Culture, Italian language, Life in Italy

Interesting differences about Italian culture

I’ve been scribbling down little differences that I notice everyday when I’m teaching at the school or driving around, interacting with this culture. Differences vary from formatting in writing, capitalization, short-hand, as well as the way you pay for a drink, the material of napkins, and the realm of toilet paper. Let’s get started.


You would never imagine that the smallest things you know are so unfamiliar to everyone else. Math is supposed to be universal right? In Italy the format is different. The plus sign and equal signs are in different places, the colon means division, not ratio. I learned this while teaching a class of 7 years olds believe it or not! We were doing math problems to practice saying numbers and they kept saying “Mrs.Jessica, why do you put the signs there? They don’t go there.” Here is a pic:


That is a little difference, but there is a bigger difference with short-hand in Italy for things that I thought were universal. “International” short hand such as # means number, & means and (the written version that looks like a 3 with a line through it) I thought were good for all. Apparently they don’t use those but have their own version. They also don’t understand a written 7 without a slash through it.   

When grading a test their system is to add points correct instead of take away points you miss. One time I had each student grade the others’ test and taught them the system “write minus one for each missed question, add the missed questions up, and write the total missed at the top of the front page. Then calculate the percentage” This caused much confusion to my class of adults. As well as the fact that a missed question is seen with an X over it, not a check. What I learned from that day was to just grade them myself.


Capitalization is different depending on the language, who knew! The list as far as I’ve learned is that in Italian you do not capitalize these items:



days of the week

I or I’m

Going out for a drink

In the States you can choose to pay out or run a tab when you order a drink. In Italy, you always pay out, there is no tab, you do not leave your credit card, you do not pass go and collect $200. This is still confusing to me when I have a drink. In fact, not only do you have to pay up immediately, but you have to pre-pay at the register and then go to the bartender with your receipt. Another thing about drinks that I learned quickly is that shots are an American thing. They don’t do shots in Italy the way we do. Shots in Italy are just the basic one surreal shot of liquor, nothing fru fru. We on the other hand have the jolly rancher, popsicle, 4 horsemen, rumple minze..etc. When I first asked for a shot menu or a just one of the many the bartender looked at me like I was crazy and said “We have Baileys”-in Italian of course. I gave a big sigh when I learned this.

Paper problems

In Italy, paper napkins are rough, not cotton-ish. They are almost like parchment paper that soak up oil from your hands. Maybe that is a bad comparison, but it’s a paper that is designed to soak up oil from all the pastries and pizzas. It works great actually, and now I’m used to it. It just may be a shock to some when they first grab a napkin to wipe their face. 

Everyone who has been to Italy knows the toilet paper problem. The problem is there is none-more often than not. So what is the solution that Italian girls have come up with? What I’ve noticed is that all my Italian girlfriends carry around portable tissues in their purse, problem solved. So, the lesson is if you ever travel to Italy make sure to always have on hand tissues! It is a life saver. I should also mention to do a few squats a day in order to get prepared as well b/c many toilets don’t have seats! I think I have strong legs now.

I know these subjects were all pretty random, but that’s the way life is when you’re introduced to new things. There is no order, there are no rules. Have you noticed any unimaginative differences between the Italian and American culture? 


5 thoughts on “Interesting differences about Italian culture”

  1. I’m a Brazilian-Italian living in the US. My husband is American. I’m so happy I found your blog! I dream of one day living in Italy. Can’t to wait to read more about your life there. 🙂 Ligia

  2. I was on a train in Italy and a young boy went to 4 women sitting together and asked for a tissue, they all pulled the little pack out of their purses!

    This past February I had a VERY bad cold and went to the supermarket to buy a great big box of tissues. They didn’t have any boxes! Just A LOT of little packs! I went through about 15 of them.

  3. Lol I understand the toilet paper problem, I had the same experience with the bathroom paper and also the lights in the public bathrooms. I found my self in the dark often.
    If you been to Italy you would know lights turn on and off, as you enter or exit a bathroom.

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