Country Facts

Major holidays and celebrations

  • Festa della Liberazione (Liberation Day) – April 25th 
  • Festa del Lavoro referred to colloquially as ‘primo maggio’ (Labour Day) – May 1st
  • Ferragosto (Assumption Day) 15th August

Italian celebrities you should know

  • Valentino Rossi, multiple MotoGP World Champion
  • Elena Ferrante, Novelist
  • Francesco Totti, ex-footballer
  • Inspector Montalbano, fictitious Sicilian detective in TV drama Il Commissario Montalbano
  • Laura Pausini, singer-songwriter

Historical figures

  • Marco Polo, (1254-1324) Venetian merchant traveller
  • Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus), (1451-1506)  Explorer
  • Leonardo Da Vinci, (1452-1519) Polymath (sculptor, inventor & mathematician)
  • Niccolò Machiavelli, (1469-1527) Renaissance historian, politician & philosopher
  • Galileo Galilei, (1564-1642) Polymath (astronomer, physicist, engineer, mathematician & philosopher)
  • Maria Montessori, (1870-1952) inventor & educationalist
  • Enzo Ferrari, (1898-1988) racing driver and entrepreneur
  • Rita Levi-Montalcini, (1909-2012) neurobiologist and Nobel Laureate
  • Federico Fellini, (1920-1993) Film director
  • Giovanni Agnelli, (1921-2003) industrialist and founder of Fiat
  • Dario Fò, (1926-2016) actor, comedian & left-wing political activist
  • Giovanni Falcone (1939-1992) & Paolo Borsellino, (1940-1992) anti-mafia judges and prosecuting magistrates in ‘Mani Pulite’
  • Silvio Berlusconi, (born 1936) business entrepreneur and ex-prime minister

Food taboos and favourites

Since Italians know that their food is the best in the world there is a tendency towards the suspicious when confronted with foreign foods. They are often willing to try new dishes but Italians might not be willing to adopt new cuisines into their own kitchens. As a foreign visitor to Italy you might be shocked to find that spaghetti Bolognese doesn’t exist but ‘ragù’ is actually the name of the meat based sauce for pasta. ‘Peperoni’ is actually red pepper not spicy salami and NEVER ask for pineapple on your pizza. You might be grossed out by the idea of the Italian New Year speciality called ‘zampone’ a flavoured pork meat stuffed into a pig trotter or its closely related culinary cousin the ‘cotechino’ but don’t be afraid to try them. Apart from that, you’re good to go in Italy.

Key words and national identity

  • Apericena a cross between aperitif and dinner
  • Menefregista ‘Non me ne frega’ means I don’t care but Italian also has a name for this kind of person
  • Particolare has many meanings ranging from positive to negative including describing something special or unusual or strange. When an Italian says to you ‘è particolare’ it will be difficult to understand of that person is complimenting you or trying to be diplomatic or even sarcastic.
  • Prego can mean ‘you’re welcome’, ‘after you’, ‘don’t mention it or it is also a way for someone to verbally indicate it’s your turn next, for example in a shop or during a meeting.

Landmarks and places of cultural significance

  • Lampedusa, a tiny Mediterranean island off the coast of Sicily was once a popular holiday destination but in recent years has become closely associated with the refugee crisis that has triggered complex cultural consequences around Europe. Being the southernmost island in Italy, it is the first place many of the migrant boats get to on entering Italian/European waters.
  • Sabaudia in the Lazio region of Italy is notable for its Rationalist architecture built to celebrate and represent the Fascist era in the 1930s. A pretty coastal town south of Rome it is now an attractive holiday destination and inspiration for documentaries about Italy’s Fascist past.

Languages and foreigners

Many people – especially younger people – speak some English. Most people in Italy will be very happy to help you out even there are language barriers. They also really appreciate if you try out a few words of Italian and even more so if you express interest in learning a little more. This can lead to some great conversations and is a good way to get to know the locals better.

Music genres Italians love

  • Pop: Laura Pausini, Tiziano Ferro, Eros Ramazzotti & Katy Perry
  • Rock: Shawn Mendes, Nek, Green Day, Robbie Williams & the Ramones
  • Djs/Funk/Electronic: Jovanotti, Planet Funk & Gigi D’Agostino
  • Contemporary R&B: Rihanna, Beyonce & Nicki Minaj

During the summer months in Italy there are loads of music festivals all over the country where you can see famous pop, rock and electronic bands, dance acts and DJs from around the world. This is a great way to meet and socialise with Italians of all generations. The opera is also popular especially when experienced in outdoor venues in Rome and Verona. Italians love Italian music but they are also very keen on singers and bands from the UK and the USA.


Football, Football, Football. Is the single most popular sport all over Italy being equally popular across the genders and generations. Formula One and MotoGP are avidly followed. Tennis, basketball, volleyball, cycling and perhaps surprisingly, fencing, are often sports that people play more than they watch.

Symbols of identity

These products shout ‘Made in Italy’ from the rooftops

  • Fiat 500 for iconic cars
  • Alessi for homewares is equally famous for its designs and designers
  • Giorgio Armani, Versace, Dolce Gabbana are all synonymous with Italian fashion
  • La Divina Comedia (The Divine Comedy) by Dante Alighieri is one of the world’s most famous poems
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano ‘parmesan’ is a hard cheese used for grating over pasta dishes and mozzarella is a soft buffalo milk cheese used in salads and on pizza
  • Pizza margherita represents the red, green and white colours of the Italian national flag
  • Prosciutto crudo (Parma ham) is a dry cured ham often served uncooked on pizza or with melon
  • Prosecco a sparkling white wine popular both in Italy and abroad