Italy Facts

Monna Lisa with Coronavirus Mask
Monna Lisa with Coronavirus Mask

Italy was hit by the coronavirus crisis as the worst-affected country in Europe at the start of the pandemic, but, after an initial period, it recovered pretty well, partly due to innovative health studies leading to major discoveries in the mechanism of Covid-19 disease, which in term produced more effective treatments.

After a peak in the number of contagions in the second half of March 2020, the curve of cases has been constantly going down and during the summer it flattened to a low number of new cases per day.

The autumn’s long-predicted “second wave” of Covid-19 has affected Italy as well, and cases are rising but nowhere near the number they were before.

In fact, of European countries of comparable size of population, Italy has been and still seems to be the least affected by coronavirus, with the exception of Germany.

If we compare the total number of cases per million of population, we find what may surprise some. For example, despite the widespread good reporting on the Swedish method to approach the Covid-19 pandemic, Sweden has had so far (end of September 2020) 8,927 cases per million of people, and Italy 5,035.

The Italian government has kept Italy’s borders open to United Kingdom, European Union Member States (except Romania, and with specific provisions for Croatia, Greece, Malta, Spain and the French regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Corsica, Hauts-de-France, Ilȇ -de-France, New Aquitaine, Occitania, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), Schengen Member States.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on 24 September indicated Italy as a low-risk country.

Italy is among the countries that the UK government allows its citizenas to travel to, or, as The Sun puts it, is “one of the few remaining for Brits which has no travel restrictions”.

The island of Sardinia, though, requires incoming arrivals to register before travelling.

Levanto, Cinque Terre, Italian Riviera</ br> Garden Hotel
Levanto, Cinque Terre
Hotel Garden

Climate and Weather

It varies from north to south. Generally, Italy has a Mediterranean climate with mild rainy winters and hot dry summers. Temperatures get higher the further south you go. In the Alps the climate is different from the rest of the country, more severe and colder. In the vast northern Po Plain (Pianura Padana), where Milan and Bologna are situated, winters tend to be foggier.

Rome’s average temperatures are 20-30C (68-86F) in July and 5-11C (41-52F) in January.

Time Zone

Italy is one hour ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), which is the UK time in winter.

Italy has daylight saving time (GMT +2) from the end of March to almost the end of October, which corresponds to the period in which the UK also moves forward an hour, which means that Italy is always one hour ahead of the UK.

The former is called by Italians “ora solare”, literally “time by (or according to) the sun”; the latter is called “ora legale”, literally “time by (or according to) the law”.

Italy is 6 hours ahead of US Eastern Time and 9 hours ahead off US Pacific Time during the summer, and respectively 5 and 8 hours ahead during the winter.

Language

The language is Italian.

Some areas are bilingual: French is spoken in Val d’Aosta, an Alpine region in the north-west with many fashionable skiing resorts; German is spoken in Alto Adige (South Tirol), in the north-east, bordering with Austria via the Brenner Pass in the Alps.

English is spoken ever more frequently by younger people, and is commonly spoken in resorts and by holiday operators.

Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Leaning Tower of Pisa

Currency

Euro (symbol €).

One British pound is equivalent to a little more than 1 euro (approximately 1 GBP = 1.15 to 1.20 EUR).

One American dollar is worth slightly less than (over 4/5 of) 1 euro.

What to Buy and Where

Everywhere: fashion, designer clothes (Versace, Valentino, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Moschino, Ferre’, Krizia and many more), designer furniture and household items, ceramics & pottery, terracotta, wine.

In Venice: Venetian carnival masks, Murano glasses, Burano lace.

In Tuscany: Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, Chianti, Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine, marble objects.

In Florence: jewellery and gold objects in the Ponte Vecchio shops, straw hats, crystals, Tuscan cigars, mosaics, prints, wood engravings.

In Rome: antiques, prints, wood and copper engravings; religious art, objects and vestments.

In Modena: balsamic vinegar.

Opening Hours

Shops are generally open Monday to Friday from 9am or 9.30am to 1 and 3.30pm or 4pm to 7 or 7.30pm. In July and August, offices might not open in the afternoon until 4.30 or 5pm. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 1 or 1.30pm and 2 or 2.30 to 4pm, and are closed all day Saturday, Sunday, and national holidays.

Chemists and Drug Stores

At every chemist’s shop (“farmacia” in Italian) there’s a list of those that are open at night and on Sunday.

Newspapers & Magazines

The most important newspapers are Il Corriere della Sera published in Milan, La Repubblica in Rome, La Stampa in Turin. The main financial daily is Il Sole 24 Ore. Major sports dailies are La Gazzetta dello Sport, Il Corriere dello Sport, Tuttosport.

In all cities and many towns and resorts you’ll easily find the most important English-language newspapers and magazines, both British and American, including The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Time, Newsweek, at news kiosks, hotels and in bookshops. The Rome Daily American is published in English.

People

Don’t believe in the common stereotype that Italians are chatty with complete strangers and easy to befriend casually. You’ll be surprised at how reserved people who live North of Rome actually are. Perhaps Southern Italians may be a bit friendlier, but generally you will not find that Northern Italians talk to people they don’t know, whether on buses, shops, supermakets or bars.

In Italy there is nothing equivalent to the practice quite common in English pubs to sit down at a table already occupied by other patrons.

Italians also tend to be formal: they don’t address people who they don’t know well by their first name, and they will address them with the more formal pronoun ‘lei’, rather than ‘tu’ (reserved for family, friends, close acquaintances and youngsters).

This formality is particularly pronounced in the business and work worlds.

Drinking

Italians do not drink much alcohol, and when they do it is at certain times and in pattern ways. They drink mostly at meals (wine), and an ‘aperitivo’ (aperitif) around midday.

As a consequence, alcohol laws do not need to be so strict and there are no licensing hours, because people tend to exercise self-restraint.

Children may be given a tiny amount of wine with lots of water at mealtimes.

Bars serve alcoholic drinks as well, but mostly coffee.

If you ask for a beer (‘birra’) in a bar, expect a lager. Say ‘birra piccola’, or ‘media’ or ‘grande’ to specify the quantity: respectively, small, medium or large.

Click on the following links to find a comprehensive list of books, DVDs, videos, CDs and other things on Italy, including auction items and web resources:

Italy from amazon.com

Italy from amazon.co.uk