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What was the strangest thing that happened to you as a foreigner in Italy?


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I'm curious to hear about the most peculiar or unexpected experiences you've had as a foreigner in Italy. Let's share and learn from each other's unique encounter
"Strange", "peculiar", "unexpected" - not really anything. As a tourist in a foreign country, you basically are aware that things will not be exactly like at home, and if you've done some research, you know what the main differences will be. Coming from a country that has similarities ("Western" "Mediterranean" etc.) also reduces the chances of "strange".
Maybe the custom that you don't choose your own fruits and vegetables at a market or small store, but it's the seller's job to do this - although I believe that I read about this beforehand. I have no problem with this - it's just that I've never encountered it before a trip to Italy.

"Surprised for better or for worse about Italy generally" - I might be able to say something about that. Don't know if that's what you meant, @Andrea_Stellato.
In terms of strange/unexpected:

1st trip: Seeing the then Italian prime minister (Andreotti) turn up in Ravello, where we were staying.
2nd trip: Watching a passenger in a police car attempting to escape the car whilst it was moving, with us having a front row seat of the event, sipping our drinks in Piazza Castello (Torino).

In terms of just 'different', loads of little things:
- the plethora of different payment processes at petrol stations, from early automation, to good old-fashioned places where the staff fill the tank for you
- Midday closing for ~ 4 hours. It's sensible for sure, and we've adapted to it over the years, but it did take a little getting used to. It however remains a minor frustration when out in the countryside with a car (in spring or autumn), as we're not so keen on driving in the dark, and that means we're often looking to head back not long after everything re-opens.
- bars/shops where you pre-pay. Whilst that was easily learnt, it seemed that there was a slow trend away from that, leaving a little confusion as to which system is in place.
- Validating tickets for buses/trains. I like the system, but it was one I'd not encountered in the UK.
- Large post offices. Ok it's not so different to the UK, but I love the ambience inside them, with fine architecture and high ceilings, a slightly arbitrary electronic system, beloved bureaucracy, and meanwhile life going on. I always looked forward to sending a parcel back to ourselves, and partly for this hidden pleasure
- Nibbles provided with drinks. As mentioned in the other thread, I've very much appreciated everything from simple crisps or nuts, to more substantial nibbles.
- Artisanal shops. Yes we still have some here in the UK, and are especially blessed with them in Norfolk/Norwich, but the volume and quality in Italy was a joy I latched onto quickly. I try to support them whenever I visit, and am rewarded with great quality, often no more expensive than packaged stuff in the supermarket.
- Hospitality. Ignore the tourist trail, as that's not the Italy I'm thinking of. Head somewhere where tourists are relatively rare visitors, and great Italian hospitality emerges, of people who feel happy you're visiting their town/village/city, and feel honoured to help / make you feel welcome.

Probably loads more I'll think of later. The learning of those differences is for me very much part of the journey, of understanding and adapting to the culture. :)
Very long ago, but a flight from NYC to Milan touched down and the entire plane had to wait to disembark while some fat guy with an incredibly dirty silk scarf (that looked as if it had been used as both a napkin and a handkerchief) was escorted off the plane and into a limousine pulled up to the ramp — my introduction to Luciano Pavarotti.
Our first trip to Italy (a quarter century ago) we arrived in Florence by train from Venice. We planned to rent a car and drive to Siena. Our map showed the Europcar office a short walk from the station. Navigating our way there using a paper map since consumer GPS didn't exist, we eventually found the address. It was a nondescript building near the Arno with no signage. As we approached, a couple of men came out the door. I asked if they knew were the rental office was. One man said he was with Europcar, was headed there now and could give us a lift. He and his partner, neither of whom had any company branded clothing, ushered us to their unmarked white van.

My wife and I looked at each other wondering how fast we could run down the street towing our roller bags. The man smiled at our hesitation and in broken English said, "Oh, you think we kidnap you!" He reassured us that it was all okay, showed us his car keys with a Europcar fob and put our bags in the back of the van. We shrugged our shoulders, threw caution to the wind and climbed aboard. Five minutes later we pulled up in front of the newly opened Europcar office. Our abductor stepped behind the counter, pulled our reservation and handed us the keys to our rental. He even gave us an upgrade to a Mercedes. It was one of our first encounters with Italian hospitality.
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Being mistaken for a local in Venice a few years ago.
I was stopped on my way across the Tre Archi bridge by an American couple asking me directions in halting Italian.
I knew enough to give them basic directions for a minute or two, then I put them out their misery and told them I was Canadian and spoke English.
The looks on their faces.
I don't particularly look Italian, but I was carrying a lot of groceries on my way to my apartment.
I went around the rest of the day feeling slightly thrilled at being mistaken for an Italian.
Being mistaken for a local in Venice a few years ago.
I was stopped on my way across the Tre Archi bridge by an American couple asking me directions in halting Italian.
I knew enough to give them basic directions for a minute or two, then I put them out their misery and told them I was Canadian and spoke English.
The looks on their faces.
I don't particularly look Italian, but I was carrying a lot of groceries on my way to my apartment.
I went around the rest of the day feeling slightly thrilled at being mistaken for an Italian.
Not quite the same, but your story reminded me of this comedy sketch
View: https://youtu.be/rxUm-2x-2dM?si=wmFE04V-w15InP6B
We got pulled over by the police, while on a gondola ride in Venice! It seems that my husband and I always have something interesting and unexpected happen every time we are in Italy!

One that stands out happened in 2005 in Venice. We were there with another couple, close friends, celebrating our 30th anniversaries. While staying at the Locanda Art Deco, a small hotel, the owner asked us if we would be interested in taking a Gondola ride with the 'hotel gondolier'. She told us the gondolier was a friend, a woman, and it was her first day working for the hotel. We eagerly said yes and were to be her second group out - ever!

She, Alex Hai, arrived, and introduced herself wearing an 1800's white gondolier costume. She had a bottle of prosecco on ice for us to share while on board. We were having a wonderful ride in many small and larger canals. She shared lots of information and answered questions on the sights we passed. Alex clearly knew how to row and maneuver the boat traffic. She also shared her struggles to become a licensed gondolier. Despite years of training, buying and caring for her own boat etc. each time she took the "test", though she believed she'd passed, she said she was failed by the men in charge. The male gondoliers did not want a woman among their ranks. Culture, tradition and sexism were behind her failures, not lack of knowledge or skill, she said.

Then, we looked up and there was a 'polizia' boat heading our way, lights and siren blaring. They were pulling us over! Lots of stern faces, serious talking, and accusations of driving without a proper license! And, hairy eyeballs at us as we snapped photos of the police proceedings. Alex called the owner of the hotel, who arrived with an attorney! More talk, binders of papers stating she was working for the hotel and could provide rides without the license. It went on and on. Finally the owner, lawyer joined us and we all rode to a tapas restaurant where they bought us wine and snacks. We sat and talked for a couple of hours! Certainly a memorable day!
I'm attaching a couple links to articles that give a little more information.

Then there was the 95 degree day 2012 that we were out on the Po River with my cousins in their boat. Suddenly fish (grey mullet) started flying out of the river and into the boat. They hit us, flopped onto and into the boat. There were dozens. I think we counted over 150! My cousin, who grew up on the Po, and has a boating business, had never had this happen! He called a friend in the restaurant business who wanted them. So, we cleaned them, put them in a huge bucket and the chef met us at the dock!!! One of the strangest and smelliest things that's ever happened to me, I think!!! Haha


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@Andrea_Stellato - I am a bit late to the tread and repeating my introduction post from a few months ago, but they were both related to the generosity and big hearts of the people we interacted with during our travels to Italy. They are as follows:

1) We had been to Rome of few times prior to this trip, but this trip, we decided to stay in Rome for 2+ weeks, in an apartment we found on Craigslist (those days are gone...). Anyway, the owners of the apartment recommended the local cafe named Cantiani. Well, as Ian mentioned above, we had not yet learned about the process, of having our coffee and Coronetti and *then* paying on the way out. As a result, on our first day, we caused a bit of an uproar with the Nonna at the register. We continued to go each and every day to the point where the Baristas started making our coffee and setting out our Coronetti as we walked in. On our last day, we told the Nonna it was our last day, and we were leaving and she came out from behind the counter with tears in her eyes and gave us a big hug!

2) Likewise, we would frequent the same bar in the Piazza della Rotunda each day for our
aperitivo and the wait staff would always save us a table and bring out our drinks and snacks without a word.

3) Finally, the same thing for the restaurant we went to a few times a week. Simone (wife of the chef who ran the front of the house) and Francesco (her brother) would always treat us like family and introduce us to all the neighbors and friends who came by for supper.

I am SO LOOKING forward to our trip to Piemonte in 10 days time. I just realized it has been 4 long years since we have been to Italy - too long!

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