5 Easy Ways to Not Look Like a Tourist in Rome
Blending. It's all about blending. When you're traveling to a new city, let's face it -- you're a tourist. If you're exploring sights and restaurants, regardless of how off-the-beaten-path they might be, and regardless of how well-traveled you are, you're still a fish out of water. Sometimes, your status is obvious to the locals, while other times, you glide through a city unnoticed.
In Rome, chances are, you will be surrounded by hordes of tourists from across the globe. Some are subtle travelers, while others leave their mark in an unsavory fashion. Insisting on speaking to Italians only in English? Wearing sandals with socks? Gulping cappuccinos after dinner? Yup. Those are tourists.
Rome is one of the most exquisite cities in the world. Even if you've traveled there a dozen times, you'll still want to see the major sights -- and you should. But there are a handful of easy ways to not look quite so touristy; to blend in a bit more and show respect for local culture. Plus, pay attention and you'll discover a handful of insider hangouts that even Romans love to visit.
Even the least language-savvy traveler has the ability to learn a few simple phrases in the local language. For starters: Please (per favore), thank you (grazie), and do you speak English? (parli Inglese?). Don't assume that everyone you meet in Rome speaks English; ask them if they do before busting out in your native tongue. Your efforts will be truly appreciated.
Pay Before Ordering at a Bar (Which Isn't Really a Bar)
First things first: you will see "Bar" signs left and right around Rome, and may find yourself thinking, "Wow, these Romans sure do like to drink." Think again.
A bar in Italy isn't a "bar" as we know it to be. This explains why so many travelers stand around looking utterly flummoxed inside them.
In Italy, a bar is more like a cafeteria or a cafe, where you can order basic food, coffees, and drinks at a counter (or bar). It's certainly not a place Italians go to throw back booze and party.
Once you've established that, and do want to pop into a bar to order an espresso or a cornetto (croissant), here's how things work. First, head to the cash register, and place your order. You'll pay for your food and drink, then receive a receipt. Next, hand this receipt to the person behind the counter and you'll be given your order.
To Tip, or Not to Tip at Restaurants?
This is one of the great eternal debates for visitors to the Eternal City. Tipping is not at all required in Italy. Servers are paid a living wage, and many restaurants include "coperto" (cover charge) on the bill, which often covers service. While it's good form to leave some change for excellent service and at very high-end restaurants, it isn't required.
Of course, many servers in touristy areas have gotten used to American travelers leaving generous tips and have come to expect it. In fact, you'll see some servers tell you that service isn't included on the bill. This in no way requires you to leave a 10 to 20 percent tip.
Drink Cappuccinos…at Breakfast
For locals, breakfast in Italy often consists of a small pastry and a cappuccino. America's favorite Italian coffee drink should always be consumed in the mornings -- it's practically a culinary faux pas to order one after 11 a.m. Come afternoon, switch to espressos, or a caffe Americano.
Learn Public Transportation Basics
If you're able to cruise around Rome in taxis, god speed. But many travelers are on a budget and will prefer to take the subway or buses. This can lead to a lot of confusion for first-time visitors.
Rather than trying to figure out bus schedules on your own, turn to Google Maps; it's a savior for mapping bus and subway routes to and from destinations. If you do take the bus, you must buy your tickets in advance at tabacchi shops, or vending machines at metro stations and bus stops. Once you board the bus, you must validate your ticket by stamping it in the machine on board.