they are delicious, but because you must make your purchase without ever seeing the person who is selling to you (as Clarissa nuns are cloistered) and it feels like your goods magically appear on the lazy susan used to exchange money and goods.

Remember nothing can be done about Mother Nature, though, and, as they say in Italian “sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata!” (a wet bride is a lucky bride). So buy the umbrellas…just in case!


*(Provided that it doesn’t rain with the eggs’ help!)

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