The Dos and Don’ts of Coffee Shop Etiquette In Italy
Written by Emily February 15, 2016
With a month spent here in Italy, I figured it was time to talk about a subject very near and dear to my heart:
Like many of you, I don’t mess around when it comes to my daily coffee. Although I would like to think I don’t need the caffeine to get my day started, I most definitely do. In order to help out my fellow coffee-drinkers, I’ve put together a list of must-knows for enjoying the perfect cup of joe while in Italy.
- Different small talk: Unlike at home, it’s not acceptable to start the conversation off with the barista by asking, “How are you?” In Italy, this is considered intrusive and is something you only ask to people with whom you are familiar. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t make small talk, just be conscious of what you are asking. Current events, must-try drinks, and your adventures are all fair game conversation starters!
- Cappuccinos are for mornings only: Although it is possible to order a cappuccino at any hour of the day, typically Italians consider this a morning breakfast treat, enjoying it only before 11am. If you’re really feeling it, go ahead and order, but don’t be surprised if you get an odd look back!
- Drink standing up: If you’re trying to really fit in with the coffee-shop culture here, try drinking at the bar. Many times Italians enjoy their coffee standing up in front of the bar with other coffee-goers.
- Don’t wait in lines: Sure, you want to be considerate and let the people before you order first, but there is no such thing as standing in line in an Italian coffee shop. All you have to do is find an open spot at the bar and order (much like the alcohol-bar scene in America), otherwise you’ll find yourself waiting endlessly.
- Pay at the end: Many times Italians enjoy their coffee and pay afterward. If you give your money upfront it’s not a problem, but don’t be surprised if you see others walk away with their coffee and go back up at the end to pay and say thanks before leaving!
- Use emphasis: I love this one. A few times I’ve ordered drinks that I know I am pronouncing correctly back home (ex: Macchiato, cappuccino), only to get a strange and confused look back. I’ll repeat it back and then eventually be corrected by saying the same word, but with more emphasis. The other day I was ordering a macchiato and the barista didn’t understand what I was saying at all. It took the kind man next to me to repeat the same word, but with emphasis, for her to understand. Italians really do have gusto!
- Ciao is informal: This is less of a coffee-shop-etiquette piece of advice and more a general piece of advice while conversing, but always remember “Ciao” is informal. I didn’t know this coming here, and it was my go-to phrase the first week. Rude, rude, rude! Unless someone is the same age as you or someone you are familiar with, do not go with “ciao” right off the bat. Use something more formal until you can better read the situation!
- Money goes on trays: A minor detail, but when you’re receiving change back do not reach your hand out to collect it. Change is typically placed into a small tray by the register (or on the counter top), where you then grab it. Not a huge deal, but a good tip to know!
If anything, I have learned that I’m going to make mistakes when ordering and learning Italian. It doesn’t matter how many lists I read or words I memorize. Some things just have to be learned through doing. The best way to understand the Italian culture is to immerse yourself in it head-on. If you’re afraid to say something because you think it may be wrong, you’ll never actually find out if it is. I’ve realized people are much more willing to respect you and help you along if you’re putting in effort to learn the language. The old adage is true: it is better to attempt and fail than to never attempt at all.
Happy coffee-drinking! Ciao for now!