Shopping Etiquette in Italy
My friend Federico owns a gorgeous menswear shop in Todi – Minciarelli. A witty, incredibly friendly guy, Federico is a true artist when it comes to selecting and especially displaying merchandise in his gallery-like store, which is just steps away from the imposing Romanesque church of San Fortunato. Like most Italian merchants, Federico takes pride in his product and is always eager to share his expertise with customers new and old. Federico has some serious pet peeves, though, and most of them involve foreigners who don’t seem to appreciate or understand Italian shopping etiquette. They’ll slip into his shop without even the slightest “Buongiorno” (“You would never do that in someone’s home, would you?” he asked) and proceed to….TOUCH THE CAREFULLY FOLDED AND STACKED merchandise!! Not only do they leave a mess, but touching with oily fingers often leaves spots on his fine cotton shirts. Sometimes, and this really drives him mad, shoppers will even dare to mess with his window displays, removing a belt here, some leather gloves placed just-so into the pocket of a wool jacket, never stopping to think that this fashionable composition took hours to create. L’arte della vetrina (the art of the shop window) is a highly respected art here in Italy. Italians will usually window shop for weeks before deciding to enter a shop and see the item up close. For kicks sometimes, he likes to sneak up on shoppers who try to slip out of the store without acknowledging him and say in a loud, cheerful voice “ARRIVEDERCI! GRAZIE!!!!”
I promised Federico that I’d help him out by sharing a few Italian shopping etiquette rules with my Italian students and fellow travelers.
DOs and DON’Ts of Shopping in Italy:
- DO greet the store owner or commesso/a (salesperson) as soon as you enter the shop. In the morning, a simple Buongiorno will do. After 4pm, try Buonasera and you can always add a title such as “signora” (mam) or “signore” (sir) if you want to get fancy. Even if you don’t see the merchant (perhaps they’re in the back or in another room), you should still let them know you’ve entered – a good excuse to enunciate your Italian even more! (if you don’t feel comfortable in Italian, a greeting in your native language will be better than nothing!).
- DO ask for help if you’d like to see a particular item or search for a particular size. They will be glad to help and will be much more familiar with Italian sizing and the particular cuts of the labels they sell. In Italian, you can ask Posso vedere? (may I see?) and simply indicate the item of interest.
- DO feel comfortable browsing (Posso guardare? May I look? or Guardando solo, grazie. Just looking, thank you), trying things on (Posso provare? May I try?) and, of course, asking for the price (Quant’e’? or Quanto costa?).
- DO understand that Italy is still a cash-based culture and many prefer to pagare in contanti (pay in cash), but for high-ticket items (like clothing) it is fine to pagare con una carta di credito (pay with a credit card).
- DON’T touch the merchandise without asking!
- DON’T forget to say goodbye and thank you when you leave: Arrivederci, grazie. or Buongiorno, grazie will be just…perfetto!
- DON’T expect to return merchandise beyond 2 weeks. In general, Italians rarely return or exchange items purchased, as that is considered poor etiquette (an insult to the merchant!).
- DON’T try to bargain with shopkeepers. Save your bargaining for open air markets and sidewalk vendors.
- DO enjoy the excellent service provided by most merchants in Italy!