BASIC FACTS OF ITALY
Italy’s political system is a parliamentary democracy having a Prime Minister as head of government and a President as head of state. Italy is a founding member of the European Union and a leading Western industrial power. As a NATO member, Italy is formally supportive of the Western community of nations. Hence, democracy, free markets and a betterment of mankind are cornerstones of the official Italian profile.
Italian is the official language of the land with many dialects spoken regionally. Additionally, French, German and
Croatian are spoken in border areas of the country. English is spoken by many, particularly at tourist locations.
Protocol, Etiquette, and Tipping:
Italy is a touchy feely kind of country. It is quite appropriate for men to embrace men and women to embrace women and of course visa-versa. The accepted method of embracing is to touch first left cheek to left cheek and then right cheek to right cheek with lips puckered optional. A direct kiss on the cheek or the mouth is reserved for lovers and spouses and is generally avoided between friends or mere acquaintances. Likewise men will, on appropriate occasion, “kiss” the hand of a lady held in high esteem. This involves a lifting of the lady’s right hand to a slightly bowed head toward the lips of the man which should never actually touch the hand. This custom is considered to be very elegant throughout the country. Men walking arm in arm is quite a common sight in the southern parts of Italy which tends to be more traditional.
Italian children are often to be found with their parents and family at late hours in restaurants, often asleep. The reason for this is that Italians rarely dine before 8:30 pm (20:30 hours) and eat for 2 to 3 hours. Don’t be surprised to find the family dog also in attendance and asleep under the table. This is all quite normal. Sitting at the table Italian style requires you to lean both forearms on the table before you. No need to hide that left forearm under the table. Try eating your spaghetti by twirling the delicious strands with your fork without the spoon back-up.
Very impressive! Always, when toasting with your beverage glass, look into the eyes of the person being toasted. If he or she is Italian he or she will be looking right back at you.
What is new is that there is a strict “no smoking” law in effect which includes all restaurants, cafés and most public
places. Delightful, as there is no longer second hand smoke to disturb your Italian eating experience.
Go ahead and tip at the restaurants if you are happy with the meal and service. First check your bill as often a 15% service charge (coperto) may already be added. It is reasonable in such cases to leave a few euros as tips are an important source of income for service personnel.
The official monetary unit is the Euro which is used by 13 member states of the European Common Market, a notable exception is Great Britain. The exchange rate, Dollar to Euro and Euro to dollar varies over time but it is approximately – 1 Euro = 1.40 USD. Banks, Exchange Offices and larger hotels will exchange dollars for euros. Keep in mind, however, that hotels often give the lowest exchange rates. Passports or other officially pictured governmental identification is needed when exchanging currency. Travel Checks, ATMs, Debit and Credit Cards are in use throughout Italy.
Use this website to calculate current exchange rates: http://www.oanda.com/convert/classic
What to buy:
Italy is a shopper’s paradise. Products are well made and generally are held in high esteem throughout the world. “Made in Italy” is indicative of high quality in fashion, jewelry, art, glass, leather, lace, kitchen ware, sports ware, and religious items.
Fashion: Armani, Gucci, Ferragamo, Pucci, Prada, Valentino and Versace are but a few of the leading fashion designers which dictate and lead the best in world fashion. Many boutiques sell their products with the highest concentration found in Rome, Milan, Florence and Venice.
Jewelry: Designs are very original with much of the production coming from small studios working with gold (18k)
and semi-precious stones. Jewelry stores are to be found in the larger cities as well as smaller locals.
Art: It is everywhere. Paintings, statuary, ceramics, and pottery can be purchased in high price stores or open air markets. All major cites have their market days where good buys are attainable. Remember to bargain if there is no fixed price (prezzo fisso) indicated. Start with 50% off and go from there.
Glass: Murano, an island sharing a lagoon with Venice, is the world capital of glass. It is approximately 20 minutes by vaporetto (boat) from Venice. It is best to go in the morning hours to see the glass blowing take place. All manor and designs in glass can be found at any price range. Likewise Murano glass is sold in stores throughout Italy.
Leather: Italian shoes, boots, luggage, bags, clothing, change purses, wallets, etc. are the best in the world, primarily because the leather is the finest produced. All leather goods are to be found throughout the country with the greatest variety to be found in the larger cities.
Lace: Delicate movement of design distinguishes Italian hand made lace. It is exquisitely fashioned into tablecloths, bridal gowns, bed linens, blouses and swim ware, etc. Venice and Florence are the main producers with stores throughout Italy selling a wide variety of quality and styles.
DISCOUNTS! Italy allows U.S. tourists to be exempt from the VAT tax on products bought while in the country. All you have to do is bring your passport at time of purchase. The store will fill out a form which you will present at time of departure from the country. You will then be reimbursed for the tax on your purchases in your choice of currency.
Banks: open from 8:30am – 1:30pm and 2:30pm – 4:00pm Monday – Friday (Weekends closed) Businesses: open 9:00am -1:00pm and 3:30pm – 7:00pm Monday – Friday