Between ourselves and our American friends, we now have had many different types of guests. We just had some great guests, and they just had some not so great guests. We started discussing what was it that made some guests fun and others difficult. Here is my top ten list of things to know if you are coming for a visit in someone's home in Italy and you want to make the hosts' life easier.
10. This is your hosts' home. We are not on vacation when we are home; we actually live here. This means that sometimes we need to do errands like grocery shopping, go to the dry cleaners, the pharmacy, etc. This is just like doing errands in the US except we are in Italy. These trips, which may seem foreign and exotic to the guest, as they did for us in the beginning, now are everyday occurrences. As we are Americans, not Italians, we want to do these things as quickly and as efficiently as is possible in this country. We know which checker at the co-op is quick, which is somnolent, and which is just plain nasty so we may go in a line that seems longer, but will be faster in the end. We have learned how to protect ourselves from the 3 foot tall little old ladies who use their shopping carts as bull dozers to cut in line and we stand our ground even if it seems rude. If we say we just want to run to the grocery store for a minute, it pretty much means we want to go alone to get it done quickly. Sometimes it is fun to watch the new guests wrestle with the little plastic gloves that we use to choose fruit, but sometimes we just want to get in and get it done. If we ask you to come with us, definitely come if you are interested, but if we say we need to run some errands, that is code for we need to dash around to get things done before everyone takes the "pausa" at 12:30!
9. Plumbing. Most of us expats have chosen to live in ancient buildings. This means the plumbing is ancient as well, and certain things can not be put in the toilet that we could put in at home, i.e. dental floss and other things you can imagine...toilet paper only...otherwise trouble.
8. Use of utilities....the utilities in Italy are 4 times as expensive as they are in California. Dryers are a huge consumer of electricity. This is why everyone puts their clothes on lines and racks to dry. If we suggest we take your clothes to a wash and dry place go along with us. They wash the clothes, dry them and fold them for 8E. for a HUGE load. This is a good idea especially if you want to wash and dry jeans. If you are expecting your hosts to drive you around, be aware of the high cost of fuel for the car. For us, it costs us $130 to fill up the gas (diesel) tank. Be aware of this expense and if being driven on a long trip, offer to pay for some of the fuel.
7. We are not tour guides. Think if a someone visit your home town. You could recommend restaurants, points of interest etc. but how knowledgeable are you about the topography, the birds, the plants, the history, the politics etc. Some of you are probably knowledgeable, some not so much. In other words, do your own research of the place you are visiting and tell your hosts what you are interested in experiencing and then they can guide you.
6. Everything takes longer in Italy than in the US. I repeat, EVERYTHING takes longer in Italy than in the US. In spite of the stereotype, Italians are very patient with things that drive us nuts. Standing in line is an Italian pass time. If you are going to any popular sites, know that you WILL stand in a long line unless you have made prior arrangements to get special reservations. Also know that the lines in Italy are not like in the US. I just got back from an office that required everyone to take a number and the "now being served" number over head was 88. OK, seems pretty normal. An hour later, the number was still 88 but the Italians watch who is supposed to be next not what the numbers say. Pay attention to what the Italians do, it is not what Americans are used to doing.
5. Be aware of fact of the "pausa". In Italy most people still drive home for lunch, if they possibly can. Offices close at 1:00 and do not open again until 4:00, 4:30, 5:30 who knows. If you are not at the place you want to visit by 10:00 you will not be able to visit until late afternoon or early evening. It is too hot to be out and about anyway. As luck would have it this rule still applies in the winter. Am unsure what the reason is for the "pausa" then but they still do it. This rule is not so strictly applied in the big cities. However, if you are in Umbria, trust me, things will be closed at 1:00 and you better stay off the roads as everyone zooms home.
4. Leave your cynicism at home. There are some Italians who are trying to rip you off but no more than in the US. Use your good sense and judgment. Many Italians are people pleasers. If they see someone who is struggling or in the need of help, they will jump in to assist you. They do not expect payment for this. It is a "piacere" a favor or a pleasure to do.
3. If you are staying for more than a week, give your host a break, and go off by yourselves for a day or two. You will appreciate your independence and the hosts will appreciate the break. Italy is about coming across the unexpected pleasures. If you are always led and protected by your hosts, you won't experience the joy of discovery. One of my greatest pleasures is to have guests who come back to the house and recite their adventures, discoveries, etc. It is a joy to hear and I often learn new things about my area!
2. Try not to complain to your hosts about things in Italy. We know, we know, but having our guests tell us makes us think you want us to fix it which is not possible. To us your complaints feel like we are not being good hosts. We want you to have the best experience possible and love Italy as much as we do. If there is something we can fix for you, please tell us. If you want to complain about how Italy is different from and less than the US, share it with your fellow travelers, not your hosts.
1. The most important thing for me is for our guests to enjoy themselves. Italy is a place of wonder, the food, the culture, the art, the people. When my guests experience that wonder, that is the only thank you I need. I am thrilled to have people visit and to experience Italian life different from the tourist Italian life. This is such a crazy place. It is not everyone's cup of tea, but we hope everyone finds something to love here, even if it is only your hosts.