15 Real facts about Italians you’ll want to know before you travel

Italy and Italians are a favorite topic of conversation for those who love to travel, have Italian roots, or are passionate about Italian culture.

In this regard, how much corresponds to the truth and how much is the result of superficial reflections and stereotypes? What facts about Italians are still valid in this contemporary age of cultural assimilation and globalization?

Here is a useful set of facts about Italians compiled by an Italian that you can draw on when traveling in Italy.

Italians speak different languages and don’t understand each other

This seems to be due to the fact that the unification of Italy took place fairly recently. In Italy, each town or village speaks its own variety of language or dialect. Standard Italian is the language that is taught at school, spoken on TV, on official occasions. In the family and among friends, every Italian speaks the language he or she feels closest to.  An Italian from Venice traveling to Sardinia understands absolutely nothing of what the native Sardinians communicate to each other, and vice versa. Some dialects, such as Tuscan and Roman, are very similar to Italian, while others such as Calabrian and Neapolitan are incomprehensible to those who speak only the standard language.

Regional identity is a big deal

For Italians, local identity is as strong as national identity. Italy is divided into 20 administrative regions that sometimes trace the division of identity and language. In large cities, an Italian will feel connected to the neighborhood to which he or she belongs. In rural areas, which occupy most of the national territory, Italians feel tied to their village. Identity is reinforced by local traditions, village festivals, and fairs that take place on a regular basis, sweets, and typical dishes.

This is the most interesting fact about Italian culture that most first-time travelers overlook. You need to travel slow and explore the off-the-beaten-path-Italy to experience this trait.

70% of Italians’ daily thoughts are focused on food

“What are we having…?” Here is a ubiquitous phrase in the conversations of Italians. Italy is one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of economy and food resources, yet… there is a widespread obsessive feeling, focused on food, on its elaboration, on the taste of dishes.

Taste is the most developed sense in Italians. If you learn this fact about Italians, you’ll grasp the meaning of most cultural expressions.

Italians love to eat traditional Italian dishes, and these must be prepared properly, as close as possible to the way their mother or grandmother made them. It is not enough to feed oneself.  Satisfaction at the table is achieved by an Italian with a meal made of many dishes, so succulent that as soon as he finished them he starts to feel nostalgic.

For Italians, pleasure comes first and foremost from the palate…

For Italians, getting together means eating together

Since a great meal is for an Italian one of the greatest joys in life, it must be the clou of every meeting occasion. A date, a reunion among friends, a party for teenagers, meeting at someone’s house to watch the game, everything must be marked by a lunch, a dinner or an aperitif.

A group of friends usually opts for a “pizzata”, a dinner in a pizzeria, where in addition to pizza they eat the typical fried foods: supplì, zucchini flowers, olives ascolane… Meeting means eating together and lingering at the table even for an hour after the meal is over. Very often, it happens that waiters have to approach the table to warn that the restaurant is closing.

To know more facts about Italian food, read my article Rome for foodies.

Time to debunk the myth of Italian lovers…

If you think that a spicy fact about Italians is the quality of performance under the sheets I have to disappoint you. What emerges from countless discussions with Italian girlfriends over thirty years I have been living in Italy have confirmed to me that it is not at all easy to find a satisfactory counterpart! Italian men, on the other hand, believe that the responsibility for the success or not is to be attributed to the woman and how she manages to guide the man…

These are delicate and complex issues, however, if you go to Italy convinced to find here the perfect outlet for your erotic fantasies, good luck!

A true fact about Italians: Italians are friendly

Although the mastery of Italians in bed is an urban legend, it is a fact what they say about the warmth of their company.

One of the facts about Italians that immediately jumps out at you in multi-ethnic settings is that Italians are sociable and inclusive. Italians love to team up, they value shared time.

They are also always ready for a joke, a laugh (have you seen Amici Miei, one of the most famous Italian movies?), to cheer up their neighbor with a nice meal or to play a team sport…

Italians are masters of the art of entertainment

When they get together, Italians prefer to deal with light and funny topics rather than challenging ones. Italians like to laugh and joke around. Comedy, the ability to entertain others by telling common facts in an amplified key, is considered a talent. Usually it is men who wear the mask of the joker on duty.

The easiest way to play this role is to tell a joke, what Italians call “barzelletta“, a short tale that makes fun of typical misunderstandings between couples (even of an erotic nature) or of a profession (see the success of jokes about the police force).

And we also know the art of intercession

There are countless testimonies that the phenomenon of “recommendation” in both the private and public sectors is much more widespread among Italians than other nationalities. When this happens for key positions in the administration, we can speak of real corruption; for example, it was learned that a prime minister of education had taken the lowest marks in the public competition leading up to the teaching role.

As for businesses, they are more likely to hire someone they know even indirectly than through a series of interviews.

Let’s talk about women status

Like many other women in the world, the concentration of women at key points in the administration of power is minimal. I’m talking about politics and corporate summits. The woman is considered the backbone of the family instead. The vast majority of Italian women take care of their children and work at the same time. This happens mainly for economic reasons. Italian women prefer their parents to help watch the children so they can save money.

And what is life like for Italian women in the workplace? Often hard. It is not uncommon for the Italian man to feel threatened by a woman who is successful at work. Italian man attributes intrinsic value to the femininity of women, so a woman who enhances it by making a “career” is considered a sort of threat to the natural balance.

Italian women love to make themselves look beautiful

In the common thinking of Italians, a woman who accepts and values her femininity is a symbol of strength and invites respect and appreciation. A woman who recognizes her own intrinsic value is considered the bearer of harmony in any environment. Italian women are very competitive with each other and take great care to always look their best.

Beauty centers and hairdressers are the most flourishing businesses in Italy in the small business sector. The average Italian prefers to delegate to a professional hairstyle and body care, especially before the weekend. Makeup and nail care are also considered very important.

This is a true fact about Italian women. A woman who does not take care of these details is often considered a bit unkempt.

Italians are very committed to their families

One of the facts about Italians that is renowned throughout the world is the feeling of belonging to the family and attachment to it. This expresses itself in overly caring parents who prefer their sons to live in their home of origin until marriage, or who try to prevent their kids from moving to other cities to study or work.

Even when their sons have families of their own, they feel the need to get together on weekends and holidays.

Have you heard of the inheritance of goliardia?

As a result of the habit of entertaining groups of friends by telling hilarious and amusing stories, a tendency has developed among Italians to take parody to the extreme.

In some environments, men are used to swearing by inventing more and more original and creative locutions as a means of social affirmation. We are talking mainly about places where people drink, however, some imprecations especially with desecrating and anti-clerical themes are generally accepted and entered in the common use of the language as intercalary.

These uses are anyway considered unsuitable for a woman.

facts about Italians breakfast
Typical Italian breakfast

The unhealthy eating habits

When it comes to eating, Italians prefer rich condiments which in the long run are not good for health. It is common for Italians over the age of 50 to be overweight and to develop some disorder linked to exaggerated or unhealthy eating habits.

If you have ever had breakfast in Italy, you may have noticed that locals prefer to start the day with a “sweet” ritual of cappuccino and cornetto, pretending that there are no healthier options to start the day.

Italians prefer to travel in Italy

Italians who choose a foreign destination for a trip or vacation are a minority. Usually, Italians prefer to first explore all the artistic beauties and landscape diversity that Italy offers, which is huge.

It is common to ask the question “Sea or mountains?”, as summer vacations approach. Italy offers thousands of kilometers of beaches washed by a crystal clear sea but also mountain ranges with the highest peaks in Europe.

Italians’ English is poor

The level of English in Italians is very bad, especially the spoken language. The reasons for this are, perhaps, to be found in a little widespread interest in international travel or in the lack of effective school programs. It is also true that all TV series and films are dubbed in Italy, rather than broadcast with subtitles.

You may meet some Italians and have to be the one to improve their English. On the other hand, before you travel to Italy, make sure you know how to communicate at least the very useful phrases in Italian so that you don’t get into trouble.

It is perfectly normal to travel to some Italian towns where it will be difficult for someone to understand what you are asking.

And that’s it for now, these are the interesting facts about Italians that have come to my mind so far… Consider that I’m Italian myself, so I may have overlooked some facts about Italian culture that are eye-catching for an outsider.

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2 thoughts on “15 Real facts about Italians you’ll want to know before you travel”

  1. Annalisa, we love your blog! John and I (we are Jonas’s friends) admire your spirit of adventure AND your remarkable language skills. We look forward to meeting you!

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