11 Apr 2012

Being invited is usually a good thing, except when it is not. There are a few “invitations” that you might not want to accept when traveling in Italy. And one invitation you should definitely accept!

When saying “no” might be a good idea

Being invited is usually a good thing, except when it is not. There are a few “invitations” that you might not want to accept when traveling in Italy.

The waiter made it sound inviting…

In the most touristy areas, you will notice waiters outside bars and restaurants inviting people in. Sometimes they make a nice remark on your look, on the weather, on the sight you are going to see, other times they simply wave a menu or the picture of a dish at you. Occasionally, they even put on a strong local accent to sound more “authentic”. The sole purpose of their big smile though is generally to attract you inside their usually overpriced, overtouristy restaurant.

It is almost never a good idea to stop at one of those places, not even if the view is good and “the gentleman seemed so nice”, as we have been told by way too many regretful guests. They are often poor quality food factories, with high prices, exclusively geared towards the foreign market.

My recommendation is to avoid places which hire someone to lure you in, especially if:

  • they have pictures of the food on their menus
  • they have an all English menu with no Italian version available
  • they serve pizza at lunchtime (no Italian would ever consider having a full-on pizza at lunchtime, unless it’s a square of pizza you can buy on the run in a little take away place or in a bakery)
  • you cannot see any local people eating there
  • they serve lunch at 11am or dinner at 5pm (we eat at 12pm or 7pm at the earliest)

There might be exceptions to my “rule”, but I don’t know of any.

I thought it was for a good cause…

It is not uncommon to be stopped by people claiming to be collecting funds for some good cause – be that to help people just out of rehab or associations assisting ill people. Many of these collections are real and authorized, but many are not.

If you are not sure the person in front of you has a permit and the cause is real, do not stop. Be determined in saying “no thank you”.

It looked real… It looked like he or she needed my help…

You will meet a large number of street vendors trying to sell you all sort of things, ranging from a packet of Kleenex to a fake Rolex, from African artifacts to fake Gucci purses, from a supposedly blessed icon to a partially used parking permit. They will come to you in the parking lots, at the ticket machines in the stations, at the bus stop, and even in bars and shops.

Never buy fake big brand products because it is absolutely illegal and you risk getting a serious fine at minimum, and you might even be facing some serious charges. “Golden” or “silver” jewels are either stolen or fake, and so are cellphones.

Street Vendors in Florence

(Photo by fondelli.nadia)

Buying a cigarette lighter or a bracelet might be less harmful, still if you have already had your share of begging for the day, just firmly say no thank you. If they come to your table at the bar or restaurant just say no thank you and continue your conversation or activities as if they were not there, even if they are still talking to you or waving stuff at you. If you try to reject their offers by politely answering their questions, they will not give up until you have bought something. Never be rude, but always be clear that you are not interested: it’s the only way.


(Photo by nbdh)

Some of the street vendors hang around the parking lots. They “help” you park by showing you empty spots. If they really were helpful you can give them a coin, but don’t give anything if all they did was beg while waiting for you to get out of the car. Others will come to you when you are ready to leave, to see if you have some time left on your prepaid parking ticket so that they can resell it. If you want, you can give your ticket to them. Of course you might be approached with a partially used ticket. If you think there is enough time on it, you can buy it from them, although this is a debatable practice. Some will offer the ticket at a discounted price.

Never give in to gypsies. They will come to you with children or offering to read your hand. Avoid them altogether as they are likely trying to steal something for you at the same time.


(Photo by Luca Biada)

Lock your car door at traffic lights where there are beggars, be they just there asking for money or offering to wash your windshield. Make sure you don’t have purses or wallets on the passenger seat and the windows down: they are quick and clever. I usually stop far enough from the car in front of me that I can move forward when they reach my window.

And here’s an invitation you should accept!

It’s hard to believe, but next month we’ll celebrate our first anniversary of the Italy Roundtable. Alexandra, Jessica, Melanie, Rebecca and I have enjoyed tackling a new topic each month, and we’ve especially enjoyed hearing from readers. In fact, we were so pleased with how our last invitation went for bloggers to join us at the Roundtable that we thought we’d extend another! This month, not only is the Italy Roundtable topic invitations, we’re inviting anyone who wants to participate to blog about one of the past year’s Roundtable topics.

As we’re preparing for our one-year anniversary, we’d like you to pull up a chair (so to speak)! We invite you to choose one of the topics we’ve blogged about in the past year and write a post about it. We’ll highlight some of our favorites in our own Roundtable posts next month. Here’s a list of the topics we’ve covered so far – and remember, you can be as creative with your interpretation of it as you like! (We sure are…)

May 2011: Why I Write About Italy
June 2011: Driving
July 2011: Favorite Art in Italy
August 2011: vacation month, just like the Italians!
September 2011: School
October 2011: Autumn
November 2011: Comfort Food
December 2011: Gifts
January 2012: Crafts
February 2012: The Elements
March 2012: Roots
April 2012: Invitations (the post you’re reading now!)

Link to our five blogs in your post (ArtTrav, At Home in Tuscany, Brigolante, Italofile, and WhyGo Italy), and be sure to send one of us a link to your blog post or tag it with #ItalyRoundtable on Twitter so we can find it. Your deadline is May 1.

Have fun and we look forward to reading your contributions!

Italy Blogging Roundtable

italy travel blog roundtableThis is the eleventh post in a monthly series called The Italy Blogging Roundtable. Here you can find the posts of the other bloggers who participate in the roundtable. Our topic this month was “invitations“:

Alexandra (Arttrav) – Italian wedding invitations and customs

Jessica (Why Go Italy) – The Power of an Invitation

Melanie (Italofile) – Milan Invites Visitors to Discover the Art of Nobel Winner Dario Fo

Rebecca (Brigolante) – An Invitation


  1. Some good warnings… I think those of us who live here forget that these are things travelers often don’t yet know!

  2. Thanks Gloria! Great advice! will repost on Studentessa Matta page. and of course I am happy to accept your invitation to guest blog! Grazie! Sei molto gentile! a presto!

    • Looking forward to your post pretty lady!

  3. Hi Gloria
    I read your post with interest, especially the bit about restaurants preying on tourists. The last time I was in Italy, my dining restaurant was not the best but next time I will be a lot wiser; shall find areas in a city away from the tourist traps. I have a friend who spews invective whenever the topic of eateries in Italy comes up. He reckons he has been ripped off on many occasions and reckons the service is awful. He’s a very well traveled person and knowledgeable, so I’ve not dismissed his views.

    • About service: I think that might be a cultural misunderstanding. In Italy nobody comes to you unless you call the waiter because they don’t want to bother you. You also have to ask for the bill.

  4. jgk

    Great post. I will forward it to friends who are preparing for their first trip to Italy.

  5. It’s always so hard to strike the balance between kind and gullible, determined and hard-hearted. And, in this tough economy when there seem to be more people asking for spare change every day, it’s starting to become heartbreaking.

    • It depends on how many times a meter you get stopped Rebecca. In Pisa it is really unbelievable. That helps becoming determined. That, and the cost of living…


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