Italy Local Custom Tips by Trekki Top 5 Page for this destination
Italy Local Customs: 317 reviews and 328 photos
MY chair, well OUR chairs
In many Mediterrean countries daily life happens outside on the streets, especially in small towns or in small quarters of bigger towns. People sit on benches and chat for ages, they meet on the streets to exchange the latest news or they just sit outside in the sun and enjoy the day or a break from work. And especially the older generation, mostly when they have retired from work, forms this image we love so much in Greece and Italy, France and Spain, and which is found in so many holiday photo memories. They just show “us” (aka the population which hunts for money and power and who has lost the ability to live a slower and happier life) how nice life can be.
When I was in Bevagna (Umbria) I saw these two chairs outside in the street which represent this outdoor life so much, and even in a special way. These chairs are not only chairs where locals sit and chat, these are chairs which belong to two locals who sit there and chat. These guys made sure that no one else will sit there by having written “my chair” on the backrest. And not only this, it is their names and former profession written there: E de Angilino er postino (This is Angilino’s chair, he was the postman) and E de Cincino er ferroviere (This is Cincino’s chair, he was the railman). "er" is an old form of "era" = he was. Since I saw these chairs I desperately wish to come back to Bevagna when they actually sit there and chat. I hope that by then my Italian will have improved in such a way that I can join them chatting.
(Thanks to Edvige, my Italian teacher, for having pointed this out to me when we were in Bevagna in Nov. 2009).
© Ingrid D., March 2011 (just in case, RickS or others come along and think they can steal texts).
San Michele - colourful cemetery
If only more countries would have such colourful cemeteries like in Italy – the deceased would definitely be more happy! One example is of course famous San Michele, the cemetery of Venezia la Serenissima. Like here, the cemeteries are usually divided into several sections, according to the type of graves and the religious beliefs. Many graves are decorated not only with a photo of the beloved ones but also with marvellous statues, often referring to his or her life. And then of course there are the typical colourful “mass” graves, with very little space but a lot of decoration, usually plastic flowers and photos and small objects and electrical lamps, often as a flame, related to the beloved ones. The deceased play an important role for the religious Italians, that’s why November 1 and 2, ognissanti and giorno dei morti, are celebrated. In a way this reminds me of Mexico. During this time, each region has its local specialities in the pastry shops, for example the fave dei morti (last photo) in Umbria. Chrysanthemums are being brought to the graves, in yellow and white.
Many monumental cemeteries in Italy are famous and guided tours are being offered. I think the most famous one is the huge Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno (in Genova) and Cimitero Campo Verano in Roma.
© Ingrid D., April 2011 (just in case, RickS or others come along and think they can steal texts).
Buona pasqua, oh delicious chocolate egg :-)
Easter is celebrated throughout Italy although Good Friday isn’t a holiday. But the holy week is attended by special processions, often a life re-enactment of Christ’s passion on the evening of Good Friday. And of course Easter is the time when special sweets are prepared in the homes and also being sold in the pastry shops. One of these is a dove, symbol of peace. Of course not a dove as animal but as a pastry. Another typical sweet for Easter is the huge egg made of chocolate, hollow inside and filled with several sweet treats. These huge eggs are wrapped in colourful paper or come decorated with flowers and spring symbols made of icing. Very delicious and very much tempting to buy during a trip to Italy around Easter. But... it is difficult to transport these back home. I saw one of these chocolate eggs in Norcia and it took me approximately half an hour to decide that it will break in my luggage. But what a difficult decision! At least I have my photo as a memory and who knows, maybe one day I will live in Italy forever and then transport would not be a question anymore.
© Ingrid D., March 2011, although I have uploaded the photo already in May 2009, but without description (just in case, RickS or others come along and think they can steal texts).
When you visit Venezia or travel through Veneto and Friuli-Venezia you cannot help but notice the many people in bars who sip a bright orange drink. This is called Spritz. This name definitely does not sound like typical Italian and is in fact rather of Austrian remains. Its orange colour is originated in the type of bitter alcohol it contains, mostly Aperol but also Campari, Cynar, or Select. This is where a variation in colour from orange to bright red comes along with the Spritz. The other ingredients are white wine and water or soda and mostly an olive. When I was in Venezia I thought I should better avoid it during the day, because I thought of the alcohol and that I might end up staggering around almost dead drunk. But after my first Spritz I found that it does not make drunk at all and at the end I found myself having one together with a Latte Macchiato almost every day.
In case you are also in doubt, try one in the evening and you will soon realise if you like it (the orange colour might not be appealing in the beginning) and how your system feels to decide if it also might be part of your stops in between sightseeing and walking.
The best description of Spritz however is the one, Irena& Vladimir (@Zvrlj) wrote :-).
© Ingrid D., May 2009 (just in case, RickS or others come along and think they can steal texts).
Caffè doppio, oh my god how do I miss this....
There is no word to describe Italia’s thick dark brown life giving liquid properly except that it is pure heaven. And it might even represent Italia better than churches, festivals, artists or pasta, pizza and all the other delicious food – il caffè is famous not only throughout whole Italia. Although to my experience it can only taste real in Italia. So far I didn’t find any caffè bar outside of Italia where they served it the way it is served in the country. Maybe because caffè is not only the liquid but the surrounding atmosphere? The click-clack noise, the barista makes when he empties the powder device? The characteristic sound of these huge machines when the water is heated and steam evaporates at the end? Caffè making is art and this becomes obvious when you stand at the bar and watch the barista doing his/her job. (Now that I write this, I realised that I hardly ever saw a barista woman…) They fill the basket with the exact amount of caffè powder (7 g) heat the water so that it has a temperature of 88°C and is running through the powder at 9 bar. After 25 seconds, the little preheated tazzina (cup) is filled with the magic liquid.
A caffè bar is an insitution in Italia as is the barista, who is not just only a bartender but has to be trained and have a diploma from the Italian Espresso National Institute. And his job does not only involve to prepare caffè, he has also a very important role in the society of the people who come to his caffè bar: he is the one who knows the preferences of his customers, he is the major source for the local news, he is the one where one drops the keys in case when family, friends or mechanics come to one’s apartment later. A persona di fiducia (trusted person). Just stand a while in a caffè bar and you will realise how much he is the centre of the place. Another sign for the institutional character of a local caffè bar is the so-called caffè sospeso (well, more in the Napoli region but I heard that it is also popular in other regions). A guest drinks one caffè and pays two. The second one is this caffè sospeso and is meant for one of the next guests who is short in money or general of lower income. This is also quite characterising the bonds within Italian communities.
Caffè, by the way, is rather reasonable in price. By law it is not more expensive than 1 Euro. But this refers to drinking it while standing! Another very much local custom for Italia: hardly anyone drinks caffè while sitting. Just watch a caffè bar for a while and you will see it. That's also why it won't help to scream at the prices in Venezia's Caffè Florian on Piazza San Marco: once you sit down to have your caffè, there is no law anymore for a maximum price :-) Ha.
© Ingrid D., May 2009 (just in case, RickS or others come along and think they can steal texts), update March 2011: link repaired.
Gubbio's sbandieratori on Piazza Grande
Allover in Italy historical festivals are celebrated throughout the year. These are always accompanied by historical processions and several performances. One of the performances is also the art of flag throwing. This dates back to medieval times and earlier, when standard bearers had very important roles during war times. A flag was the symbol of a town or quarters of towns. Apart from participating in historical festivals, flag throwers’ contests are very popular throughout Italy.
Gubbio’s sbandieratori (flag throwers) are extra special in that context. Their flag throwing skills dates back to 15th century when they were performing during religious festivals and war times. Today they proudly perform with flags which reflect the very ancient roots of this town: Ikuvium, the ancient town of the Umbri, a nation older than the Etruscans. Their letters assimilated Etruscan letters and are featuring on the Iguvine Tables, a set of bronze tables found near Gubbio. Gubbio’s sbandieratori flags are very colourful, each with a set of Iguvine letters, a clear expression of proudness and their ties to their home town and historical roots.
During my first visit to Gubbio in April 2008, I was extremely lucky to see one of their performances. In the middle of the Piazza Grande a very much colourful group of men in medieval dresses were throwing flags. But not only throwing them into the air, but they were doing all kinds of artistic movements like throwing them to their partners, jumping with the flags and juggling with them. Even the kids have their appearance! And they are fantastic with it! In the meantime I saw them countless times and also saw other towns’ flag throwers but Gubbio’s sbandieratori will always be extra special to me because of their strong identification with their historical past. The past revived.
Gubbio’s sbandieratori have their appearance during the several festivals and events held in town, such as Palio della Balestra® (last Sunday in May), Torneo dei Quartieri (August 14), lightning of the Christmas Tree (December 7), opening of the truffle fair end of October and many more. They also have trainings in between. If you ever happen to be near Gubbio please make sure to find out if they have a performance. It is for free, and is definitely something fascinating to watch. Describing this is one thing, but watching the accuracy of their skills and the fun these guys have, together with the drums is something special. There are several videos on youtube but the best is the one by Giampaolo Pauselli, a god in video art. It is slow motion, has close ups and shows the devotion, passion and love the sbandieratori have when performing their skills. Please take the time and watch this flag throwers video, 4 minutes, with “1492” by Vangelis.
To see more of these artists, please visit their website Sbandieratori, flag throwers or read more on Gubbio’s special website.
© Ingrid D., March 2009, text completely new written March 2011 (just in case, RickS or others come along and think they can steal texts).
Happy Laurea :-)
Whenever you are travelling through Italy during the months of November, you will definitely come across groups of young people, elegantly dressed, where one or more wears a green wreath on the head. Obviously this is a kind of celebration and when I was in Siena (Nov. 2011), one of my teachers explained me what was going on: these are the celebrations after having finished university – Laurea. And the wreaths are what the newly graduates get, together with flowers and other gifts. The wreath is said to symbolise wisdom. A cute custom I think.
© Ingrid D., March 2011.
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