Ciao from Cortina: The rules of Italy


When we were first planning our move to Italy four years ago, we didn’t do much research beforehand except to borrow a Rosetta Stone CD, which taught us how to say “the apple is on the table," a phrase I don’t believe either of us has ever used.


Courtesy Photo

Sophie Dingle

When we arrived, however, we found a set of rules completely different from what we were used to back home. While the Italian lifestyle and culture is much more laid back than in America, there are a few strict rules that people are expected to follow.

To begin with, never ask for a cup of coffee to go. There are absolutely no paper cups anywhere because you would never take your coffee anywhere with you. The only way to properly drink coffee is in a cafe or at home. If you’re in a hurry, you go into a cafe, stand at the bar and order an espresso, which you slam like you’re doing a tequila shot, put down a euro and get out of there.

It’s only acceptable to drink cappuccinos before noon. This rule is slightly flexible though; I’ve been with people — not Italians — who have ordered a cappuccino after dinner. While they do get a nasty look from the waiter, as far as I know, nothing bad actually happened to them. Really, an espresso is the more appropriate choice for after dinner, or, if you actually want to go to sleep within the next five hours, may I suggest a grappa, which will knock you out completely.

While you can only order cappuccinos before noon, you can only drink red wine after noon. White wine you can order at any time of the day. One morning, my husband, Ryan, walked down to the hockey rink to go to practice and found the equipment manager opening a bottle of white wine in his office. It was 10 in the morning. He explained to Ryan that he was going to have a panino and had to have a bit of wine to go with it. In Italy, it’s OK to drink wine in the morning — as long as it’s clear.

You should never toast with water; it’s bad luck. And you should never sit at the corner of the table if you’re squeezed in at a dinner party; rumor has it that if you’re in this spot, you will never get married (unless, of course, you never want to get married).

Aside from all the rules about coffee and wine, there also are the rules of the road. For example, there is no speed limit. Once, while driving with an Italian, Ryan asked what the road signs meant that had a seven and a zero with a slash through the middle of the two numbers.

“Oh,” replied our Italian friend, “It’s a suggestion for the speed limit. But you don’t have to obey it.”

If you hit a deer while driving, you get to keep the deer. And passing slower cars is strongly advised, even when there is no dotted line or if you’re rounding a sharp corner.

These probably are the most important things to know before you go — as well as how to order a glass of red wine: posso avere un bicchiere di vino rosso — as long as it’s after noon.

Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer living in Cortina, Italy, where her husband and Steamboat native, Ryan, plays professional ice hockey. While in Italy, she loves to eat, cook, explore and drink red wine. You can follow her adventures online at


rhys jones 2 years, 6 months ago

More Europe!! How did I miss this earlier?

I'm soaking this up like a sponge. I am SO THERE... if only in my dreams.

Thanks again, Sophie!!


Dan Kuechenmeister 2 years, 6 months ago

Sophie, As I recall stop signs are just suggestions as well. Keep posting, as it reminds us of our time in Val Gardena.


Sophie Dingle 2 years, 5 months ago

Dan - you're right about the stop signs. I was just in Gardena the other night for a hockey game. I had never been before - pretty quiet now at the end of October but I'm looking forward to going back in the winter.


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