While entertaining guests this past month, I found myself dishing out a lot of rules about beach (and other) behavior to remember during their stay. I realized that, in a country that collectively flips off the thousands of rules that govern daily life, the rules that are adhered to the letter are the ones governed by the omnipresent Ministry of Bella Figura, under the strict watch by none other than mamma and gramamma.
I offer you my short list, but, feel free to add any of your own:
- Men: No walking around bare-chested at all times, except when sunning yourself, at which point Women: you can go topless.
Even the most anarchic soccer fan won’t be caught with his shirt off (the TV cameras might just pick him up whilst mamma is watching).
- Bare feet: only poolside and on the beach, but even a foray to the beach bar means sandals. This goes even (or especially) in houses.
After moving here, I actually got athlete’s foot from the lack of air around my extremities, but, I must say, I am quite used to this (and the persistent athlete's foot) by now.
- Wet hair: Of course, never ever leave the house with wet hair, lest you get struck down in mid-stride by the boogeyman.
Needless to say, this is one rule that I prefer to totally break on a daily basis, even in winter.
- Eating with fingers: Never. Not even if it’s spare ribs or yummy drumsticks. Just don’t ‘go there’. Same goes for fruit. Use your knife and fork.
I tend not to order things I’m too tempted to pick up by hand.
- Laughing out loud: first visitors to Italy always remark on the fact that women don’t seem to laugh here. While the rest of us notice that Americans can be heard three train compartments ahead. Pipe down and keep boisterous laughter to a minimum.
As a direct descendant of The Loud Family (SNL), personally, I can’t stand this rule (I mean, if ya gotta hang up about happiness…)so, if you’re in a crowded (and noisy) pizzeria, I say, go for it. But, I’ve actually been asked to quiet down or leave in many a ristorante (okay, I admit, that was in Milan). Where they’re used to us barbarians, it’s probably not such a faux pas or act of sheer crastness.
- Kids in restaurants: Half the people (Italians & expats included) affirm that Italians always bring their kids out, while the other half say never. I think they always do, but you’d just never know it, since the kiddies are so well-behaved (again, a lot of controversy on this one).
I had American guests whose daughter skated with her cool healy shoes 'round and 'round the restaurant. The (Roman) staff was more than terrific about that and the child did not end up nailed to the floorboards. But still, kids have got to behave in public, and, while we’re at it, sit up, no feet on the chairs, and no playing with their drinks.
- A corollary to the above is Pasta Eating: Spaghetti is not to be picked up in large scoops and eaten like a Purebred after running the Belmont Stakes. Italian children get the twirling from day 1 (I think it’s in their DNA). Just get the kids gnocchi and call it a day.
- Doggie Bags: Because I usually have my dog with me, I have a handy excuse for taking home doggie bags. But, in fancy restaurants I still ask with much trepidation. I can’t stand the idea of throwing out my half-eaten $75 meal. But, just don’t let an Italian see you do it.
I actually had a boyfriend who broke up with me after I asked to take home half a pizza – in the pizza box – from my local pizzeria.
- Saying Buon Giorno and Buona Sera whenever you enter a store or restaurant: This is one of my favorite things about living in Italy, right up there next to the sadly dying practice, the air kiss thing. I wish Americans would get on this track instead of their insipid Valley Girl inspired “How are ya’??” greeting.