faking it: 10 tips to acting like a local in florence

Longer days and budding flowers should be welcome signs of spring. For many Florentines, however, they are warning sirens – the tourists are coming. Admittedly, the awkward love/hate (mostly hate) relationship Florentines have with tourists often leaves me less than eager to fly my American flag while abroad. So what do I do? I fake it.

Faking it is one of our favorite touring techniques. Possible side effects of faking it include: avoiding common tourist traps; earning the respect of locals; friend making; achieving a more rewarding and real travel experience; and garnering the admiration of clueless tourists who think you’re totally cool, aloof, and local. We’re not saying abandon your cultural heritage (please! you all know how much I love flip-flops and tailgates). We simply suggest trying out Florence like a local. Here are our favorite ways to fake Florentine.

1. Don’t Partake in Gelato Fraud

Gelateria dei Neri, by Hannah

Gelateria dei Neri, by Hannah

Towering, swirling mounds of gelato garnished with plastic fruit sure are pretty, but they’re not real. For as alluring as these Willy Wonka-style gelaterie can be, we beg you, be smarter than the sales pitch. Caving to these shiny, colorful displays will not only cheat you of true gelato ecstasy, but you might as well staple a tourist target to your back. For the real deal, look for modestly displayed gelato, natural colors, and seasonal flavors. Fragola in December? Run!

2. Put the Map Away

Meg lost in Castello

Meg lost in Castello

Maps are very practical, but when faking it, they’re a dead give away. To act like a true Florentine, you have to confidently know where you are at all times, or at least look like you do. Using your phone instead will help orient you while also appearing like you are texting all of your Italian friends about a super exclusive party tonight.

3. Take a Tip on Tipping

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What should the boys tip? Boh.

Not tipping in America, and many other countries, is downright rude. But slapping 20% on the table in Florence makes you look like the clueless foreigner. It is also very irking to many Italian diners who believe that Americans are, well, tipping the tipping scale. Most likely your meal will already include some sort of cover or service charge. Perhaps throw down a couple extra euros as a polite nod to your wonderful service, but don’t overdo it. 

4. Follow the Coffee Laws

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Caffè confusion is a rookie mistake. You’re better than that.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pay the cashier
  • Get your receipt (don’t toss it)
  • Cozy up to the bar (stand, don’t sit, please)
  • Hand the barista your receipt
  • Enjoy, at the bar
  • And whatever you do, DO NOT ask for a coffee to go

Need a crash course on ordering? Learn the difference between an espresso and a macchiato, or the correct times of day to imbibe in a cappuccino here.

5. Act Aloof, Bored, and Over It

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Ok, if you’re serious about this Faking It business, you’ll need to assume a general attitude of boredom and annoyance. Remember, you’re a local. You’re completely jaded by the masterpiece of the city you live in, and simply annoyed by the gawking tourists standing in your way. Popping in your headphones, throwing on a pair of sunglasses, and walking with purpose are all nice touches for this look.

6. Resist the Urge to Touch Shop

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This one has literally gotten my wrist slapped on more than one occasion. Caressing every product in the store before purchase is not ok in Florence. If it’s produce, make sure you are wearing gloves (provided in grocery stores and some markets) or ask the vendor to package the pieces you point out. No sniffing and squeezing here! When it comes to products in small stores or markets, make sure to allow the salesman to lead you through the shopping process. If they hand you a leather purse, then go for it, but perhaps wait before manhandling any artisan goods.

7. Take Part in a Florentine Festival

Festa della Rificolona, by Meg

Festa della Rificolona, by Meg

Celebrate Florence with the Florentines by partaking in a local, traditional festival. Luckily, Florentines love to festigiare. With a quick glance at the Florence for Free calendar, you are sure to find a festival or two during your stay.

8. Repurposing

florence-signoria

Faking Florentine doesn’t mean ignoring the most beautiful gems of the city in order to avoid slipping down the tourist slope. It means, rather than tackling Piazza della Signoria at 1 p.m. with your guidebook in hand, enjoy it during an evening stroll with a friend when the space is all yours. It means picnicking at Pitti Palace, Gregorian chants at the Duomo, and morning jogs across the Ponte Vecchio. This is how to enjoy the treasures of Florence more like a Florentine.

9. Talk the Talk

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Talking the talk can be the most difficult, but also the most rewarding when executed correctly. Florentines often insist on speaking only English to tourists. When earnestly attempting to learn the language and culture, this can be frustrating to say the least. So, prove them wrong. Sure you’re Italian may not be perfect (mine is far from it), but a few Florentine phrases and “isms” are sure to shock the snooty waiter who thinks he has “your type” pegged. For example, use the Florentine word for cool, ganzo, instead of the standard Italian, fico. For more Florentinisms check out our favorite column in the Florentine.

10. Dress the Part

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Tennis shoes, flip-flops, and cutoffs just aren’t going to fly in Florence. If you want to blend in, we recommend tapping into your inner fashionista. As you will come to realize almost instantly, you are in one of the high fashion capitals of the world. Florentines are bold, trendy, and – always, always, always – perfectly put together when they leave their house. Heck, probably even in their house! While this can be intimidating, it can also be very fun. Be sharp, be daring, be ready to try out the trends you worried your hometown friends just wouldn’t get.

There it is! Faking it can actually be quite fun. Traveling gives us the opportunity, if only for a month, a week, or a day, to live another life, in another world, in another’s shoes – to fake it! That’s why we hope you can experience Florence like the Florentines. While you’re at it, we suspect that you’ll find a piece of yourself that isn’t fake at all.

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29 comments

  1. Wow, this is one of your best ever posts, ladies! As an honourary local, I can say this is a fantastic list. The only thing I don’t totally agree with is the tipping advice. It’s true it’s not expected and Italians just as often leave a tip as they don’t. But if you receive excellent service, it’s perfectly normal for Italian diners to express their appreciation for that. So don’t suppress this inclination, but don’t feel guilty about leaving little to nothing either. Make sense? My favourite bit of advice is number 10. The other day I felt self-conscious throwing out the trash in my yoga pants and with unbrushed hair. It’s true Italians tend to step out the door pretty well-put-together. And faking that is awfully fun.

  2. great tipping advice michelle! that one always, and still, leaves us stumped. next time we’re in florence, we’ll grab dinner and you can show us the ropes!

    1. I would love that 🙂

  3. Maureen Coulter · · Reply

    What a great post, Hannah! Florence for Free is is so good! Did you hear we are going to Italy the first of November? Can’t wait!

    1. Thanks Maureen! Yes I sure did hear the exciting news! Of course I am very jealous and will also probably bombard you with lists and maps of food I am going to make you eat for me in Rome!

  4. Arlett · · Reply

    Molto Ganzo!!! Molto Kermit y Molto Miss Piggy! Seriously excellent post. Now i know on my next trip to Florence how to blend in (so i won’t wear my LL Bean moccasin loafers).

    1. Nancy USA · · Reply

      Molto Gonzo!
      hahahaha I thought about Ganzo too!
      Maybe I’ll actually remember this!

  5. What a great post! We agree with Michelle – it’s full of well thought advice and we’d put it up there on our list of favorites from Florence for Free!

    1. Nancy USA · · Reply

      hahahaha I thought about Ganzo too!
      Maybe I’ll actually remember this!

      1. Nancy USA · ·

        ooops Gonzo comment in the wrong spot!

    2. Grazie CAPA!

  6. Nice post! Where can I meet the guy in the photo about Coffee Laws? 😉

    1. thanks saretta! you might have to fight meg for him, but that cutie is our FFF photographer who provides us with so many of our photos!

      1. Well, tell Meg she has good taste! 😉

  7. Alexandra Lawrence · · Reply

    Girls, once again you have done it. GREAT post and number 9 in particular makes me feel warm and fuzzy 😉

    Just a quick comment on the tipping: Michelle is right that it is common to leave a tip when service is excellent but even then it won’t be 20% and is more of a token or acknowledgement of a job well done. I think it is quite nice to leave a little something when service is good. Should be said that this goes for restaurants, not cafés or bars (in my experience).

    A final note: number 5 is so right on.
    Bacioni da Firenze xoxo

    1. grazie alexandra! Next time we are in Florence (hopefully in the next few months) we are taking you and Michelle out to dinner to get tipping lessons. It baffles me!

  8. Sooo experienced the fruit/veg problem – was reprimanded!

    1. soooooo know the feeling Mary!

  9. Really well written! I always tell people, there’s a reason that all the NO TOUCHING signs are in English! 🙂

    1. thanks cheri! and yep, those signs are totally for people like me. I am so guilty of touch shopping!

      1. It’s hard not to!

  10. Great list of how to blend in! Well done…

  11. […] Florence for Free (Faking it: 10 tips to acting like a local) […]

  12. […] But with the onset of spring, sometimes you get that itch to feel…free. To not worry about faking it, for just a little while. To let loose for a day or a weekend. To […]

  13. Oh my gosh, I love this! It’s too late for me, though. My husband and I definitely stuck out as tourists when we visited Florence. But I am proud to say, we did NOT eat any fake gelato. Unfortunately we did not know where to go for the real stuff.

  14. My husband and I are heading to Florence in just over two weeks! This post has some great advice. I always like to try and blend in when I travel overseas.

  15. […] Now, we’re assuming you’ve made it to our World Cup guide because you’re not particularly well versed in anything Italian soccer. It’s ok, we wouldn’t be our first choice either to explain the game’s finer points. Thankfully, we won’t even attempt to do that. Instead, we’re outlining the basics for how to make the most of the sporting hooplah set to take over Florence (and the rest of the world) without sounding like a soccer manual. Consider us the Cliff Notes you cram the night before a big test to help you fake your way through it. […]

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  17. […] 10 Tips to Acting Like a Local in Florence […]

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