11 Strange Things Italians Do That Take Some Getting Used To

Exploring Italy's unique quirks through an American lens.

11 Strange Things Italians Do That Take Some Getting Used To
Portofino, Italy.

As a dual US/Italian citizen who was born and raised in California, I've noticed plenty of Italian quirks during my time in Milan.

Here are eleven of my favorite things Italians do that might seem weird or illogical to foreigners:

1. Italians dry their clothes outside—often from several stories high.

In Italy, it's common to see clothes drying outside, often hanging from apartments several stories high. This isn't a relic that's unique to the older generation—it's a modern reality for the vast majority of us living here. Owning a dryer is not common in Italy.

Rather than crowding the living room with a drying rack, Italians place their clothes on an outdoor clothesline or hang them over the balcony and allow the sun to dry them for free. Not only is this fast, but it's emission-free!

The downside is that when my thong falls off the line, I never know if it's going to land on my neighbor's balcony, their car, or if the wind will plant it atop the nearest fence.

2. They kiss a person on both cheeks when greeting them.

Greeting someone with kisses on both cheeks is a standard practice in Italy. It even happens in the workplace!

This warm, affectionate gesture reflects the Italian emphasis on personal touch and connection. Physical touch is not reserved for lovers—it's shared with family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.

3. They purchase condoms, cigarettes, and CBD from vending machines throughout their city.

Vending machines in Italy offer more than just snacks and drinks. In most mid-sized cities, you'll find vending machines dispensing condoms, cigarettes, and even CBD. Italy might be home to the Pope, but that doesn't mean that it's stuck in the past or lacking in vices.

4. They have a cappuccino for breakfast and eat dinner around 9 pm.

Italians don't eat scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Instead, most locals will opt for a cigarette and a cappuccino. However, if they wake up after 11 am, they'll order a macchiato instead; it's considered weird to drink a cappuccino in the afternoon.

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Restaurants in Italy typically don't open for dinner until at least 6:30 pm, and most Italians wouldn't dream of eating dinner before 8 pm. This late dining schedule reflects the relaxed, social nature of Italian meals.

In Italy, dinner starts late and often continues for two or three hours, especially if guests are involved. Diet fads like "intermittent fasting" are not compatible with life in the Mediterranean.

5. Grocery shopping happens nearly every day, or at least twice per week.

Italians tend to shop for groceries almost daily, or at least twice per week. It's common to cook with only fresh ingredients, and many Italians grow their own herbs, fruits, and vegetables—even on their tiny balconies here in Milan!

6. It's normal to order a side of vegetables (verdure) with a meal.

Ordering a side of vegetables with your meal is normal in Italy. The plate usually consists of in-season vegetables like grilled eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and mushrooms. In the fall, you might also be served a delicious plate of pumpkin.

7. At coffee shops, Italians pay when they're leaving. At bars, they pay immediately after ordering.

In Italian coffee shops, you typically pay when you're ready to leave. However, at bars, you pay when you order. This subtle difference in payment reflects the varied pace and purpose of these establishments.

An Italian cafe is a place for socializing, reading, or having a leisurely chat with friends or with the worker behind the counter. It's expected that you'll pay before leaving, but this is based on trust and not any specific monitoring method or security.

Don't forget to pay before leaving!

8. They don't tip.

Tipping is not common in Italy. Unlike in the U.S., where tipping is almost mandatory, Italians incorporate the tip into the final bill. When you eat at a restaurant in Italy, you pay a flat service fee (coperto) of around €1-2 per person.

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9. They pronounce Nike like "Mike".

Brand names sound different in Italy. For instance, Nike is pronounced like "Mike," and BMW is pronounced as "Bee-Em-Voo". Italians adapt foreign words to their phonetic system. Take this into account when conversing with locals on your next trip!

10. They can all drive a stick shift.

Almost everyone in Italy drives a stick shift. Automatic vehicles are so rare that you have to request them in advance at car rental shops.

Electric vehicles are not very common in Italy, but this is changing. In the Po Valley, which is home to major cities like Milan, Bologna, and Turin, legislators have started to incentivize residents to buy electric vehicles by offering special access permissions and parking spots. As more Italians switch to electric vehicles, stick shifts will eventually become a relic of the past.

11. They have to install poles on sidewalks so people don't park there.

In Italy, every space is a potential parking space. Due to narrow streets and limited parking lots, Italians have to get creative about where they leave their vehicles. In the evenings and on Sundays, it's not uncommon to find vehicles double parked in an intersection, on the sidewalk, or in the grass!

In Milan, sidewalks often feature steel poles placed a couple meters apart. These poles are meant to ward off drivers from parking on the sidewalk. However, if the bent ones are any indication, they don't seem to be working well.

Having Italian-American grandparents did not prepare me for what it's like to live in this country. Like most countries, Italy has its own way of doing things, and you have to immerse yourself in the local culture to assimilate.

I've slowly adapted to the Italian way of life, and I'm proud to say that I no longer miss my clothes dryer or my 3 pm cappuccino—although I'm still irked that I have to take my driving exam with a manual transmission.