A few things travelers should know about Rome

Illustration by Meagan Morrison

Illustration by Meagan Morrison

Condé Nast Traveler this week emailed “5 Common Mistakes Travelers Make in Rome.” The illustrations were charming, and the basic concepts valid, but we feel there’s more to these five items that travelers need to know. Read the article, then read our additions and comments.

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.

Actually, there is coffee to go. While it might be put in a paper or plastic cup, it’s more likely to be served in its usual cup or glass on a tray, which you will return to the bar later.

Alternatively, the coffee might be poured into a small disposable glass bottle that once contained fruit juice. It is definitely true that carrying paper trays with gigantic cups with plastic lids is completely alien.

As for milk after noon, relax, people. Cappuccino is usually consumed at breakfast, and never directly after a meal, being considered bad for the digestion. Don’t ask why gelato and tiramisù are not worse. But if you want a cappuccino between meals, even at 3 pm, go right ahead. 

When it comes to dressing in Rome, fit is king.

What is true is that many Romans, men and women both, can dress impeccably on a hot summer’s day and never seem to break a sweat. And, generally speaking, they avoid the unmade-bed look so dear to other nationalities—unless that happens to be the fashion of the moment. They also regard many foreigners as sort of shabby (they may secretly love their comfy old shoes, but that doesn’t mean they wear them in public). But what travelers need to know is that Rome is a pretty casual city; very few restaurants would dream of suggesting, much less enforcing, a dress code, and the day is not far away when all those gorgeous silk ties will hang on Christmas trees, not gentlemen’s necks.

Air kissing. Yes, there’s a lot of it, but there’s plenty of hand-shaking too.

While the etiquette manuals would always have the lady initiate the air kiss, our experience is the opposite. What there isn’t is a lot of hugging except among friends and relatives.

Most Italians don’t eat an antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolce at every meal—and you don’t have to, either.

That’s good advice, but we’d take it further. In our experience travelers tend to plan too many meals in an effort not to miss anything. One good lunch or dinner a day is plenty. Bars, tavole calde, gelaterie, and markets are perfect for meal alternatives. But that one meal should, as a rule, consist of two, three, or four courses. And all-day snacking is unheard of.

Driving scooters—and driving in general—is not for the faint of heart. The style is aggressive. 

The article is right that pedestrians need to cross the street with a certain attitude. The most important thing is, once you start across the street, maintain a steady pace. The oncoming driver is planning how to avoid impact, so you don’t want to screw up his calculations.

And beware: even if the cars stop to let you cross (they do once in a while …), there may still be a scooter barreling down. Riding scooters is risky enough for experienced Italians, foolhardy and seriously dangerous for anybody else.

Finally, the Italian driving style emphasizes maneuverability; don’t mistake skill for aggression.