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From India to Italy: Culture Shocks!

Everyone has shock moments when traveling to a new country. I experienced my fair share of culture shocks when traveling from India to Italy. I love Italy, I absolutely do, but there were many cultural shocks during my Italian travels. There were some things that I could not understand, some things I still don’t understand and some things I’d rather not understand!

From India to Italy, while reading these culture shock moments, I ask a small favor. Read this post with an open mind because this is 100% truth of what I felt coming from another culture. It is an honest account of my experiences and there’s no taking it back! This post has not been written to criticize Italy or the Italians. Because let’s be honest, there are many things that surprise us when we travel to a new place and the experience in Italy is no different.

From India to Italy: Culture Shocks

1. Dressing as per Season??

One of the noticeable culture shock I experienced in Italy was dressing as per the season. So even on a warm April afternoon you’ll see people with a scarf! For the Italians, summer doesn’t begin until June so everyone dresses as per the “season” and not the “weather”. To me it was a serious culture shock and quite eccentric as we do the opposite of it in India.

It was odd seeing everyone dress up like it was still winter. This one goes in my “things I still don’t understand list”. In India, if we wear scarves in summer, we would boil ….but that’s really because of where we are!

2. Ferragosto!

When I get queries for the best time to travel to Italy, I tell people to go anytime except August because the whole country is on vacation! In India, that’s blasphemy! This is one of the worst culture shocks I experienced from India to Italy.

We can barely manage a 15 day leave without irritating our bosses so Ferragosto seems unreal. But it is true guys…..!.

August 15 is a national holiday in Italy and even though museums and other historic sites are open, big cities like Rome are practically empty. The whole month is like a huge beach party for most Italians. It is amazing that Italians take long leaves to celebrate this day. Ferragosto is a customary break to enjoy summer. To me that was a big culture shock as I sort of come from a workaholic country! Ferragosto goes in my “things I’ve made my peace with list”.

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3. Afternoon Napping..zzzz…

Another culture shock I experienced in Italy was on my very first trip when I noticed all shops closing from about 14:00-16:00 or sometimes from 12:30-17:00 (especially in smaller towns).

I couldn’t fathom everything shutting down for such a major part of the day and always wondered when people really worked??

This obviously sums a lot about the whole concept of Il Dolce Fa Niente. But this still was a culture shock for me in Italy again. I mean it doesn’t bother me now because this goes in my “things I’ve made peace with list”.

4. Don’t Touch the Vegetables!

In India when we do our grocery shopping, we look, touch, feel and sniff them (Sorry it sounds strange but it is true). In Italy, you CANNOT touch the buy fruits or vegetables. Instead, you first greet the vendor and ask what you want. The vendor in turn will provide you everything. Also, don’t dare to question the vendors!

Additionally, keep in mind that you need to be respectful. If you mention which fruit they should or should not put, it comes across a tad rude. This was another culture shock to me but it goes in my “things I’ve made peace with list” because it all boils to hygiene in the end. Oh, and 4 inch heels while shopping???!! #ONLYINITALY

5. Where’s my Ice?!

In India, it is so common to ask for ice any time or season. In Italy, I have rarely seen water with ice!! If you ask for ice, the waiter just blankly stares back at you. DAI!! (Come on!) In fact the only ice I’ve seen so freely given away is in my glass of Negroni or Spritz! LOL!

Sorry but this goes in my “things I will never understand list”.

6. Having Coffee by the Counter??

Standing next to the counter and having coffee?? That was a big culture shock to me on my first Italy trip. In fact I felt shy to sit next to the Barista and have coffee. But later I understood that having coffee at the Bar counter is so traditional and so Italian. Of course you have a choice to sit down and get a table but not only does that cost more, it is also not as common among the locals. Most would present themselves at the bar to savor their coffee (al banco!) and quickly go about their business.

In India, we go to a coffee shop to sit, relax and have conversations.

This goes under my “things I’ve made peace with list”. And honestly, this is one of the things I love about the Italian culture.

7. Getting Stared for Being Poorly Dressed

This is also common in other parts of Europe but not as much I’ve seen in Italy. Women actually stare at you with a sort of a condescending attitude if you aren’t dressed as per “decent standards”. Obviously not every woman does that, but it is quite common to be stared and judged for your dressing! This goes in my “things I’ve made peace with list”.

Related Reading:

Shocking Italian Culture by Rochelle

Solo Travel Tips to Italy

So now your turn! Did you have to face culture shocks in Italy like I did??

Also read:

66 Comments

  • abcd
    August 10, 2020 at 11:16 pm

    I read this article and it was interesting to see how India has changed! Seems to have taken its cues from America. I grew up In India, and there was never ice in water (and Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine, definitely advises against it). And after-lunch siesta: you will find that traditionally many hot countries had this, including India – stores weren’t closed, but you could see a lot of people asleep on their rickshaw or whatever. In hot places, the mid-day sun is tiring and its easier to work earlier or later in the day when its cooler. Espresso by the counter, well that’s because its a pick-me-up: down the hatch and off they go. I am glad to learn that at least coffee culture is still a thing. Honestly I think i am going to have a culture shock when I go back to India to visit, ha!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 12, 2020 at 6:50 pm

      Things do change. You’re right! Depending on when you last visited, you will see changes. I can say that at least for the big cities. They are always busy. Maybe a rickshaw driver or two will be lying under a tree by the side but for the others, life goes the same way in the afternoons as mornings. By having ice in the water I didn’t mean that water is ALWAYS served with ice.I meant its much simpler and easier to find ice here than in Italy.

      Reply
  • Cookingwithloveandspices
    August 2, 2020 at 8:24 am

    Very interesting to read your perspective. I am Indian but have been living in America for most of my life. I travel to Italy often and have never felt a culture shock. I actually feel very at home in Italy. I find the locals to be full of joy and very generous. I even made friends with a cheese maker at the Amalfi farmer’s market. He invited me to his home to meet his family and have a meal with them. It was amazing. I have photos. I should write a blog post about it.

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 4, 2020 at 11:07 am

      I think what you’re saying is not culture shock. I have had similar experiences too. But the culture shocks I mentioned are different for me. For instance not getting ice as commonly!!

      Reply
  • Image Earth Travel
    March 15, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    Ha, ha it’s like you’ve read all of my thoughts, although I’m from Australia (with Italian parents)!

    I still get stared at here in Cosenza as I always feel underdressed, I just laugh it off these days, and yes, 4inch heals to grocery shop is the ‘norm’ here in the south also… 😉

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      March 16, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      So true. I always go in my pyjamas but when I’m in Italy I make sure to wear make up even for a quick stroll 😉

      Reply
  • Treez
    September 10, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Ishita,
    Treez here. What a fun read this was! I never knew there were so many cultural differences but thats what makes this world interesting right? 🙂

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      September 15, 2018 at 9:08 am

      Thanks so much Treez! I know right?? Lovely to hear from you here.

      Reply
  • Mammaprada
    August 26, 2018 at 1:30 am

    Yeah I find the whole ice thing a bit weird – drives me crazy!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 27, 2018 at 9:03 am

      I just cannot fathom it either!

      Reply
  • Cristina
    August 22, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Ha ha! I think you have to grow up with most of these to fully understand them, or really know the history/background behind them. As they say, when in Rome……Ciao, Cristina

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 22, 2018 at 11:25 am

      And that is why they are and always be culture shocks to me 😉

      Reply
  • Jane
    August 19, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    Hahaha. That dressing according to weather or season is sometimes annoying me. But yes, whenever we travel to Italy, I always make sure that we dress well (if not better) than the Italians because in my observation, they look down (especially) at Asians. Maybe because there are so many Asian domestic helpers. I love bags and I went inside a shop last summer, told the sales lady I want to buy the bag on display. She said it’s not for sale. I told her there is a price tag on it. She still refused to sell it to me. Did I look like I don’t deserve the bag? I went to the brand’s boutique shop (Twin Set by Simona Barbieri) and although I paid full price on it, I got the bag I wanted and went back to the other shop and waved my new bag to the same saleslady and told her, “Your bag will never be sold!” In The Netherlands, you can be charged for racism for refusing a customer. And how many times did we go back to a shop to find out if they are already open? They open late in the mornings and then take a long break. No wonder Italy’s economy is not competitive with northern Europe. The “Don’t touch the vegetables” is really ridiculous. We always see chefs on tv go to markets and touch and smell the produce they cook. That’s what they tell you to do. Here in NL, I’ve ended up buying some rotten fruits in open markets because I am not allowed to touch them. I only now shop in the supermarkets where you can touch, smell, choose and weigh them yourself. Like you, I still love Italy despite the unpleasant experiences. Cheers!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 20, 2018 at 11:34 am

      Thanks for the comment, Jane. I know what you mean. As Asians, we are on another side in Italy. I hate the fact that there is so much racism there. Agree on the economy too because even though it sounds amazing that they are living the life, when are they actually working?? I wish the vegetable thing was a little flexible. I’ve always had to face it despite the other comments here.

      Reply
  • Kelly
    August 11, 2018 at 2:03 am

    This was so interesting to read Ishita! We have a lot of the same culture shocks even though we come from different countries. You should see how people dress in the U.S. when they are out and about. The other day I was wearing a blouse that I bought in Italy, and a cashier told me that I looked so fashionable. I was like, who me????? Because I consider myself quite hopeless in the fashion department….but the cashier said compared to students who were usually in their pajamas I was dressed really nice. 😂 Regarding ice in the water….I CANNOT STAND that ice comes in every single glass of water in the US. I hate it 😆 Ice makes me cold and gives me goosebumps (even in the summer…weird, I know). I always have to ask for water without ice in the US, so I am always quite happy in Italy. lol

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 11, 2018 at 9:26 am

      Thank you!! I am waiting to read yours too. Its strange no, how many of us had similar observations. I don’t have icy water in general either but I would like the option 😉 I know what you mean right!! We goo in our PJs to shop here. No one cares as much as in Italy. 4 inch heel!? yikes I’d be stared at. 😉

      Reply
  • Rochelle Del Borrello
    August 10, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    Amen to all of these culture shocks! They are small, quirky and downright weird at first, but you do get used to them!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 10, 2018 at 9:34 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Rochelle 🙂 Yes, you are right here.

      Reply
  • Lucy and Kelly
    August 10, 2018 at 10:54 am

    Really enjoyed reading this! It’s like all little quirks of Italy!! We totally get what you mean about coffee shops! We go to sit and relax and chill out, but we saw so many people standing at the bar before work, before catching a train etc and it was really interesting, like it’s just an Italian thing and how they like their espresso! We also drink coffee in gallons – we kind of like that Italians savour a little at a time! 🙂

    Lucy and Kelly xx
    http://www.theblossomtwins.com

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 10, 2018 at 11:03 am

      Haha true. It seems a little strange explaining to others as well. Thanks for stopping by ladies 🙂

      Reply
  • Bespoke Traveler
    August 10, 2018 at 3:37 am

    The afternoon naps thing I never understood, but am secretly in love with the idea. It feels so non-adult to just take break from the work-day and doze. 😁

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

      Haha I bet now. At first I was like :O

      Reply
  • Jarek
    August 9, 2018 at 1:48 am

    Hi Ishita!

    I just thought you may find it interesting, that despite being from Poland (country not so faraway from Italy, both in geographical and cultural way), I also found the things you mentioned in numbers 1-3 very unusual and exotic. So you don’t have to come from as far as India to be surprised by some things in Italy 🙂
    Thing numbered 4-6 are a bit different than in Poland, but not to extent that I would call a culture shock. As for no. 7, heading out in your pajamas in Poland would be seen as strange as in Italy, or even more 🙂

    By the way, thanks for liking my post about Rimini! You were the first one to do so, faster than any of my friends! More posts about Italy will appear soon!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 9, 2018 at 2:31 am

      Hi there Jarek 🙂 I saw your post and instantly felt the need to read. Of course! O can imagine it’s strange for everyone. Oh point noted. Btw Poland has been on my list since ages! Hope I can make it one day.

      Reply
      • Jarek
        August 9, 2018 at 3:01 am

        That’s great, let me know if you need any information about Poland! I plan to write some posts about interesting places and events in Poland, but it may take a while because my friends press me to write about my stay in Malta, and this will be a long story. At this moment I can offer you to see my old and not updated from ages photos on DeviantArt, all of them made in Poland excluding the Acropolis and Egypt ones: https://www.deviantart.com/sir-christian/gallery/

        Reply
        • Italophilia
          August 9, 2018 at 6:35 pm

          Thank you will do 🙂 How’s winter in Poland?? December?? Let me know.

          Reply
          • Jarek
            August 10, 2018 at 2:48 am

            The weather in Poland is unpredictable. In December you can expect any temperature from -20 Celsius degrees to +10. There are the shortest days in the year, the sun rises about 7:30 AM and sets about 3:30 PM so the day is just 8 hours long (in comparison, in June it rises about 4 AM and sets at 9 PM, so the day is 17 hours long). Some years there is a thick layer of snow for several consecutive months and other years there is almost no snow at all (except the mountains, there is always snow in winter). In recent years, January tends to be much more “winter” (i.e. snow and frost) than December. What else would you like to know? BTW, I just posted a new post about San Leo 🙂

            Reply
    • Cookingwithloveandspices
      August 2, 2020 at 8:26 am

      I love Rimini. ❤

      Reply
  • boosdiet
    August 9, 2018 at 1:13 am

    Do you like India?

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 9, 2018 at 2:29 am

      I am from India! Of course I love my country 😉

      Reply
  • Resh Susan
    August 8, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    This was so informative and all new for me. I have no plans of visiting Italy soon but I must surely keep these in mind. Very interesting.

    About August, did you think it was a bad time to visit since everyone is outdoors since everyone is on vacation? Or everywhere it is empty as people are visiting outside Italy. Thats a lovely idea, right? Vacation for the whole country. And you are right. A two week vacation itself is impossible in India.

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks Resh!! 😀 Haha I found it strange that everyone is on vacation. But its also very cool that they keep so much time for relaxation. We should learn from them :/
      It is a bad time to visit imo for a first time traveler because lot of businesses are closed.

      Reply
  • Tanja
    August 8, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    Oh yes closed shops in the middle of the day have left me hungry on my first student trips to Italy.. Ferragosto is when all the Italians descend on Croatian coast for their holidays so can’t complain about that… 😁

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 3:39 pm

      Hahahaha!!That’s a good way to look at it. Hope you are well. x

      Reply
  • Debra Kolkka
    August 8, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    The over dressing thing still amazes me..,puffer jackets on in 25degrees day! You generally don’t have to pay more to sit to have your coffee in smaller towns and villages and many places are a bit more relaxed about the cappuccino after 11.00am. I am yet to get used to the closing in the middle of the day, I wish they would get over that one.

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 1:52 pm

      Over dressing is something I can never find normal either. Oh good to know about the coffee bit!! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Reply
  • Carmela
    August 8, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    I enjoyed reading this post, because of every bit of it is true! Now the ice part…I was just gonna say that I also find that very strange. In the Philippines, we put ice in almost everything! Haha! It’s my first time to experience such INTENSE dry heat in Italy (I am dying), and I am stocking up on ICE.
    Also, I love what one of your readers said about staring back when people stare! Lemme try that one out! Oh, and when someone asks me “where I’m from” I’ll make sure to ask, “where are YOU from?” LOL

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      Thanks Carmela 🙂 I found it strange when not once but thrice I offended people for asking ice in the summer. And it was in Sicily!! LOL! Good way to handle the stare and interventions 😉

      Reply
  • Jasmine
    August 8, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    Ciao Ishita! ALL completely relevent shocks that I identify with! I really loved that you had photographs to back up what you were saying, how hilarious those ones with the men all covered up when it looks like a perfectly pleasant day out! Thanks for joining us on this and for all the promo! Love, Jasmine of http://www.questadolcevita.com

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      Ciao bella!! Hahaha I could imagine you saying this to me. Yes exactly, right?? Of course, small steps matter 🙂 xx

      Reply
  • Fabrizio
    August 8, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    The other thing about clothing is the “what if” scenario. The most deeply-rooted fear of many Italians is to be cold, that’s why you’ll see people with a sweater even on a summer night when the thermometer won’t even dare going below 25 and mosquitos are as big as helicopters. Because… what if is there a draft? That, and an irrational fear of air conditioning, especially at night. I’ve now lived in the UK for years, in places where it’s normal to see people stepping off a Bentley dressed like The Dude in the Big Lebowski, and it’s a custom I’ve adhered to; but when I visit home it’s incredible how underdressed I am… I really admire your observation skills for Italy’s idiosyncrasies, they’re all spot on!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      I even find the AC fear very weird. Honestly, how can you survive in times like these with the heat so bad??!! The What if angle is hilarious to me. Thank you for reading and commenting, Fabrizio 😉

      Reply
  • Keith Kellett
    August 8, 2018 at 11:32 am

    I’m used to being given a little dish of nuts or something with my beer … but the tray of nibbles they served with our drinks in Portofino was so substantial, we didn’t want any lunch!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 11:34 am

      The Aperitivo?? Oh that’s the best custom there is.

      Reply
  • Lyn Douglas
    August 8, 2018 at 6:57 am

    Hi Ishita, I laughed when I read these as I agree with every one of them. When I ask for ice in my vino bianco, they are horrified. NO matter though, don’t we just love everything Italian. Lyn

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 7:03 am

      Hahah!! I am glad there are laughs thanks to this post. True, despite everything, its still lovely because we have the best of both worlds.

      Reply
  • Elfin
    August 8, 2018 at 2:31 am

    Fascinating list, Ishita!

    Not sure about the picking the vegetable thing. In smaller towns, you are definitely expected to serve yourself and you can touch everything. But yes, people would find weird if they saw you smell fruit.

    Italians staring at foreigners for being poorly dressed is one of my pet peeves. It’s insane to get all dressed up to do every single thing and if you want to do it, fine but don’t judge others for having other priorities in life. I see it happen a lot less in Southern Italy, though.

    Such an interesting topic!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 6:38 am

      Glad you found it interesting Elfin. I’ve become used to the stares now and at times I don’t even care. But in a way I’ve added more styling to my wardrobe 😉 Didn’t know about the vegetable picking.

      Reply
  • KareninCalabria
    August 8, 2018 at 12:24 am

    Ha, ha! A good list, Ishita! The shutting down in the afternoon is still the thing I have the most trouble getting used to. Second, not being able to pick your own fruits and vegetables (although that isn’t everywhere, but make sure you use those plastic gloves in the grocery store!). And as for the staring, I say, stare right back!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 8, 2018 at 6:39 am

      Happy to know it was and good and fun 🙂 I know right? Its like doing all your work before or after that time. I feel that time is the best one at least for tourists. I stare back too!

      Reply
  • Darlene Foster
    August 7, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    This is very similar to Spain and it took me a while to get used to things like everything closing between 2 and 5. It is slowly changing but I would so often forget, run to the grocery store to get something and find it closed. Spain also shuts down for August. (not the tourist stuff though)

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 7, 2018 at 10:55 pm

      Such similar cultures!! I can imagine it must have a trouble adjusting. Hope you are well, Darlene.

      Reply
  • Jen Seriously
    August 7, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    The coffee at the counter thing was strange to me too. And having to pay extra if you want to sit and have your coffee at a table.

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 7, 2018 at 10:54 pm

      Yes , kinda over it now but a BIG one to me too.

      Reply
  • Arielle
    August 7, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Spaniards also dress for the season and not the weather, then stare at you as if you’re the strange one for wearing a tank top and skirt in 25 degree weather! So weird. I don’t wanna sweat through my t-shirts just cause it’s technically still spring!

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 7, 2018 at 7:22 pm

      Hahah it does sound weirdto me. Thanks for stopping by Arielle 🙂

      Reply
  • Rae Pfundt
    August 7, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    All great points Ishita! We touch, thump, smell, shake our produce here as well. I saw a poor tourist reach out to grab a peach once at a very small little shop, she got her hand swiped away by the proprietor! I will also add the idea of once you are seated in a restaurant, there is no ‘time limit’, it doesn’t matter if there are people waiting for a table, take your time!, and you will not see your server again once your food has been served. I cannot get used to this, mostly I suppose, because I don’t like sitting around once I am finished eating. I want to get up and go.

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 7, 2018 at 6:44 pm

      Omg I can imagine. I get a fright and stay away if I don’t have to buy. I’d rather watch 😉 Here it is very common to be given the “hint” to get up and go ..and people are in a way asked if they want to order more.
      In Italy- nothing!! I think we get the best of both worlds and although it is nice when we travel but maybe on a daily basis not so much.

      Reply
  • Lorelle
    August 7, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    I remember not being able to touch the fruit and vegs there, which I first thought was strange, as in Australia we too pick up, touch smell,etc 😉

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 7, 2018 at 6:16 pm

      Right? I still find it weird 😛

      Reply
  • Lynette d'Arty-Cross
    August 7, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    I used to live in Europe and what you’re describing is pretty common almost everywhere (except wardrobe differences). I enjoyed the August slowdown. 🙂

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 7, 2018 at 4:30 pm

      I am sure. But a lot of things are heightened for me because I’ve spent more time in Italy than anywhere else in Europe.

      Reply
  • Rara Avis
    August 7, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    As an Italian I have the opposite shocks when I moved to America… like why all that ice in my water 😱 and ewww people touching my vegetables?? But I love shopping in my pijiama and no one should judge other people 😽😽😽

    Reply
    • Italophilia
      August 7, 2018 at 4:04 pm

      Haha I can imagine it must have been strange to you 😀 Funny how the world is, no??

      Reply
      • Rara Avis
        August 7, 2018 at 6:32 pm

        I know! I have been to india (only rajistan) and to me they way you guys cross the streets or even cows in the street was really different 😊 but I loved india, so much beauty and also the food !!

        Reply
        • Italophilia
          August 7, 2018 at 6:35 pm

          Hahaha! I can imagine how big of a culture shock that is to anyone. Even to us at times it is strange but not unheard or unseen;) Thank you loving India. Rajasthan is really loved by all.

          Reply

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