Not surprisingly, Italian is the language spoken natively by most Italians.
Every region in Italy has a distinct native Romance dialect which is, sometimes, a language in addition to Italian that may or may not be the native language of the locals depending on the area: in areas like Rome or Milan the spoken language is nowadays mostly Italian with slight local influence, whereas in rural areas the local language is more common; though people are usually bilingual.
A good phrasebook will be very useful if you're going anywhere remote, while in most big cities you will find many people understanding English, Spanish or French. But even in those areas Italians will be happy to hear you trying to speak Italian or the local language, and will try to understand you even if you are making many mistakes. If you want your errors to be corrected to help you better learn the language, don't forget to ask before starting a conversation. Italians will rarely correct you otherwise as they consider it very impolite to do so. They also appreciate your efforts to speak their language, even if you do it badly, and won't make too much fuss about your mistakes.
English is widely spoken at varied levels of proficiency in the well-traveled touristic areas where it may be used by shopkeepers and tourist operators. Outside of that, you will find that most Italians are not conversant in English, a relatively new subject in schools first introduced in the 1970s instead of French. While most younger Italians have studied English, due to a lack of practice and exposure proficiency tends to be poor. Nevertheless, the most basic words and phrases usually stick, and there is often at least one person in a group of younger people who knows enough English to help you out. Senior citizens rarely know English, but they'll try to help you anyway with gestures or similar words and they will most surely assume you understand Italian. If you are going to speak in English, it is polite begin the conversation in Italian and ask if the person understands English before proceeding. Speaking in a foreign language while assuming it will be understood might be considered very arrogant and impolite by many Italians.
In South Tyrol the majority of people also speaks Austro-Bavarian dialects of German as their native tongue except in the region's capital Bolzano where it is spoken by only about a fourth of the population, and German is an official language of the autonomous province in addition to Italian. That is because those regions used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I.
Spanish, French and Portuguese are not as widely spoken but as they are similar enough to Italian that people might be able recognise some words, thus making yourself understood; note however that trying to address people in Spanish - or confusing Italian with that language - is considered rather annoying by the locals. In the northwesternmost Valle d'Aosta region there is a Franco-Provençal speaking minority.
In the northern part of Italy, there are small pockets of other Romance languages like Ladin, a Rhaeto-Romance language related to Switzerland's Romansh. Friulano, another Rhaeto-Romance language, is still spoken by a small minority in the border province near Slovenia. There are several small pockets of Greek-speaking communities in the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia and there are an estimated 100,000 Albanian speakers in Puglia, Calabria and Sicily—some of which have migrated in Middle Ages and thus speak rather medieval Arberesh language. Italian is the only official language of Italy but some regions have other languages which are also co-official: German in South Tyrol, Slovene in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and French in Val d'Aosta.
Slovene is a native language in parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia alongside Italian and is widely spoken in villages near the Slovenian border and Trieste. In all cases Slovene speakers will also speak Italian.
For emergencies, call 112. This phone number works for every type of emergency, as you'll speak with an operator that will contact the appropriate authority police, fire department, ...
In case of emergency or inconvenience, the Italian Ministry for Tourism has implemented a multilingual contact centre providing information and assistance to tourists. Easy Italia operates seven days a week, 09.00-22:00, and its telephone number +39 39 039 039 can be dialled from anywhere in the world from either a landline or a mobile. If you're currently in Italy, you can also contact them by dialling the toll-free number 800 000 039 from landlines and payphones. The service is also available on Skype easyitalia and you can also ask information for free by filling in a web form
Italy is a safe country to travel in like most developed countries. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence by the Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.
Italy has a reputation for being a welcoming country and Italians are friendly and courteous, as well as very used to interacting with foreigners. The Italian society is however slightly more formal than the Northern European or English-speaking ones, and it can be more sensitive to issues of respect or lack thereof, so it is wrong to assume everyone will be gregarious and laid-back. If you are polite and civil you should have no problems, but don't expect that the average Italian speaks or even understands English except for young people.
Italians greet family and close friends with two light kisses on the cheek. Males do, too. To avoid ending up kissing on the lips note that you first move to the right kiss the other person on their left cheek and then to the left. In general, when joining or leaving a group, you will shake hands individually with or kiss, depending on the level of familiarity each member of the group. If it is a business related meeting you just shake hands.
To make friends, it's a good idea to pay some compliments. Most Italians still live in their town of origin and feel far more strongly about their local area than they do about Italy in general. Tell them how beautiful their town/lake/village/church is and possibly add how much you prefer it to Rome/Milan/other Italian towns. Residents can be fonts of knowledge regarding their local monuments and history, and a few questions will often produce interesting stories.
If at all possible wait until you leave Italy before posting postcards, greetings cards and other items to friends and family back home. The Italian post was notorious for being slow, expensive and unreliable, but things have improved in the past years. In border towns and cities near the borders with France, Austria and Switzerland it may be best to cross the border to post - postcards from Slovenia to Britain can take just 2 days compared with over a week when posted across the border in Trieste, Italy; it costs less than €1 to post from France to anywhere outside Europe, whereas it costs roughly twice as much to do the same from Italy. Moreover, unlike most other European countries, only cash is accepted to buy postage, hence the little Euro coins/banknotes you have may be drained as they are expensive.
Postboxes are red and can be found very easily.
Avoid using the globepostalservice GPS stamps. These are stamps sold by a private owned company through the tobacco shops using black mailboxes the public ones are red which charges more than normal and there have been lots of complains of delayed delivery and sometimes failure of delivery. Ask instead for the normal stamps.
Post Offices can be found in every town and most villages - look for the PT symbol. When entering the post office you will usually have to take a ticket and wait for your number to appear on the screen when it's your turn. There will be different tickets for different services but for posting a parcel look for the yellow symbol with the icon of an envelope. Most post offices close about 13:00 or 14:00 and only a central post office in most towns will re-open in the late afternoon.
ElectricityItaly uses 220V, 50Hz. Italy has its own electrical plug design. The standard "European" two-prong plugs will fit, but grounded three-prong plugs from other countries will not. German-type "Schuko" sockets can also be found quite often, especially in the north, and you'll find adapters for that system in virtually all supermarkets. Adapters for other systems including US plugs are not that ubiquitous but can be found at airports or in specialised shops.
If you're using American appliances that were designed for standard US household 110V, 60Hz current, make sure you get a voltage adaptor, not just a plug adaptor. The higher voltage will damage or destroy your appliance, and could injure or kill you as well.
Power surges and power failures are virtually unknown in Italy, even less so than in the States; the energy, water and gas systems are state-run and very well equipped and maintained since even before WW2; the electrical system is fully updated to the latest tech specs and every household is required to comply when renovating. That includes the remote villages in the South, too.
glbt rights in italy
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender LGBT persons in Italy may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in Italy, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples.
Italian opinions have changed and people are now more supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender LGBT rights, but tend to be more repressive than other European nations. Tolerance of others is part of the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, which, at the same time, calls for chastity for those with same-sex attraction. Nevertheless, there is a significant liberal tradition, particularly in the North and in Rome. Conservative Italian politicians such as former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have expressed opposition to increasing gay rights. A Eurobarometer survey published on December 2006 showed that 31% of Italians surveyed support same-sex marriage and 24% recognise same-sex couple's right to adopt EU-wide average 44% and 33%. A recent 2007 poll found 45% support, 47% opposition and 8% unsure on the question of support for a civil partnership law for gays.
While more information can be found on LGBT-specific websites, a brief summary of the situation is as follows: while violence is uncommon against openly gay people, most Italians are still disturbed by public displays of affection from same-sex couples and stares are almost guaranteed; most same-sex couples prefer to avoid public attention. As is the case elsewhere, the younger generations tend to be more open minded than older folks, but assumptions should not be made in either direction.
Italian hospitals are public and offer completely free high-standard treatments for EU travellers, although, as anywhere else, you may have a long wait to be served. Emergency assistance is granted even to non-EU travelers. For non-emergency assistance, non-EU citizens are required to pay out-of-pocket, there is no convention with US health insurances although some insurance companies might later reimburse these expenses. Nonetheless, a requirement for a Schengen visa is that you have valid travel insurance which includes emergency expenses covering your entire trip anyway.
Water in southern Italy might come from desalination and sometimes may have a strange taste, due to extended droughts. If in doubt use bottled water. Elsewhere tap water is perfectly drinkable and very well maintained. Or else, a "NON POTABILE" warning is posted.
Despite generally being accepting of criticism, Italians are still a proud people and, when talking about their country's role in history and politics, it is best to do so with respect. Under no circumstances should you mock Italy. Follow this rule: it's not a good idea to talk much about Italy's past politics, since many Italians don't like Berlusconi nor like the international image he gives to Italy; therefore, never make comparisons between Berlusconi's policies and Italy itself. Other hot topic are Istria, Dalmatia and, to a lesser extent, Corsica; until 1947, the former two provinces were part of Italy. Many Italians still see them as Italian and could take this topic very seriously; also, you'd better use their Italian place names when talking about them.
Italians are usually modest about their country's role in the world. It should be easy to talk to people about history and politics without provoking arguments. People will listen to your opinion in a polite way as long as you express yourself politely. Fascism is out of the mainstream of Italian politics. Despite this, avoid such topics. Some older people who lived under Benito Mussolini the Fascist dictator who was killed by the Resistance could easily get upset. April 25 in Italy is the "Liberation Day", celebrating the liberation from Nazi-Fascist rule; however, in recent years the holiday has become more and more divisive. You may even find that some people, although not looking like typical thugs, claim to be supporters of Fascism and Mussolini; but this is, as just said, a sensitive topic.
In the South mafia could be a sensitive topic, so it is probably wise not to talk about it.
Whole essays can be written about the Italians' relationships with clothes. Three of the most important observations:
Some Italians especially young ones from the upper and upper-middle social classes can be very appearance-conscious.
It's important, however, not to judge people by their choice of clothing. Styles do not necessarily carry the same connotations in Italy that they would in Britain or some other countries. Some youths lounge about in skin-tight tee-shirts and casually-knotted knitwear and are very perplexed by the response they get when they take their sense of style and grooming to a less 'sophisticated' climate.
Sometimes, clothing rules are written. To visit a church or religious site you will need to cover yourself up; no bare backs, chests, shoulders and sometimes no knees. Sometimes museums and other attractions can also be strict; no bathing costumes, for example. If you want to visit a church or religious site it's a good idea to take something to cover yourself up with; for example a jumper or large scarf. Some churches supply cover-ups, such as sarongs are loaned to men with shorts so that they can modestly conceal their legs. Even where there are no written rules, it's worth noting that bare chests and large expanses of sunburnt skin are unacceptable away from beaches or sunbathing areas, whatever the temperature is. It's considered unpolite for a man to wear a hat inside of any Catholic church.
Unfortunately racism is still present in Italy; the country only started having a significant non-white presence in the last 20 years and, while racially-motivated violence is rare it does make the news a few times a year, it is generally perpetrated at the expense of immigrants. Some Italians may assume a person with prominent 'foreign' features to be an immigrant and, regrettably, treat them with some measure of contempt or condescension. This especially happens towards persons who may look like gypsies or Maghreb Arabs. Tourists can generally expect not to be insulted to their face but, unfortunately, casual racism and bigotry is not absent from conversation especially bar talk and especially if matches featuring non-white players are on TV.
On the other hand, antisemitism is mostly absent in Italian society and Italy itself never really had a history of it save for part of the Fascist era.
Read up on the legends concerning tourist scams. Most of them occur regularly in bigger cities such as Rome, Milan, or Naples.
A particular scam is when some plainclothes police will approach you, asking to look for "drug money," or ask to see your passport. This is a scam to take your money. You can scare them by asking for their ID. Guardia di Finanza the grey uniformed ones do customs work.
A recent scam involves men approaching you, asking where you are from, and begin to tie bracelets around your wrists. When they are done they will try to charge you upwards of €20 for each bracelet. If anyone makes any attempt to reach for your hand, retract quickly. If you get trapped, you can refuse to pay, but this may not be wise if there are not many people around. Carry small bills or just change, in your wallet, so if you find yourself in cornered to pay for the bracelet, you can convince them that €1 or €2 is all you have.
When taking a taxi, be sure to remember license number written on the card door. In seconds, people have had a taxi bill risen by €10 or even more. When giving money to taxi driver, be careful.
Around popular tourist sites, there are groups mostly of men trying to sell cheap souvenirs. They may also carry roses and say they are giving you a gift because they like you but the minute you take their 'gift' they demand money. They are often very insistent and often the only way to get rid of them is to be plain rude. Do the best you can to not take their "gifts" as they will follow you around asking for money. Simply saying "no" or "vai via" "go away" will get them off your back until the next vendor comes up to you.
Yet another scam involves being approached by a man, asking you to help break a large bill - usually €20 or €50. Do not give him your money. The bill he is giving you is fake, but at first glance it might seem real.
On train platforms, you may be approached by people who act like train conductors or station personnel, offering to help you find your carriage and seat. The moment you hand over your ticket they will tell you that you are running late, and rush you to your carriage. They usher you to your seat and then help you put your baggage onto the racks; then they ask for an extortionate fee something like 5 euros per person. There is no way to get rid of them without being extremely rude and causing a scene. Make sure to ignore everyone on the train platforms unless he/she is wearing a station uniform!
The best advice to avoid scams is to get way from anyone that you have never seen before who starts talking to you.
Violent crime rates in Italy are low even compared to most European countries. If you're reasonably careful and use common sense you won't encounter personal safety risks even in the less affluent neighborhoods of large cities. However, petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors; the usual precautions against pickpockets. Instances of rape and robbery are increasing slightly.
You should exercise the usual caution when going out at night alone, although it remains reasonably safe even for single women to walk alone at night. Italians will often offer to accompany female friends back home for safety, even though crime statistics show that sexual violence against women is rare compared to most other Western countries.
Prostitution is rife in the night streets around mid and large towns. Prostitution in Italy is legal though authorities are taking a firmer stance against it than before. Brothels are illegal and pimping is a serious offense, considered by the law similar to slavery. In Italy, it is an offence even to stop your car in front of a prostitute. Due to the ambivalent situation regarding prostitution, a lot of prostitutes fall victim to human trafficking. In general, being the client of a prostitute falls in an area of questionable legality and is inadvisable. Being the client of a prostitute under 18 is a criminal offence, even if you claim to be unaware of the prostitute's age.
There are four types of police forces a tourist might encounter in Italy. The Polizia di Stato State Police is the national police force; they wear blue shirts and grey pants and drive light-blue-painted cars with "POLIZIA" written on the side. The Carabinieri are the national gendarmerie; they wear very dark blue uniforms with fiery red vertical stripes on their pants and drive similarly colored cars. The Guardia di Finanza is a police force charged with border controls and fiscal matters; they dress fully in light grey and drive blue or gray cars with yellow markings. Finally, municipalities have local police, with names such as "Polizia municipale" or "Vigili Urbani". Their style of dressing varies among the cities, but they will always wear some type of uniform and drive marked cars, which should be easy to spot.
After leaving a restaurant or other commercial facility, it is possible, though unlikely, that you are asked to show your bill and your documents by Guardia di Finanza agents. This is perfectly legitimate they are checking to see if the facility has printed a proper reciept and will thus pay taxes on what was sold.
For all practical matters, including reporting a crime or asking for information, you may ask any of the aforementioned kinds of police. Recently, the military has been directly tasked with protecting key locations, including some city highlights you may want to visit; in case of emergency you can, by all means, ask them for help, but understand that these are not policemen and will very likely have to call actual police for you to report a crime and so on.
Policemen in Italy are not authorized to collect fines of any kind and have no authority to ask you for money for any reason unless you are pulled over in your foreign vehicle and fined, see Get around|By car above.
Possession of drugs is always illegal, but it is a criminal offence only above a certain amount.
The main emergency number, handled by the State Police, is 113. The medical emergency number is 118, but personnel of the 113 call centre are trained to handle mistakes and will immediately hook you up with actual medical emergency services.
There are many bars in Italy that cater to tourists and foreigners with "home country" themes, calling themselves such things as "American bars" or "Irish pubs". In addition to travelers, these bars attract a large number of Italians who, among other reasons, go there specifically to meet travelers and other foreigners.
While the motivation for the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there can be one or two petty criminals who loiter in and out of these establishments hoping to take advantage of travelers who are disoriented or drunk. Traveling to these places in groups is a simple solution to this problem. Alternatively, if you are alone, avoid getting drunk!
When entering with a car into a city, avoid restricted, pedestrian-only areas ZTL (http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/driving/traffic_cameras_speeding.htm) or you could be fined about €100.
As in other countries, there are gangs known for tampering with ATMs by placing "skimmers" in front of the card slot and get a clone of your card. Check carefully the machine and, if unsure, use a different one.
Travellers in search of employment in agriculture,either permanent or seasonal,should be aware that abuse in this industry has increased exponentially especially in Southern Italy and Sicily. There are numerous reports of people who had their passsports taken away,forced into slave labour with long hours without pay and even sexual abuse with little or no reaction from the local authorities.
There are plenty of public Wi-Fi hotspots in Italy that are free of charge to use.
By law, all public-access internet points must keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer's ID: expect to be refused access if you don't provide identification. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record IDs if the connection is provided in the guest's room, although if the connection is offered in the main public hall then IDs are required.
Publicly available wireless access without user identification is illegal, so open Wi-Fi hotspots like the ones you might expect to find in a mall or café all have some form of generally one-time registration.
Certain internet activities are illegal. Beside the obvious child pornography, trading in illegal products like drugs and weapons, copyright infringement is technically illegal even if no profit is made. However enforcement of copyright laws against P2P users is lax and "cease & desist" letters from providers are unheard of, unless using a University's Wi-Fi. Certain websites mostly related to online gambling and copyrighted material have been blocked in Italy following court rulings.
You can rent a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot 4G/LTE for short term period at a reasonable price. Some companies such as My Webspot provide unlimited internet for the duration you need in Italy from 5€ per day. It is delivered to your hotel or at the airport. A good solution to stay connected, and place international calls with your favorite Apps, for cheap.
Mobile 3G or HSDPA internet connectivity is available from all major Italian carriers. Beware though that internet plans are generally much more expensive than in other European countries.
Also, contracts often contain little-publicized usage limitations, eg, a plan that is advertised as 3 GB per month but actually has a daily limit of 100MB.
Retailers will often fail to mention these limitations and quite often are themselves ignorant that they exist, so it is advisable to double check on the carrier's website.
Also keep in mind that, generally speaking, internet plans only include connectivity when under a specific carrier's coverage. When roaming, internet costs can be very high. Coverage of major carriers is widespread, but it would be wise to check whether your carrier covers your area.
Both the fixed and mobile phone systems are available throughout Italy.Telephone numbers of the fixed system used to have separate prefixes area codes and a local number. In the 1990s the numbers were unified and nowadays, when calling Italian phones you should always dial the full number. For example you start numbers for Rome with 06 even if you are calling from Rome. All land line numbers start with 0. Mobile numbers start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services. If you don't know somebody's phone number you can dial a variety of recently-established phone services, the most used being 1240, 892424, 892892, but most of them have high fees.
To call abroad from Italy you have to dial 00 + country code + local part where the syntax of the local part depends on the country called.
To call Italy from abroad you have to dial international prefix + 39 + local part.Note that, unlike calls to most countries, you should not skip the starting zero of the local part if you are calling an Italian land line.
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations and airports. However, the number of payphones has consistently been reduced after the introduction of mobile phones. Some payphones work with coins only, some with phone cards only and some with both coins and phone cards. Only a limited number of phones just a few in main airports directly accept credit cards.
Italians use mobile phones extensively, some might say excessively. The main networks are TIM Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia, formerly state controlled, Vodafone, Wind, and 3 only UMTS cellphones. Note that cellphones from North America will not work in Italy unless they are Tri-band. Nearly all of the country has GSM, GPRS and UMTS/HDSPA coverage. If you arrive from abroad and intend making a lot of calls, buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card termed prepagato for "prepaid" and ricaricabile for "rechargeable" and put it in your current mobile if compatible and if your mobile set is not locked. You need to provide a valid form of identification, such as a passport or other official identity, to be able to purchase the SIM card. Unless you already have one, you will also be required to obtain a Codice Fiscale a tax number - the vendor may generate one for you from your form of identification. Subscription-based mobile telephony accounts are subject to a government tax, to which prepaid SIM cards are not subject. Sometimes hotels have mobile phones for customer to borrow or rent.
Call costs vary greatly depending on when, where, from and where to. Each provider offers an array of complex tariffs and it is near impossible to make reliable cost estimates. The cost of calls differs considerably if you call a fixed-line phone or a mobile phone. Usually there is a difference in cost even for incoming calls from abroad. If you can choose, calling the other party's land line could be even 40% cheaper than mobile. Many companies are shifting their customer service numbers to fixed-rate number prefix 199. These numbers are at the local rate, no matter where are you calling from.
According to national regulations, hotels cannot apply a surcharge on calls made from the hotel as the switchboard service should be already included as a service paid in the room cost, but to be sure check it before you use.
Calls between landlines are charged at either the local rate or the national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not free.
** This service is provided for free to subscribers by A.C.I. or other automobile clubs associated with ARC Europe; if you're not associated to any of these automobile clubs you'll be asked to pay a fee approx. €80.
All calls to numbers listed above are free and can be made from payphones without the need to insert coins; these emergency numbers can also be dialled from any mobile phone even if you have no credit or if you're in an area covered only by a different network. Always carry with you a note about the address and phone number of your embassy.