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Understanding Italian Culture | Handling Money, Shopping, Computers and Staying in Line

waiting in line in Italy


Italians love correct or almost correct change.  You know that old lady at the grocery store digging through her coin purse while everyone behind her rolls their eyes?  She is everywhere in Italy and they love her.  Although they are used to us Americans slapping down a 20 Euro note (or *gasp* a 50) for bottled water, I try to get as close to exact as possible.  ATM’s seem to be out to sabotage your best efforts and tend to only give out the largest bills possible, so you can’t help but have to break a larger bill at times.  Just try not to do it first thing in the morning and be prepared for some heavy sighing.  I have once been denied the transaction.

Italians also don’t hand over the money directly as we do.  You will find at every counter a little dish or tray next to the register.  This is where you should set your money down and where they will put your change.  Do not try to hand them the cash.


Italians shop with intention.  If they walk into the store, they are ready to buy.  Just watch how the women window shop, it is not with a casual interest.  The window displays are set up with great care to show off the merchandise and many are changed almost daily.  If you walk into a store (except the obvious tourist shops) the clerks are expecting you to buy.  Of course you don’t have to, but don’t be shocked if they are a little snuffy with you when you don’t.  Instead of being turned off by this, relish it because you become the center of attention in the shop when you are ready to purchase something.  You will have all the shopkeepers fussing over you while they ignore the meandering tourist.  I have a favorite handbag store that I spend quite a bit of time in each visit, even though I usually know exactly which purse I am going to buy at the very beginning.  I enjoy the whole experience and never rush through it.


Should you have to wait in line for anything, be prepared to defend your position with your life and be wary of the side-cutter.  You will be able to pick out all the American and British tourists immediately; they will be the only ones standing in a straight and orderly line.  You will have to let go of your manners in this situation and be assertive.  Look for an opening and take it, if you don’t someone else always will. Make sure you have good eye contact and you are ready with your order/request.  On a visit to Rome, I spent 45 minutes standing in a line for train tickets with someone breathing down my neck…literally.  Every time they would try to sneak up to the side of me they got the elbow.  Not the most comfortable situation, but I stood my ground and felt victorious when I managed to block every attempt thrown at me.  Now, don’t get me started about those sweet old ladies you see around town because they are lethal in the market stalls.


Americans always get stumped when it comes to finding the @ sign.  On an Italian keyboard it is found by pushing the Alt and the key just to the left of the Enter button (this key will have 3 different symbols on it).

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Copyright 2012   Andi Brown,  Once in a Lifetime Travel

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great article today! Our daughter will be joining me in Assisi, but coming from Virginia to Rome by herself. Then will take the train, so she’s very stoked to read your tips, as are the other ladies coming. Many thanks,

    March 7, 2012
  2. As I read your article I nod my head in agreement. I had read about the correct change obsession before going to Italy and did the best to make it easy but was still surprised when in Milan we couldn’t provide the 15 cents in change but instead had one extra euro. Rather than give us the 85 cents difference in change they dropped the 15 cents and made us feel as though we were ripping them off. The queue thing I had experienced on a previous visit so I knew what to expect, but I’m not terribly assertive so was frequently ‘pushed’ aside when it came to paying for parking or buying museum tickets.

    March 7, 2012
  3. Caroline #

    Studying in Italy this summer — the change thing is crazy! The problem is, we get 20 Euro marks from the ATM and then the grocery store won’t break them for us, even if we buy 14 Euro worth of food, haha.

    July 5, 2012
  4. We just came back from Italy as part of our honeymoon, and even though it was my 4th time there, I just had to find out why they wouldn’t touch my money. Thanks for the explanation. The little money dishes confounded us, as did the prices on everything in the windows. We also had to fight epically in lines against squat women who used their hips like battering rams. The change this was just annoying. I consider it a merchant’s job to have change if they want to make a transaction happen. Call me American.

    March 22, 2013
  5. Thanks for a good article.

    September 18, 2013

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