Italians have a reputation around the world for not being especially attentive to regulations and laws. And while that might be very true when it comes to driving or queuing, there are several unspoken rules you’ll find Italians adamantly sticking to and that immediately mark anyone who doesn’t follow them as a tourist.

And no one will be surprised to find out that most of them are about food, the table, and meals in general. So if you really want to act like a local on your next trip to the Bel Paese and feel as Italian as possible as you stroll around Rome or Florence or Milan, here are five things to keep in mind.

The great cappuccino debate

Cappuccino is a delicious drink, but one that has a very specific time limit to Italians. You’ll find them ordering a cappuccino (or “cappuccio,” as it’s also called) all throughout morning, especially if they have time to sit down and chat for a while. But it’s no longer socially acceptable to order one once midday hits – because it’s a breakfast drink and so it has no place later in the day. Funnily enough, you can order a macchiato (espresso with milk, so the same two ingredients that make up a cappuccino) anytime throughout the day and no one will question it in the slightest.

An espresso machine with two cups of cappuccino
Cappuccino is strictly a breakfast drink, so no one is going to order one after midday © MANAStudio / Shutterstock

Drink of choice

When it comes to meals, Italians stick with only three choices – water, wine or beer. You’ll see red wine with meats and white wine with fish, for example, while beer mostly goes with pizza. What you definitely won’t see (and so shouldn’t order if you want to truly pass as a local) is sodas and juices, or even worse, coffee and other hot drinks, accompanying a nice plate of pasta. Kids do get a bonus pass, though, and they can get a can of Coke or iced tea whenever they want.

Bottles of wine for sale in Naples
The only acceptable drinks to accompany a meal are wine, beer or just good old water © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

No wet hair looks

Maybe it’s because Italians tend to take showers at night rather than in the morning or because we’ve all had a grandmother that reminded us (loudly) to dry off our hair or we’d get sick, but Italians never go out with wet hair. It’s considered both unkempt and risky, since you might catch a cold standing outside with a whole head of barely-towelled-off hair. So if you walk around with wet hair, even in the scorching summer heat, you’ll gather more than a few shocked looks. The only exception, of course, is if you’re staying in a seaside location – everyone then will just assume your hair is wet from the sea, which is perfectly alright.

People play in the water on a beach in Sardinia
Wet hair is only acceptable if you're returning from a long day at the beach © Maremagnum / Getty Images

Sharing isn’t caring (but trading is)

Pizza is an extremely serious subject to Italians. We have very strong opinions on what you should or shouldn’t put on it, how to cook it and eat it. And one of the many strong opinions we have is that the pizza-to-person ratio should be one for each. Italians don’t share their pizzas, so if you want to truly act like a local you should order an entire pizza for yourself. We do, however, trade a slice of our pizza for a slice of another pizza to taste it, as long as the slices are of equal value - meaning of roughly the same size and with the same amount of toppings on it.

A close-up of Neapolitan pizza
Pizza is serious business that can't be shared but only traded © Camo24 / Shutterstock

Money talks

Italians, as a rule, don’t like discussing money in public. You might hear them approach the subject in general, but you won’t catch them spilling out actual numbers about what they make or spend. This type of talk is reserved for very close friends or family members, and even then it’s still considered a “serious conversation” rather than just casual chatter. So it’s probably best to avoid the matter altogether and move onto something else – like football, for example. Everyone always wants to talk about football.

A bill and some coins on a small outside tables
Money talks are better left for private conversations with close friends or family © Neil Setchfield / Lonely Planet

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