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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.