Italy Roundtable: What bugs you about Italy?


When I first sat down to think about this month’s Italy Roundtable theme, BUGS, I immediately thought I’d write something about mosquitoes.

Not because I have any fondness for them, mind you – just because I adore the Italian word*.

But then I went down a weird little side street in my brain (what, don’t you have those?), from bugs being literal bugs to bugs being something bothersome.

So here we are.

And, what the hell, I’ve thrown in some pictures of bugs, too.

As much as we might love something, there are inevitably things that bother us about it. They may start out as little things, manageable things, things you might even think are charming at first… But when you’re tired or hungry or frustrated those small infractions get amplified.

Yes, even Italy can drive you nuts sometimes.

I recently asked the question in a couple Facebook forums, “What bugs you about Italy?” I find that often the things that bother us about another country or culture are things that can be mitigated with a little context or understanding. So I’ve chosen a few of the replies I received to highlight here and – I hope – turn frustrations into lessons that may help you avoid the same fate.

Before I dive in, however, I want to make something clear: The intention of this article is not to start some diatribe on all the ways Italy sucks. I welcome comments on this article. If you’ve got something that bothered/bothers you about Italy, please leave a note – and if you’ve got a solution, something you did to remedy the situation, even better. Just keep it kind, okay? We all need a little more kindness.

So… What bugs you about Italy?

bug || creative commons photo by Steve Bremer

bug || creative commons photo by Steve Bremer

“Always eating the same nationality of food. I love Italian food, it’s probably my favorite but it gets boring to eat it every day.”

– Kerstin,

Even though you may have already read my article declaring that there’s really no such thing as Italian food, and even knowing that each region has its own list of specialties, Kerstin’s right – there isn’t the same culinary diversity in Italy as you’ll find in an extremely multi-cultural city like London or New York.

Here are a few tips for when you need a break, so your first though when looking at a menu in Italy isn’t a resigned, “Oh, great, more pasta.”

  • Eat the regional dishes when you can. Find out what’s not only regional but seasonal, and order that (especially when it’s not a pasta!).
  • Ignore the first course. Skip the section of the menu that’s almost always going to be full of pasta (and, sometimes, risotto) and check out the second course (meat or fish, usually) for a change of pace.
  • Make a meal of appetizers. In some cities, visiting a few aperitivo bars is filling enough to be dinner. In other cases, filling the table with smaller plates or side dishes (veggies, cured meats, salads and the like) can make a meal. The latter is often more fun when shared.
  • Go for a picnic. Hit the local outdoor food market and grab whatever looks delicious.
  • Take advantage of any foreign restaurants you find. When all else fails, hit the Chinese restaurants or kebab take-away places in the bigger cities.
ladybug || creative commons photo by Pierrick

ladybug || creative commons photo by Pierrick

“How rigid the food culture is. Certain foods at certain times of the day means sometimes as a traveler you go hungry. We were wandering around starving one day and a cafe had a full display of bruschetta. Looked delicious and I just wanted something small. The woman would not sell me any because it was for apertivo.”

– Ali,

I have made the mistake of boarding a train at 11am with no food (and a 2-3 hour train trip ahead of me) more times than I can count. The end result is that I arrive in a new city famished, often well past Italy’s traditional lunch hour, leaving me with very few options other than fast food.

This is not a fun feeling.

Italy seems to relish making travelers adjust to its idiosyncrasies. As much as the country has taught me to relax and go with the flow, I find that works best if you’ve got some decent plans in place to start. In this case, that means eating when the Italians eat.

Maybe you typically eat a big breakfast. Italians don’t, so you’ll need to have a stash of snacks or fruit at the ready to keep you going long after your cornetto and tiny coffee have worn off (outdoor food markets are your friends for grabbing snack-y supplies). That should help you last until 1pm or so, when the Italians have lunch.

And don’t just have a snack-sized lunch, either. Even if you don’t normally eat big meals, remember that you’re being a lot more active when you’re traveling than you usually are at home. You’re walking everywhere, and you’re on the go all day long, rather than sitting behind a desk. So pack in those calories, folks! A bigger lunch can help you make it until aperitivo, which bridges the (admittedly brief) gap until dinner.

bug || creative commons photo by allen watkin

bug || creative commons photo by allen watkin

“Bureaucracy. Sometimes it’s heavily applied and followed, and sometimes when you’re ready for it, it’s completely ignored. Annoying in both cases, and across the board, Italy makes it very difficult to self-inform/gather information.”

– Sara,

Sara actually went on to provide her own little advice tidbit: “Never accept the first answer you get, unless it’s one you want.”

Mom doesn’t let you have dessert, so go ask Dad – we’ve all played that game.

Much of the bureaucratic nightmare that is Italy goes unseen by visitors. You won’t encounter lines at the post office to pay utility bills unless you live there. Sure, you’ll notice trash cans overflowing when the garbage company is on strike, but it’s a temporary annoyance – you move on in a few days.

But travelers can encounter difficulties in the bureaucracy department if they don’t speak or understand much Italian. Ask a question at one train station ticket window, get a half-answer (or brushed off), then find another employee to ask. And another, if you need to.

I think it’s important to be firm but stay polite, as frustrating as that can be. Learn your polite Italian words and sprinkle them liberally throughout any requests you’re making. It can absolutely help. And, of course, be prepared for the answer you don’t want being the final answer. We can’t always get our way.

stop bugging me || creative commons photo by dusk-photography

stop bugging me || creative commons photo by dusk-photography

“Restaurant bathrooms in Italy are almost always disgusting.”

– Johanna,

I was blessed with a huge bladder. (I’m great on road trips, y’all.) Not everyone gets to be as picky about their toilets as I can be, though, so if you’re someone who needs to use the loo frequently you may face some (ahem) unsightly lavatories in Italy.

You might find a room half the size of a cramped shower stall, a toilet with no seat, or a hole in the floor (affectionately known as a “squatty potty” by many). No matter the style of commode, you should consider yourself extremely fortunate if you find an adequate supply of toilet paper. Here are a few ways to keep the Italian public toilet experience from scarring you for life:

  • Always carry a packet of tissues with you (and, if you’ve got room in your bag, a packet of wet wipes). Replenish as needed. (Italian grocery stores sell travel-sized tissue envelopes in packs of 10 or so. Stock up at the start of a trip.) Having some hand sanitizer is a good idea, too, if the washing-up area is lacking.
  • Always scope out the bathroom options, whether you’ve gotta go or not. When you stop for coffee or a meal or you’re in a museum or gallery, find the bathroom. If it’s decent, take advantage of that just before you leave. If not, well – then you’ve got to consider your options. Remember that you won’t be able to use the toilet in a coffee shop or restaurant unless you buy something, so you may need to buy a coffee just to get a peek at the bathroom.
  • Take advantage of visiting a new or newly-renovated museum to use the bathroom. One of the finest lavs I saw the last time I was in Italy was in Florence’s recently-reopened Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. They’d not only renovated the museum spaces, they’d done an overhaul on the toilets, too. It was a thing of beauty.
  • Keep small change on hand – one or two euro coins included – for toilets with an entry fee (often in train stations). And before you scoff at paying to pee, you should know that these are often the cleaner options, since those coins help pay someone to actually keep them tidy.
  • Head for McDonalds or Burger King. These places don’t always get on your case about buying something in order to use the facilities, and they’re usually fairly clean. They still don’t regularly have toilet paper, though.
  • Stay somewhere central. If your hotel or apartment is centrally-located enough, you can make the occasional pit-stop easily in between museums.

As an (unrelated) aside, Johanna’s other gripe was that she “can’t possibly understand how Italian women can walk on all those cobblestone streets in their high heels.” I so wish I could help with that one, but sadly I’m as befuddled about that as you are, Johanna.

What bugs you?

I got so many great replies to my initial questions that I’ve had to choose only a few here – which means there will be more of these articles in the future! Which also means that if you’d like to chime in on what bugs you about Italy, I might just feature it in a future article. Just remember to keep it kind, y’all.

Leave a comment below with something that bugs you about Italy, or you can email me if you like.

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

I’m really curious what bugs my cohorts are talking about this month… Click along with me through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

Are we connected?

Have you LIKED us on Facebook? Are you following us on Twitter? Please drop by and say hello, we’re quite friendly. And we’re always taking suggestions on future topics for the Italy Blogging Roundtable! Drop us a note on Facebook or Twitter, or leave a comment on one of our posts.


* It’s zanzara, by the way. That’s mosquito in Italian. Zanzare, if you’re talking about a swarm. Now doesn’t that feel great to say?

21 responses to “Italy Roundtable: What bugs you about Italy?”

  1. Entertaining read, but I was very surprised to see the first “bug” on the list as becoming tired of eating Italian food. That is something I don’t think I could ever tire of. However, as you say, the schedule is something that can be very difficult to get used to. We have to plan ahead for something that comes perfectly natural to an Italian. The bureaucracy speaks for itself, but I’d like to add that it’s best not to stock up on all your tissue needs before you leave home. The tissue packets in Italy are so much thicker than the American variety. They are sort of the consistency of dressy paper napkins, which is great for the many purposes they come in handy for!

  2. Love this line “Italy seems to relish making travelers adjust to its idiosyncrasies.” In oh-so-many ways, Jessica.

  3. Great list and helpful responses! The other night my husband asked what would make me happy to have for dinner and my answer was, “Not Italian.” I really love the local cooking here, but just every once in awhile I just want Thai or Indian – without having to order spices online, grow my own herbs like cilantro and make it myself. 🙂 I think it’s a bit easier in larger cities, but on the Amalfi Coast there aren’t any other options.

    • There’s no cilantro in Roma, either. We lapped up non-Italian food in London, Paris and Switzerland!

      • You can find cilantro pretty easily at some of the markets in Rome now, especially Mercato Trionfale – there are at least 3 stalls right near the entrance selling cilantro and other Thai/Philippine food. Keep an eye out for it!

        Jess, thanks for including me!

    • Jessica says:

      I remember once trying out a new Mexican restaurant in Milan, just because I needed a change. It was, umm, nothing like Mexican food, but it was still a break from Italian! 😀

  4. Gabe Rossetti says:

    Having travelled to Italy many times over the past 20 years I am bugged by the constant barrage of someone sticking a selfie stick in my path in an attempt to have me buy it, or throwing those whirly things into the air, or shining those small disco balls against the wall or projecting them in my eyes…… has ruined the experience in San Marco Piazza, near the Pantheon and Piazza Navonna, and around many other main tourist squares. I realize everyone needs to make a living, however I would hope that the local authorities could do something about it…………

  5. lee says:

    I spend 3 or more months a year Home to Italy so ‘things’ interest me………once I slow down my pace I mostly enjoy every day in Italy.

    but often I can NOT FIND THE ANSWERS to questions.

    I need to know who has the right of way on a narrow sidewalk when Italians insist on walking 2 or more across?

    have been told baby carriages come first and of course the handicapped but what do you do when there is a constant flow of casual walkers hogging the sidewalk?

    thought there was a universal rule of stepping aside……….

    • Lee, You hit on the one thing that really irks me in Rome (especially) and that is the inability of people to keep to the right! When 5 kids are marching toward us (a senior couple) on the sidewalk, why do they not move over at all? Why does a person walking alone walk down the middle of the sidewalk so you can not pass easily? Why do Romans congregate in the middle of the walk to have a conversation and make everyone veer around them instead of moving aside as we were taught in the U.S?

      • lee says:

        After living in Sorrento for 3 months i had an opportunity to watch the ‘sidewalk’ policy.
        they closed the main street most nights for the community to walk and mingle, one the BEST parts of living there.
        Perhaps in a larger city the sidewalk serves the same as a square or a piazza…………..i am thrilled they still ‘talk’ to each other but what i have come to realize there is NO peripheral vision in Italy and some of my contacts there may agree. they just don’t look to the sides or even feel that someone is walking behind them….. most interesting

        where i did NOT find this was Lecce in Puglia, but many more streets are mostly pedestrian

      • Jessica says:

        This remains one of the mysteries of Italy to me. For a long time, I thought I had it – for no reason I could determine, Italians moved to the left rather than the right on sidewalks (usually it’s the same on sidewalks as on the streets for cars). That “rule” seemed to apply to most situations, barring the flat-out rude ones of those groups of kids who won’t move for anyone. But now I think there is no rule. I would dearly love to know if there’s any sort of etiquette taught about this in Italy at all, or if it’s really the free-for-all it appears. 😉

        • A friend of mine who was raised 1/2 in Palermo and 1/2 in New York City said that in Italy they were never taught “keep right except to pass” and they never formed lines in school.In NY, both were expected. Explains a lot. I think it is about 60% veer left when walking, if they veer at all. Worse in Rome than elsewhere.

          • lee says:

            good explanation! a woman i know in Florence yelled at me when i kept asking about all the differences ‘If you don’t like Italy, why do you come so often?’
            that is 1/2 the reason, because it is not the same as here

        • lee says:

          I shall have to watch for ‘move left’ in rome in oct………..that may be the answer, i am doing it backwards

  6. Fox Emerson says:

    Actually, the biggest bug for me is in fact zanzare (mosquitoes) which I thought this article was going to be about!

    Everything else seems to be covered mostly in the comments section. No peripheral vision on sidewalks sometimes drives me buts.

    Beauracracy in Italy is on another plane. You either accept that things are done (or not done at all) or you end up frustrated.

    Emails do not get answered.

    I signed up to WIND mobile to try a simm out for a month at €19. For 6 months, no matter how many times I called, emailed, went to the post office and paid 5.50 each time to they would cancel it, I was charged €100 a month.
    In the end I had to close that bank account and I’ve given up on trying to get my money back. I’ve still never had a response from WIND.
    When the ticket machine at italo didn’t give me an actual ticket I was told to email the office. Needless to say, its been months and none of my emails were answered.

    I once emailed the Florence Comune about an issue and never had a response.

    As long as I don’t have to do anything administrative or important, I love living in Italy.

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