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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.