The old adage is true: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Frederick Hawkins, Cultural Ambassador of the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri, shares five easy ways to spot a tourist—and what to do to look like a local.
1. ORDERING COFFEE TO GO
There is no such thing as coffee to-go in Italy, and there’s an unwritten rule of no milk in your coffee past noon. You will never find an Italian walking around with a coffee in a paper cup.
It’s meant to be consumed the moment it’s prepared, at the counter where it was prepared. A dead giveaway if you’re a tourist is if you order a cappuccino after lunch or mid-day. The one exception? A drop of foamed milk in your espresso for a “macchiato,” which can be ordered past noon
2. DRESSING LIKE NO ONE’S LOOKING
When it comes to dressing in Rome, fit is king. Avoid the Hawaiian print, Under Armour T-shirt, or golf shirt with flip-flops and baseball caps. Though the Milanese have made fashion their business and way of life, Romans also pay close attention to fit and quality: Even in scorching summer heat, you will still find a Roman man dressed in a button-down shirt and well-fitted trousers. Also, women should cover their shoulders and knees in a church. You may not be admitted into St. Peter’s Basilica if either is exposed
3. FORGETTING TO AIR KISS
Men who are close friends, and women, will greet you with an air kiss on each cheek—though it’s hotly debated whether you start on the right or the left. In many cases, the woman will dictate which side by offering her preferred cheek and the man will adapt accordingly. It really doesn’t matter as long as you adapt to where the other is going and you don’t bump noses.
4. ORDERING THREE OR FOUR COURSES—AT EVERY MEAL
Most Italians don’t eat an antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolce at every meal—and you don’t have to, either. Breakfast usually consists of a cornetti and cappuccino, not eggs, cereal, and fruit (which you will surely find at a hotel). Feel free just to pick a primo or secondo for your lunch and maybe splurge at dinner with a more robust meal. Also know that menu substitutions are frowned upon. If you are allergic to a particular ingredient, you will be advised to order another dish on the menu.
5. HESITATING WHEN YOU DRIVE OR CROSS A STREET.
Driving scooters—and driving in general—is not for the faint of heart. The style is aggressive. This holds true with pedestrian crossings, too. (Roman drivers are like dogs—they sense fear.) Just look convinced that you want to cross the street or you never will, and use crosswalks when possible. You may also notice that parking is very creative and traffic is chaotic. People will inevitably honk, shout, and glare—just ignore them, try not to get flustered, and stay your course.