Saturday, September 19, 2009

Italy 2009

Summary: I have been in Italy twice, once about 6 or 7 years ago and just recently for a month in late summer of 2009. Here are some observations and suggestions ....


Don't bring any money with you. When you hit the airport, hit an atm for a withdrawal from your debit or credit card. It's the best exchange rate. At this time, if you withdraw $200 euros, your account will be debited about $284.00 American. Atms are everywhere and even the grocery store takes debit or credit cards.


In Italy people greet each other with a double fake kiss. Start on your right (their left) and put your cheek near their cheek and pretend you kiss it -- a little "mmmh". Then immediately go to the other side and pretend to kiss that cheek. Yes, guys to guys too. With some women, I actually kiss the cheeks. You can start off with a handshake, but it ends up with the cheek thing right away.


I have always felt personally safe in Italy. The main thing to worry about is protecting yourself from pickpockets. Gentlemen, don't carry your wallet in your back pocket. Get a money clip or in my case a thin folding leather thing to carry your bills, a credit card or two, and some identification in your front pocket. After arriving, I don't necessarily carry my passport around with me, just my driver's license as a photo id.

On my first trip to Rome, I carried the wallet in my front pocket all the time except for one day coming back from the beach near Rome on the subway with my son. I think I thought, what the heck, carrying my fat wallet in my front pocket gets old and I had it in my back pocket. Shortly after we stepped onto the subway, which was a little crowded, one guy in a group of four put a map to my face and asked me directions. As I told him that I don't speak Italian, the subway car swayed hard and the group he was with swayed harder. At the next stop, the group got off and I got to thinking about whether or not I had my wallet. I checked, and it was gone. A half hour later at my daughter's home I called my bank back home, got the number for my Visa customer service and shut down all debit and credit cards immediately. I was lucky. There were no charges to any of them yet. All I lost was my billfold with probably $100 cash, my pictures, driver's license, etc., and my personal pride.

These guys are good. Italians will tell you that it's mostly done by Gypsies that are here and there around Italy. They look different than the average Italians.

Ladies, don't carry your purse with your strap straight above over your shoulder. Thieves like to grab and run with it. Slip your strap over your head onto the opposite shoulder.

Travel thin to win. I no longer carry around the fat wallet I use in the states while I'm there.


They are also called bagno - pronounced ban-yo, WC (water closet), or toilette.

Italian toilets are somewhat different than American toilets.

First of all is toilet etiquette there. If you are in a home, or I presume a public toilet, and do a #2 and leave a battle scar on the side of the bowl after flushing, you are expected to use the bowl brush almost always found by an Italian toilet. Do the brushing, hopefully with the seat up to avoid leaving water on it, and then flush again. You will probably notice that the toilet paper doesn't go down. I don't know why that is. I believe in Rome that there is a bit of toilet paper in the bottom of the toilets that has never gone down for 50 years or more. It's fine to leave that, just no battle scars on the bowl. That other thing that looks like a toilet in the bathroom is a bidet. I haven't been brave enough to use one yet.

Secondly, the dependable flush lever isn't there. Look for a button on the wall, a pedal on the floor or a chain from above to flush.

Most businesses will let you use their toilet. Ask for the bagno (pr. ban-yo).

Public toilets are often a challenge. Many of them don't have a seat. Yes, that's right. You squat over and hope you don't touch. Some people brace themselves by putting a hand back on the wall. Some people lay toilet paper on the ceramic edge. Some people just cry.

You will find that many public toilets charge 50 cents or so for their use.

For a complete and indelicate report on Italian toilets and bidets see


The pizza is terrific and relatively inexpensive. The crust is very thin and that's real mozzarella cheese. If you like hamburger pizza you are out of luck. I don't think they have hamburger anywhere in Italy. They do have sausage pizza. The pizza is delicious.

If you're having a regular dinner, it's a bit more complicated. The normal Italian dinner consists of, (and you can order one or more parts), in this order... an appetizer, the first plate - usually pasta, the second plate - usually meat (by itself), a salad, then desert. My daughter says there's a vegetable in there somewhere, but I can't remember where.

If you are having a salad, the tomatoes are ripe! Not like the gassed stuff we get in the USA.


I bought the $39.99 Speak Italian CD set and didn't learn much. Here are the basics you need:

Ciao -pronounced chow (hello), si (yes), no (no), bagno - pronounced banyo (toilet), scoozi (excuse me), bonjourno - pronounced bon jorrrrno - have fun rolling the r a little bit (good morning), buona sera, pronounced bone a sarah (good evening). They have one for the afternoon, but I can't remember it and bonjourno will work until 2 or 3 in the afternoon anyway, and then just smile and say ciao between 3 and 6 pm. Finally, grazie - thank you. That's it, you've got it. Easy, huh?


My gosh, they do it everywhere in Italy. No matter where you go, a couple is kissing and pawing like Rome is burning. They just don't care. Just sit down in a shopping center and watch. For some reason escalators turn them on. Enjoy.


I don't think you'll find any bargains shopping in Italy. Remember that you paid about $1.44 for that euro dollar in your pocket. The prices are about the same as in the US except they are euros, so no bargains. But it's fun to shop anyway. You'll see the latest fashions. Guys, let your wives shop all they want while you find a comfortable bench, ideally near an escalator, and watch the amore' (see above), look at the Italian women who have a different flair and relax. Later when your wife returns, go and get some gelato which is Italian ice cream. Everybody will be happy, especially if she bought only postcards.


Gelato is Italian ice cream. It is very good. They sell it everywhere, almost on every block. If you choose the medium cone or dish, you can choose 3 flavors. So on one cone you may have a dip of strawberry, melon and lemon. My favorite is lemon. I tell the lady all three lemon, It's almost worth the trip to Italy by itself. You can't pronounce the flavors so just point to them after pointing to the medium cone. It'll cost you about 3 to 5 euros... But you're on vacation.

For more info on gelato, click on

This is a pretty good site on Italy in general.


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