As the saying goes, when in Rome do as the Romans do. Of course, as a visitor, you don’t have to subvert yourself completely to assimilate into the local way of things. However, you might have a smoother trip if you keep a few basic do’s and don’ts in mind. Rubbing a Roman the wrong way might invite a dreaded sneer, trigger a “Mama mia” or inspire a nasty hand gesture. If you want to avoid some awkward social gaffs, cultural faux pas (passo falso) or tourist traps while in the Eternal City, here are 10 things not to do when in Rome.
1. Don’t Go to the Vatican in a Tank Top
Sure, summers in Rome are sizzling hot, and so is that slinky designer top you just bought on Via Condotti. But if you’re planning on visiting the Vatican (or any church, chapel or crypt for that matter), you’ll have to cover up that exposed skin and dress a little more modestly. There’s a strict dress code at religious sites, where shoulders must be covered and shorts and skirts should be down to the knee. Many women carry a shawl or scarf for this purpose, and some enterprising churches sell coverups for visitors caught bare-shouldered. You’ll hear of tourists who break this rule and get away with it, but as a sign of respect to the host culture, it is best to comply. Even men should adhere to this “no tanks, no short-shorts, no hats” dress code, or face being turned away.
2. Don’t Order Cappuccino After Noon
Coffee etiquette in Rome is a little different to what you know from Starbucks. North Americans used to mega-grande cups of joe are often shocked by the thimbles of espresso found at Italian caffes. Just the ordering process at the bar can be intimidating, like being in the pit of the stock exchange in the 1980s. You might be more comfortable paying a little extra for table service than trying to assert yourself in the fray of a morning coffee rush. One thing to keep in mind is that, for Italians, cappuccinos are considered a breakfast beverage. Ordering one of those frothy, milky concoctions after 12:00pm will seem odd to the barista. There’s a belief that the milk interferes with digestion of main meals like lunch or dinner, so sipping one beyond breakfast is frowned upon (you may literally trigger a furrowed brow for this blunder). If you want what you want and don’t care what anyone else thinks about it, go on and order one any time you like. But if when in Rome you want to do as the Romans do, skip the dairy-laden coffees after noon.