Local Customs

The marchigiani possess the best of North and South – you will rarely meet extravagant displays of Neapolitan emotion nor the cool indifference of Milan.

Try speaking a few words of Italian and your welcome will be that much warmer. If you can only master one line, at least try asking in Italian if people speak English – Parla inglese?

Remember that outside the main tourist spots, you will not necessarily find people who can speak English. French is a common second language and German is catching on.

The key to Italian social behaviour is often to be found in the idea of bella figura, or cutting a good figure. This is not just a matter of dressing smartly, though that is included. It ranges from such things as using the right mode of formal address to staying relaxed while waiting, from not getting aggressively drunk to negotiating fly-curtains.

Dirt in all its forms cuts a decidedly brutta figura. Italians, incidentally, spend more than any other nation in the world on household cleaning materials and personal toileteries.

Non-smokers will notice – contrary to the received opinion that all Italians smoke – the rules of bella figura now cover smoking in restaurants and bars; anti-smoking laws now forbid smoking in restaurants, bars and all other buildings used by the public unless there are specially-equipped smoking areas or outdoor terraces – these laws are being applied with enthusiasm.

The Italian working day begins early and if you are arriving by car you will often find it hard to park between 9am and noon. Lunch is the main meal of the day, followed in the Marche in the summer by a short siesta. Between 2pm and 4pm town centres are deserted – except for heat-befuddled foreign tourists.

Things get going again in the late afternoon, climaxing in the early evening with the passeggiata, or promenade, up and down the main street or square. It fulfills many purposes: gossip, matchmaking, showing off new clothes, business dealing. Not until 8pm do the restaurants start filling up. Theatres and cinemas begin around 9pm and go on until midnight.

Despite the lowest birthrate in Europe, Italy is still a country that dotes on children, and parents will find their offspring fussed over in even the smartest restaurants and hotels.

Tipping in Italy is nowhere as common as it once was. Most restaurants now include a service charge and you should only leave a few notes if service was outstanding. In the city, customers often leave their loose change in smarter bars, particularly for table service. In the country, tipping in bars and restaurants is the exception rather than the norm. Hotel porters and taxi drivers should be tipped.

The people of the Marche have long been known for their honesty. In the days of the Papal States tax inspectors were almost always marchigiani – hence the Italian saying “better a corpse in the house than a marchigiano at the door”.

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